A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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May Days 2020


May and April blended together—mostly because I spent so much time indoors. The weather has improved in the few weeks with more sunny days beckoning me outdoors. I’m not always able to carve out the 30ish minutes to walk around my neighborhood. My workload has picked up as we move into the summer and figure out fall plans.

Poetry has continued to happen in full force in a virtual world. This month I have:

Home-cooked meals have continued with shrimp and grits emerging as my favorite quarantine dish. I ordered my first takeout meal from one of my favorite places to write in my neighborhood. I was glad to be reminded of this place by the high school student newspaper, which has featured local businesses each week.

As my state begins to reopen, I’m looking forward to spending more time walking around town and seeing signs to life as we begin to emerge from our sheltered spaces. Every day feels like a staycation and yet we are “still doing business, just in a different way.”

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National Poetry Month 2020


I’ve spent the entire month of April “at home during a crisis trying to work.” Although it was definitely not the month I envisioned, I managed to stay as busy as I would have been in a typical National Poetry Month. Poetry quickly pivoted from in-person open mics to virtual live poetry readings and pre-recorded readings shown at a specified time and/or made available to watch on demand. I attended and participated in my fair share over these 30 days.

Seized by Wicked Enchantment: A Wanda Coleman Celebration (April 7). This virtual event celebrated the launch of a new selected volume of Coleman’s poetry edited by Terrance Hayes, and readings by Hayes, Mahogany L. Browne, Dorothea Lasky, Rachel McKibbens, Patricia Smith, and host Amber Tamblyn.

Living Poetry Open Mic of the Ether (April 9). My friends from Living Poetry hosted a virtual open mic where I was the featured reader. It was great to see and hear some of my Triangle area poets again.

Wednesday Night Poetry (April 22). This event has been held every Wednesday since 1989 and has moved to a pre-recorded format posted to their Facebook page during the pandemic. The Earth Day reading featured Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield, and current U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.

Wellesley Books Reading (April 23). I participated in a poetry reading featuring Wellesley faculty that invited me to read with them last year, Lynne Viti (emerita) and Heather Bryant, as well as assistant professor of English, Tavi Gonzalez. This event was originally scheduled for in-person, but migrated to Zoom. The virtual format allowed members of my family to listen in.

In addition to these events, I continued in the tradition of posting photos of poems during National Poetry Month. This time, I posted my own published poems. I was very happy to have 30 published poems to share. I also read “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton for the Boston Athenaeum’s celebration of poetry.

On the double life front, I participated in a panel with our Posse II students and attended an online discussion of anti-Asian discrimination during COVID-19. The campus has adjusted to #thatZoomlife. I have 3-4 video conferences per day. Sitting in front of the camera for extended periods of time is exhausting and has made me rely on my reading glasses more.

Looking ahead to May, I anticipate a month pretty much like April—days spend indoors, evenings spent online. The sun and warmer weather will be welcomed companions on the next leg of this pandemic journey.


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Winter 2020 Recap


January 2020: Unlike the end of 2019, new year started off pretty somber. The lack of sun and warmth limit my energy. I didn’t dance much nor did I have a lot scheduled after work. I celebrated my fourth year on campus. I started in wintersession where there are less than 10% of students on campus, everyone is still in their festive post-holiday moods, and the dining facilities offer limited choices. I’ve always looked forward to the beginning of January as the time to catch a breath and regroup from the frenzied fall. This year was different—I didn’t schedule a weeks-long vacation and we had to start preparing for the board meeting as soon as we came back. Much of January is a blur, though I was able to attend a memorial service in LA, take another water aerobics class, take a short-story writing workshop, and begin to audit a poetry workshop on campus. The highlight of the month was the second Art Salon on the theme “Solitude.” This time I wrote a poem to accompany one photo presented by each photographer.

February 2020: I stocked up on brunches, lunches, and dinners this month–some homemade. My friend & I started our research to verify the list of best pancakes in Boston, starting with the soufflé pancakes at Bootleg Special. We shared a stack but they’re so airy that you can eat one by yourself and not feel full. I also revisited some places I had been before. On the poetry front, I was the featured poet at the Poetry Out Loud competition at Sacred Heart High School in Kingston where I visited an AP English class back in October. The winner of the this local competition placed 3rd overall in Massachusetts. I also attended a poetry workshop with Joan Naviyuk Kane through the Brookline Poetry Series. And on the 24th, I became an aunt again.

March 2020: March brought a double life of its own—before and after we started to stay home during a crisis trying to work. The month began with Super Tuesday—remember way back when? Colleges started to close their campuses and shift to a remote format. My college made the call on Thursday, March 12th in the middle of a class period. There were a lot of tears, but somehow, the students were able to regroup and organize their own graduation ceremony before they had to leave campus. This class entered college before the 2016 presidential election, so they’ve been tested already. I started working from home under the interim telecommuting policy at first, which then shifted to working from home for the “foreseeable future” after the governor ordered non-essential businesses to close and extended that order until May 4th.


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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 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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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.