A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Quintessential Poetry and More


Herstory 2019

On Monday, March 18th I will have the honor to read my poems on the Quintessential Listening: Poetry show on Blog Talk Radio along with poets Francine Montemurro and Lynne Viti. The theme of the event is HERSTORY in celebration of Women’s History Month. I plan to share some of my published work as well as some poems from the manuscript-in-progress. The show starts at 8 pm. You can listen live or hear the episode after it has been posted to the site.

The last time I read my poetry was probably two summers ago when I helped to organize the poetry and prose reading of writers who were also tango dancers. It will be the first time I’ve read many of the poems that I’ve written since then. I’m also seriously thinking about reading at the open mic at the Cantab Lounge on March 27th posted to the Boston Writers of Color Meetup group. The format allows for a maximum of 3 minutes to read, which means I can read two short poems or one long poem.

In between those readings, I will attend the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference‘s one-day informational retreat, “What is a Manuscript?” next Saturday. I must admit to feeling like I’m paying too much for a one-day workshop where I am likely be the only poet of color. I have paid less for Celtics tickets in row C where the TD Garden crowd reflects more diversity than I tend to experience in Boston on a daily basis. We’ll see.


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Like a Lion


Ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…the accreditation site visit.

Image of the front of Pendleton West, a building on Wellesley College's campus

The cover of the self-study features this photo of Pendleton West

I first mentioned my role as co-chair of my college’s reaccreditation process back in December 2017, but really, the process started over two years ago. Preparing the self-study and the campus community for the site visit has been my primary focus at work and has driven many of the decisions I’ve made thus far. Why did I move to Brookline instead of leaving Massachusetts altogether? Because I wanted the experience of managing an accreditation process. What made me travel across the globe to visit Hong Kong and Taiwan in August? Because I wanted to take a big vacation before the worst of the accreditation preparations hit in the fall. Why am I auditing a poetry class this semester? Because by the time the site visit concludes, there’ll still be seven class meetings left.

We are one week away from the visiting team’s arrival on campus. I’m almost to the point where there is nothing else I can do to prepare. For the past week or so, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to email myself a to-do list or a short note to jog my memory of something I didn’t want to forget to do at work. I don’t think I’ll get to the point where I can stop worrying about the visit until March 13th at noon when the visiting team leaves, their boxed lunches in hand. Unlike Caesar, I can’t wait until the Ides of March.

Dark chocolate almonds, clementines, olives, guacamole, corn chips, banana chips, and an assortment of teas

The snacks for Four Chairs & a Bench

Today, I’m hosting the first Four Chairs & a Bench of 2019. It feels good to gather to have other writers gathered around the table with Dave Brubeck playing in the background. I have a few poems to revise after this blog post, and maybe, I will work on poem that describes trees in winter à la manière de Ansel Adams’ photograph, “Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park.”

Photo of pine forest in snow by Ansel Adams

Image from the “Ansel Adams In Our Time” exhibit at MFA Boston, 2019

I imagine several trees in the Boston area will resemble this photo after tonight’s snowstorm. We all thought this winter had been relatively mild, but March is starting off like the lion we knew her to be. The Weather app even has a snowflake forecast for next Sunday. We’ll see…

 


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February is Time to Flourish


 

My first blog post of 2019 comes two almost months after my last post. I’ve cut the time in between posts by 66% this year. It’s Day 41 and I’m already winning!

It’s also been 3 years, 1 month, 1 week, and 2 days since I moved to the Boston area. The passage of this time has never quite affected me as much as it did this morning when I activated my new HSA card. The friendly automated voice told me that the company issues a new card every three years. Who knew WageWorks was counting too?!

Now that the reaccreditation visit is four weeks away, I’ve directed my energy toward my manuscript. I’m fortunate enough to work at a college where I can audit a course with a Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Book Award-winning poet and that his course meets late afternoons once a week. I’ll have to come to work early and/or stay late in order to make up the time, but it’s a small sacrifice for the opportunity to learn and contribute to a community of poets on a weekly basis. I had a poem workshopped in the second class. I wasn’t quite sure about getting feedback from students—any of whom could be my child had I made different life choices. However, they had thoughtful suggestions and helped me to see how my poem resonated with their experiences.

As if taking a class on campus isn’t cool enough, I’ve been invited to submit a poem for MBTA’s Poetry on the T and to read with Lynne Viti on BlogTalk Radio’s Quintessential Listening program (check out this episode with writing faculty member, Heather Bryant).    These opportunities certainly make me feel like 2019 is indeed my year to flourish. Flourish is the one word I have chosen to embody this year, an idea inspired by this post by a friend on the OneWord365 website. I’m looking forward to what the other 324 days will bring.

 


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What Happened to Fall?


In five days, it will officially be winter. Winter, y’all! The Boston area had its first snowfall on November 15th. Last year, our first snowfall was on December 9th (Yes, I keep track). Durham, North Carolina, where I used to live, saw an entire season of snowfall in one day!! And did I mention we still have five more days before the winter solstice?

Working at a college, the start of the fall semester feels like you’re standing in front of a broken fire hydrant, but by the end of October things settle down. Not so during the reaccreditation process. The pace slowed down around Thanksgiving, and when it did, my body succumbed to a cold that has taken almost two weeks to shake.

However, I still managed to have a good time between my last post in June and now.

August: Trip to Hong Kong & Taiwan and a wedding in LA

September: Four Chairs & a Bench

October: Pittsburgh Steelers game and two Celtics games

November: Thanksgiving in Durham

December: Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker and another Celtics game

Check out my photo montage!

 

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Although I haven’t been keeping up with the blog, I have been keeping up with my writing. Travel provides the needed time and headspace to write and the local sites and other passengers become featured in my work. Also, I’ve been keeping up with my poetry dates as much as I could. I also found a new favorite place to write in my neighborhood, Rifrullo Café. It has good brunch options on Sunday (caramelized French toast), a long wooden table to share with other patrons, and a comfy, curved, pink leather couch. I tend to spend about two hours writing or editing poems, including the six poems that were recently published in The Adirondack Review and Atlas and Alice.


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The Start of Summer


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Boston harbor skyline

Summer in New England has started early, a small favor considering winter outlasted its welcome. Summer for this double-life poet means the beginning of Summer Fridays—working nine-hour days from Monday–Thursday with Fridays off. I plan to use this time to jumpstart a manuscript (yes, I said the m-word), a full-length collection of poems.

I ran into a fellow Cave Canem poet, Kyowa Fagin Maples a few months back at the NOLA Poetry Festival. It was a treat to see her since neither one of us knew the other was attending. Kwoya had been my mentor at my first CC retreat back when she was pregnant with twins. Now, she has three children age six and under and a forthcoming book, Mend (University of Kentucky Press). Of course, I asked her how she managed to work on a manuscript with three kids and husband. She told me how, in order to get over the fear of starting a manuscript, she created a Word document, named it manuscript and started to write her poems in the same document. She made a schedule to write two poems a week (!). Not all of her poems were good, but some of them were worthy. She didn’t worry so much about whether the poems hung together as a collection; she figured they would because the poems were temporally linked.

Ever since I heard Kwoya’s story, I thought I could use my Summer Fridays to work on my manuscript, to finally say that I am writing toward something. I still don’t know what the title will be, but I know that the common thread is me. Lately, I have been writing a lot of poems one of my oldest poet friends and Living Poetry founder, Angelika, would call the poems of love and longing. I say ‘lately’ as if I haven’t been writing these types of poems since before I started calling myself a poet. At today’s Four Chairs & a Bench I made a start: I created a Google doc, titled the document Manuscript, and copied and pasted 29 poems.

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May-pril then June


Since I’ve started working at a college, I’ve noticed that April & May become one long month. It’s the mad rush after Spring Break to get in those last one or two meetings of the academic year before students and (most) faculty leave for the summer. May-pril is the reason I could not commit to writing poems every day for National Poetry Month, but instead posted photos of 30 poems I loved. Here’s the Day 30 poem, From Space to Time by Carolyn Rodgers.

day 30 from space to time

“From Space to Time” by Carolyn Rodgers

In May-pril, the work life requires all of my time and attention. This year is a little more intense because I’m trying to leave room for writing and poetry events while keeping up with the NBA playoffs (#CUsRise ☘️). Last weekend, I went to the 10th annual MassPoetry Festival where I attended readings by Cave Canem executive director, Nicole Sealey (see her poem on Day 16) and fellows Lillian Yvonne Bertram, Curtis Crisler, Chanda Feldman, Brionne Janae, and Kamilah Aisha Moon. On Sunday, I caught the tail end of the panel about building community through the poetry cleanse and participated in a panel with fellow VCFA alums—Victorio Reyes Asili, Greg Hill,  Lauren Banks-Killelea, and KT Landon—to share our experiences at a low-residency MFA programs with people trying to figure out if such a program was right for them.

I look forward to June and the return of Summer Fridays. I plan to use that time to write (and do errands and restart my yoga routine and eat at my favorite breakfast places in walking distance). Until then, I’m going to try to enjoy the Spring weather as we countdown to commencement on the 1st.

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April in NOLA


Last weekend, I met the Margaret Bashaar, editor and founder of Hyacinth Girl Press the micro-press that published my chapbook. It was the first time we had met in person and she had heard me read the poems from the chapbook. Margaret submitted a proposal for a panel reading from various HGP titles at the New Orleans Poetry Festival. I told her if the panel got accepted, I would “make it work.” In actuality, it was harder to find a flight for a decent price and reserve accommodations than it was to take time off from work.

For the reading, I selected poems from the chapbook that I do not normally read— “Peaches and Pound Cake,” “Why I Stopped Mentoring White Women,” “There’s a Graveyard in My Belly,” and “Transit of Venus”—in addition to the one poem I love to read, “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals,” which was, thankfully, the poem my editor wanted to hear. I also read three new poems I’ve written in the past year that have received the polishing after they’ve been through the weekly critiques over Skype. Although I was on the ground less than 48 hours, I got a chance to meet and hear some great poets, take in the street art on St. Roch Avenue, eat beignets at Café du Monde, have a Bloody Mary & gumbo at Stanley, and visit Marie LaVeau’s House of Voodoo before heading back to the airport.

This week’s poems were a combination of poets I wanted to make sure I included and poems that jumped off the page (or the screen) when I was reading them.

Day 23: The Abandoned Valley by Jack Gilbert 

Day 24: The White Ones by Langston Hughes

Day 25: from Citizen, VI [My brothers are notorious] by Claudia Rankine

Day 26: Facing It by Yusef Komunyakaa

Day 27: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Day 28: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Day 29: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by Amiri Baraka 

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