A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.



photo-2I hate to look at my schedule for the next few weeks but I can’t help it. I carry around a calendar in my head.
This week is packed–coffee meet followed by tango on Monday, practice session for a art salon on Tuesday, last poetrySpark organizer meeting on Wednesday, lunch meet on Thursday, and flying to California for the Labor Day weekend on Friday. Full days at work are the unmentioned yet unavoidable backdrop to the landscape of the upcoming week. September is no better–VCFA alumni gathering, a practice session for the art salon, a wedding, poetry book club, softball double-header (watching), poetrySpark, and a milonga–all before the 15th! And did mention the work project I am leading will be in the report writing phase and having to fly out to a professional conference in Austin, TX the morning after the art salon? And I know what you’re going to say, Pam, when are you going to have time to write, revise, and submit poems? I have no clue. September I will take a break from tango classes, though I don’t know if work or poetry expand to fill that void. We’ll have to wait and see.


Poet Beyond Work

securedownloadUnlike my favorite superhero, Spider-Man, I don’t hide my poet identity in the workplace. My colleagues have witnessed my transformation from just writing to writing poems to being enrolled in an MFA program for poetry to being a published poet. I have written several poems based on my experiences as a Black female professional and have started getting a few of the work-related poems published. So I’m ok with being a poet in the office.

Lately though, the word has gotten out beyond the safety of the cubicle walls. My LinkedIn profile and office website list the MFA in Writing degree next to the PhD. And now that I’ve transitioned to being a team lead, people outside of the office are interested in discovering my credentials. I can tell that people whom I interview have read my bio when they ask, “How did you go from being a statistician to poetry?

I’m guilty of spreading the word too. At the beginning of the project I mentioned to the agency that I was going out of town. Curious they asked where I was vacationing and in the interest of full disclosure I told them I told them I was going to a poetry retreat. Since then they have asked how it went and if there were poems they could read. I sent them a few links to what I have online, but it felt weird for people that I only know through my job to know about my poetry. I don’t hide it but I’m not used to being a poet and everybody knowing it. I think I need to get used to it.


Poetry Scope: Another Success!

dp-globeLast Thursday, Living Poetry organized another evening of science through the lens of poetry for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The first event occurred in January and I posted about how the idea was born on the DRX bus ride from Durham to Raleigh.

Given my lessons learned from the first event, I decided to organize the second time around a little differently:

  • Broadened the “Call for Poems”: The first time  was a LP members only event so this time I posted the call for science-related poems to NC Writer’s Network and the NC Poetry Society. Two of the poets selected learned about the event from these sources.
  • Let the poets explain the connection to science: Adding this requirement to the submission helped me select a range of science topics, which (as I learned from last time) is what the museum folks like. This time the poems covered  cancer, cicadas, matter/anti-matter, thermodynamics, and Nikola Tesla.
  • Relished in my organizer role: Last time, I organized the event and read a poem, which meant I couldn’t relax or take pictures. This time I made a conscious decision not to submit. My work for the evening ended once the recording started. I was able to eat, drink wine, ask questions, and enjoy the poetry. Definitely doing that again.

The result of these changes was another successful event! Here is the video of the livestream and photos of the poets:

  • Anna Weaver
  • Claudette Cohen
  • Angie Kirby
  • Cherryl Cooley
  • Lisa Zerkle


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The Power of a One-Day Writing Retreat

You get in your car with the mini-tote bag from the Strand stuffed with your wallet, cosmetic everything bag, your poet’s notebook, and lunchcedargrove—sesame salad, a Granny Smith apple, boiled eggs, and those addictive dark chocolate covered açai berry & pomegranate seed snack packs. You drive 25.7 miles from the heart of your urban life, passing a pasture of feeding cows, fields with odd-shaped and dilapidated houses, and a community store selling produce most likely picked down the road. Aside from the construction on Highway 86 that causes a patient backup of cars needing to continue down the only open lane, there isn’t much excitement in Cedar Grove—a perfect place for a one-day writing retreat.

Eleven writers wind their way down a gravel road on an old tobacco farm to get to the wooden cottage at the far edge of the property. For some, this time—9:30 AM to 4:00 PM on a Saturday—is the only time they have to dedicate to writing. You get three prompts to help you go where the writing takes you. And the writing takes you to the magical and the ordinary: grandfathers in spirit and vulture form, stuffed armadillos, the history that a hammock sees, a collection of boxes under a bed (not to be confused with clutter), your high school journal, your father’s journal, fancy dresses next to men in tuxes, inside the mind of teenager, and Botox.

You leave with a sense of accomplishment and community, and a strong desire to keep the writing going.