A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

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When a Poet Doesn’t Write


I haven’t written a poem or even thought about writing a poem since May 3rd. I knew I needed to take a break after the poem-a-day challenge in April, but I didn’t plan on stopping this long. The curious thing is that I don’t feel guilty about it. I’m not beating myself over the head with the notion that I should be writing. There’s no pang in my stomach when I bring a purse too small to hold my poet’s notebook. My scientist-friends tell me that this period of non-writing is simply a time for storing up potential energy that will soon be converted into kinetic energy.

A similar pause in my poetry happened in February after writing over 40 poems for the “One Love” event. Like then, I have been biding my time by reading while waiting for the muse to make time for me in her busy schedule. This month, I’ve read:

1) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Gatsby tells the story of the balance between wealth and excess and hope and self-deception and how we can go overboard on either side. I wanted to re-read the book before the movie came out, and at 180 pages, it only took 4 days.

2) The New Black by Evie Shockley – I saw Evie Shockley at AWP moderating a panel “Post Black? Culture, Craft, and Race in Verse,” which examined race in poetry. I had heard of Evie Shockley, but never read her work until now.

3) The Selected Essays of Denise Levertov – I picked up this book from UNC Davis by mistake. I thought it was her selected poems collection. But it had been a long time since I immersed myself in poetic craft book and the book has one of my favorite essays, “On the Function of the Line,” so I decided to hold onto it for a little bit longer. Plus I’ll use it to prepare for the upcoming podcast on Black Mountain Poets.

4) The Really Short Poems of A.R. Ammons – This book by a North Carolina poet is the June selection for the Living Poetry book club. I could probably finish it in a one-hour sitting, but lately, I’ve been filling those hours with naps instead. There’s always the bus!

Poetry in Plain Sight

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Winston-Salem Writers started a cool program this year where they put poetry on display in stores throughout the downtown area. My poem, “Something Missing,” was selected as one of four poems featured for the month of May. This poem has special significance to me because I wrote it on my birthday last year (April 12th) as part of the April Poem-a-Day Challenge and it is a poem about my father, a subject I have a hard time writing about. Here’s a link to the video of me reading this poem and two other poems, “Work Husband” and “Hold That Hot Potato.”


Lessons Learned from a April Poem-a-Day Challenge Veteran


Last month was the 4th year I celebrated National Poetry Month by participating in the April Poem-a-Day (PAD) Challenge. I wish I could say writing 30 poems for 30 days gets easier with time, but it is marathon writing experience. There’s a point in the month where I hit the wall and I have to push through. Fortunately, I’ve got a crowd of supporters whose words of encouragement keep me going until the end–which brings me to the first lesson from this year’s challenge:

1) Let MORE people know you’re doing the Challenge: Back in November, I made a public promise to share the April PAD poems on this blog and I’m so glad I fulfilled that promise. Posting the poems here introduced me to a lot of other poets and lovers of poetry who left comments or started following my blog. And I started to follow a few new blogs myself.

2) Work can be your muse: As a double-life poet, I didn’t have time to start writing once the prompt went up on the Poetic Asides blog; I had to get through an 8-hour work day first. Fortunately my “work husband” and other colleagues were more than happy to help me figure out what to do with the prompt, particularly the <blank> prompts that came out on Thursdays. My colleagues filled in the blank for the poems on day 4 (Hold that Hot Potato) and on day 11 (In Case of a Wild Hair), and work was clearly the subject of Day 15 infested poem, “During the Legislative Session” (my boss’ favorite).

3) Play with form: Sunday prompts in April were the time to use a specific poetic form. I was introduced to the sevenling, the senryu, and the shadorma, and wrote my first real sonnet (iambic pentameter and everything)! I also wrote in two of my favorite forms–the villanelle and the pantoum–and tried a bop. Writing in form makes me focus on the essence of the poem, which helps me tighten the language and imagery.

4) Be prepared to write anywhere: I usually have my journal, but I don’t  carry it with me all the time. Bringing a mini-notebook helps, so does the pad of scratch paper at the office and the iPhone Notes app. Inspiration will come at any time–even at milongas!

5) You will lose sleep: I promised myself I wouldn’t go to sleep before I sent out a poem, which meant some nights I didn’t get to bed until after 2 AM (remember those milongas?). Only once did I fall asleep while composing a poem, but I woke up at 1 AM to finish it. As much as I love sleep, sacrificing a few hours was worth it. Besides, May is a great month to catch up on sleep!

 If you have any lessons learned from the PAD challenge, let me know by leaving a comment.