A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Where I Am Today


French toast, fried egg, turkey bacon, and tea

Brunch at home

So much has happened between my last post and where I find myself today—writing in the midst of a global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus COVID-19. I approach this page after a long morning walk while listening to episodes of The Slowdown that have accumulated since January 31st. It’s a Sunday morning that feels like a Sunday morning. It’s raining and I want to stay inside with hot tea & make a big breakfast—french toast, fried egg, and turkey bacon. Yesterday before the rain started, I ventured out to pick up wine I ordered online from the shop around the corner and went for a quick walk around the block. It felt like a Sunday morning instead of Saturday at 6:30 pm—streets and sidewalks near empty, cars parked by expired meters, upturned chairs stacked on tables in restaurant windows.

This time last year, I had attended the one-day Colrain One-Day Informational Retreat where I got feedback on the poems feeding my manuscript. I’m still working toward the manuscript now. Some but not all of my time will be spent on writing more poems. Some but to all of my time will be spent listening to and reading poems and posting the poems I read before lunch and dinner on Instagram & Facebook. Some time will spent on writing letters and postcards, and I’ll definitely have to put in 7.5 hours of work every weekday. Under the current set of circumstances, I will find myself attending meetings and events on Zoom, texting and calling friends and loved ones a little more, and vegging out on the couch. In a lot of ways today feels no different than where I would be otherwise. But somehow, even a stay-at-home advisory seems to restrict my thoughts.

As I stay at home, I want to use this time to take stock of what has happened between then and now. Normally, I would try to fit it into a single blog post, but my instincts tell me to chronicle each month separately, to give October, November, December, January, February, and March the space they deserve. Not sure how long this will take me, but I want to try. My thoughts are free to roam around the past, while my body and brain stay present and the world moves toward an uncertain future.


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End of Summer 2019


In case you missed it, yesterday was Earth, Wind & Fire Day, affectionately named because their song “September” immortalized the 21st night of September in our memories. Humming the song throughout the day on Saturday forced me to recognize how close we were to fall. Not that that autumn’s arrival is a surprise this year. Swaths of leaves have turned golden or red, proof that they have already caught “the fever” as a I like to call it.

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Snacks for the Four Chairs & a Bench writers

On this last day of summer, the temperature is holding steady at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A pleasant breeze drifts through my open window. My fellow writers have assembled around the table for another writing session. Today’s group featured a writer from the various rooms of my life—college, tango, my MFA program, and the MassPoetry scene.

I wrote two new poems for an art salon next week on the theme Majestic

The other poems I’ll share are from my 2015 trip to Utah when I visited Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. Here are the photos that inspired the poems:

 


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From April to August 2019


Fraser Park Trail in Colorado - view of the mountains and pond from the bridge

Fraser Park Trail in Colorado

I’ve had a busy summer. In true double-life fashion, there was as much going professionally as poetically, though the scales probably tilted more to the poetry side. Summer at a college is mostly quiet, time to focus on a few projects, and of course, attend conferences. Summer in New England is fabulous. The warm weather came in late May and the heatwave started in July (the hottest July in record in Boston). Now that it is August, I can feel the wind cool down, the sun dial itself back, and the heartbeat of my Boston life pick up the pace. The marathon of the 2019–20 academic year is about to start.

Before the memory of summer fades, I wanted to share some highlights:

APRIL

The last two poems from the 2019 Poem-a-Day—”Naturalization” by Jenny Xie & “How to Triumph Like a Girl” by Ada Limón—and a photo of the Gateway Arch that I visited while attending a professional conference in St. Louis.

 

MAY

Highlights include a Mother’s Day visit by mom & sister, a Boston Harbor cruise, and the Marvin Gaye stamps from USPS (released on April 3, 2019). In the photo below, my mom is standing in front of the state capitol building in Rhode Island, knocking that state off of her list.

 

JUNE

June was a month filled with double-life events. First up, a drive up to Montpelier, Vermont to celebrate the release of “Five Midnights” by my fabulous VCFA sister, Ann Dávila Cardinal. Then I spent two weeks in Cambridge at the Harvard Institute for Management & Leadership in Education. I learned a lot from the smart & funny crew in Group #1, saw some really cool maps at Harvard’s Map collection, and got this nifty certificate. And of course, another shot of Boston Harbor during a sunset cruise.

 

JULY

In July, I’m able to enjoy my summer Fridays. I found a new place to write at the Boston Athenaeum, a private library across from the MA state capitol building. My favorite spot to write so far is the 5th floor terrace. Once it gets cooler, I’ll have to explore other parts of the building. I also saw Mark Doty read at the Longfellow House & was inspired to buy a new hat. At the end of the month, I saw some really cool Porsches at a car show at Wachusett Mountain.

 

AUGUST

I spent a lot of time this summer writing and critiquing poems. In August, I went out to Colorado to work on my manuscript. The long weekend in the mountains was really a check-in to see which poems can coalesce into a coherent collection. I’m about two-thirds of the way, so there’s definitely more writing at Boston Athenaeum in the near future. I’m so grateful to my VONA 2015 Jellyfish, June Inuzuka, for lending me her cabin  for the weekend, a wonderful space to write & relax (see hot tub photo below).

 


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April 2019 Poem-a-Day, Week 4


Writing nook at the Moonrise hotel in St. Louis

The double life is in full effect. In addition to preparing two presentations for board meetings, I also facilitated two workshops for high school students for MassPoetry‘s Student Day of Poetry and participated in a pop-up poetry reading during the Community Day of Poetry. Right now, I am in St. Louis for a professional conference, and later this week, I will host an open mic during the faculty-staff pub night.

Here are the poems for Week 4, featuring several Cave Canem fellows & faculty:

Day 22: “Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden

Day 23: “Ode to the Flute” by Ross Gay

Day 24: “Poem for Amadou Diallo” by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

Day 25: “Hysterical Strength” by Nicole Sealey

Day 26: “Muscadine” by Mary Moore Easter

Day 27: “Vacation” by Rita Dove

Day 28: “Poet of an Ordinary Heartbreak” by Chris Abani

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April 2019 Poem-a-Day, Week 3


This week was short and busy. In Massachusetts, it was April vacation week. My colleague took time off while school was out, which means I was “home alone” at work. It also meant that there wasn’t as much traffic on the drive to campus every day. I spent most of the week lamenting how much farther along Spring was in Durham compared to Boston. By the end of the week, the trees in Boston started waking up. Next weekend, I’m heading to St. Louis for a professional conference. The weather is so nice there that I’ll have to break out my open-toed sandals.

The highlights of this week include a celebratory dinner in honor of getting into a summer institute program at Harvard and hearing my VONA faculty, Willie Perdomo, read from his new collection, The Crazy Bunch.

Here are the poems from Week 3

Day 16: “That’s My Heart Right There” by Willie Perdomo

Day 17: “Don’t Go Into the Library” by Alberto Ríos

Day 18: “You Thought I Was That Type” by Anna Akhmatova

Day 19: “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

Day 20: “A poem from a father to his youngest son” by Timothy TB

Day 21: “Twenty-Year Marriage” by Ai

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April 2019 Poem-a-Day, Week 2


An extra long weekend for me bookended by a birthday and the Boston Marathon. I visited North Carolina this weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Living Poetry, the group that encouraged and supported my poetic growth. It was great to see familiar and new faces around the table for the open mic. I’m so glad to see the group thriving. I also spent time with friends and former colleagues, dancing tango (thanks for the birthday tandas), and hanging out at the Union Member House, a cool new downtown Durham. The trip was short and really sweet.

Here are the poems for last week (plus a day):

Day 8: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Day 9: “Inevitable” by Mahogany Browne

Day 10: “Just Once” by Anne Sexton

Day 11: “Empty Space” by Amrita Pritam

Day 12: “How to Get Emotional Distance When Voodoo is Not an Option” by Pamela Taylor

Day 13: “It Was Summer Now and the Colored People Came Out Into the Sunshine” by Morgan Parker

Day 14: “Separation” by W.S. Merwin

Day 15: “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

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April 2019 Poem-a-Day, Week 1


Happy National Poetry Month!

I hosted another Four Chairs & a Bench, finishing up two revisions and a submission. Check out the photo of the spread!

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Snacks for Four Chairs and a Bench

In keeping with last year’s tradition, I am posting a poem that I love every day to Instagram (@ptpoet). Here are the first seven poems:

Day 1: “the lesson of the falling leaves by Lucille Clifton

Day 2: “Psalm 150” by Jericho Brown

Day 3: “Insomnia” by Elizabeth Bishop

Day 4: “The Garden” by Jacques Prévert

Day 5: “Sonnet 28” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

Day 6: “Thirsting” by Alicia Ostriker

Day 7: “Topography” by Sharon Olds

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