A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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.

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“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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Happy April!


Spring in Boston is errant piles of melting snow, crocuses and daffodils bravely stretching their heads into the crisp air, and trees with bare limbs looking like legions of ladies in sleeveless tops.

Today, I held the third Four Chairs & a Bench writing session—two poets and two novelists made for a bit of balance around the table.

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Four Chairs and a Bench April Session with Kali, Kiril, Nancy & Pam (who is bad at taking selfies)

Instead of writing a poem every day, I am posting a poem that I love every day via Instagram. Here are the first eight poems.

Day 1: “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton

Day 2: “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black” by Cortney Lamar Charleston

Day 3: Absence by Pablo Neruda

Day 4: “You will hear thunder” by Anna Akhmatova

Day 5: Heart to Heart by Rita Dove

Day 6: I Ask My Mother to Sing by Li-Young Lee

Day 7: Morningside Park by Wanda Coleman

Day 8: Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

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P is for P-town


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And poetry, and poet-friends old & new. I spent a week at the Fine Arts Work Center for their poetry festival week that featured faculty members Tim Seibles, Natalie Diaz, Brenda Shaughnessy, Robin Coste Lewis, Matthew Olzmann, & Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

I took the Articulating the Image workshop with visual arts-poet Rachel Eliza. I have a deep appreciation for photography’s ability to capture so much in a single shot. As a poet, I’ve spent countless hours and energy attempting to describe an image in my head using  only words, which are sometimes not the best tools. I had hoped the workshop would get me out of my head and able to approach poetry from a different perspective—and the workshop did not disappoint.

We had assignments to take pictures of a certain color, the natural world, and shapes or shadows that helped to focus our eyes and our mind on what is important. We also had to engage with what we saw by writing about the connection to our lives. During class we built a visual canvas of words,  images and objects. Each day we layered our canvases with more words, images, and objects from ourselves as well as from the other class participants. One of my favorite aspects of the class is being free to engage in other people’s canvases by adding questions, colors, and drawings to push their visual poems forward.

 

In addition to the many ideas and activities I brought back, the poetry workshop was a reunion of sorts with poets I knew from Cave Canem, VCFA, and one I had met in the Boston area. I also had the opportunity to meet and listen to great poets around the country and connected with a few local poets.

Such a great weekend. It will be hard to come down from this poetry high.


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A Midsummer’s Night Reading


Since moving to the Boston area, the tango community here has been a constant presence. I remember sampling all the milongas when I first arrived, before settling on the handful that matched my schedule. You can dance here every night of the week, and sometimes, I indulge in dancing multiple nights in a row. After 18 months, I’m happy to say I’ve been embraced by the Boston Tango community, not only as a dancer, but also as a poet.

I first heard of the idea for a reading as the Fourth of July tango picnic by the Charles River. There seemed to be enough tangueros who also wrote poetry or prose for each of us to read for 10 minutes. We had a willing host who offered his backyard and had a deadline: we must have the event before the host’s wife gave birth to their first child. No problem! I dusted off my Living Poetry organizer skills and got to work creating the Facebook event page, inviting friends, gathering reader bios, setting the line up, soliciting  people for snacks and setup/cleanup duty. For me, it felt like the poetrySpark! days minus the poetry-on-demand booth.

My set included two poems from my chapbook, the first tango poem I wrote and published, a tango poem from the 2017 April Poem-a-Day Challenge, and three poems from the poetry cleanse—a good mix of old and new work. We had a great crowd, mostly from the tango community but with a few non-tangueros in the audience. Although the event went way later than planned (as the guy whose bedroom window opened to the backyard reminded us), we all agreed that we needed to have another reading in the fall. I’m looking forward to it!


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The Road Ahead is Filled with #BlackGirlMagic


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August 1st marked seven months of the double life in New England. I’d like to say the place is growing on me, but I’m not there yet. In fact, someone I met recently in an Afro Flow Yoga class told me she didn’t begin to like Boston until she had lived here 7 years. So I have a long way to go.

Admittedly, most of the double life has been focused on the career side. I started a job as a college administrator in January, and in March, my colleague got recruited away to another institution. So I’ve been doing the double the work since mid-April. I’ve spent the summer interviewing candidates for two positions, managing two research assistants, and packing for an office move. I attended a professional conferences in New Orleans in June, went on family vacation to St. Maarten in July, and last week, I attended a retreat in Maine for women in my field.

The retreat was a good respite from being on the work treadmill. Not only was I able to connect with other women at nearby institutions, I also met other women of color in my field. Being around other Black women made me realize how much I missed seeing other Black faces throughout my day. Although I was one of the few black professional staff at my last job, living in the South meant there was a critical mass of people of color on the bus, in the cafeteria, at CVS, etc. During the retreat, I know that my mere presence made them feel more at ease and less isolated because that is how seeing their faces made me feel. I came back from the conference very hopeful about what lies on the horizon.

This fall, I look forward to moving into a new office at work as well as my new apartment closer to the city (more on that soon). There are a few literary things I’m excited about as well:

Receiving my signed copy of Cynthia Manick’s Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). Cynthia was my roommate at my first and last Cave Canem retreats. This is her debut full-length collection and I’m psyched to read it! If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might remember Cynthia as the person who invited me to the My Writing Process Blog Tour in 2014.

The resurgence of Black Lioness Press. The press promotes the literary & artistic work of people of color, and in particularly women, and I serve as one of the Associate Editors. The press is the brainchild of Mahtem Shiferraw, a VCFA alumna and I serve as one of the Associate Editors along with Tsitsi Jaji, whom I met right before I left NC. In September 2016, we start accepting submissions for poetry/short fiction and an anthology entitled, Anthem for the Black Body. We’re still in fundraising mode, so there’s time to get in on the ground floor to support this effort.

Participating in Women Who Submit. WWS encourages and empowers women writers to send their work to literary journals. Later this year, I hope to start a Boston area chapter of Women Who Submit. This group lists among their leadership team my fellow Cave Canem alumnae, Ashaki Jackson & Alyss Dixon, and VCFA alumna, Laura Warrell.

And I look forward to going back to Afro Flow Yoga. I attended my first class on Sunday and connected with alumnae of the college where I work. The instructor is a former Alvin Ailey dancer and her husband provides the musical accompaniment throughout the 90-minute class. There’s only more weekend of classes in the area before they go on hiatus in late August/early September. I can’t wait!


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Poet Interviews


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I promise a longer post on my adjustment to the Boston area. In the meantime, check me out on Andrea Blythe’s Poet Spotlight. It was an interview an introvert could love – questions posted to a Google doc that I could answer on my phone wherever I was: at the airport, sitting on the couch trying to think of a poem for the daily challenge, at the nail salon.

And in case you’ve missed it, here’s the interview conducted by Elizabeth Zertuche, a writer I met at VONA last summer.

Enjoy!


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Five-Day Poetry Challenge


Old paper grunge background - Challenge yourself

Five-Day Poetry Challenge – DONE!

The 5-day poetry challenge is a popular meme where you post one of your poems (preferably published) to your Facebook timeline then tag another poet to continue the challenge. Last week, I was double-tagged by poets Anna Weaver and Elizabeth Jackson. So in true double-life fashion, I decided to post two poems each day—one of my published poems around 9 am and one of my favorite poems about the working world around 5 pm.

I selected poems from the range of themes I tend to visit and revisit in my work:

  1. Work: “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals” from my chapbook, My Mother’s Child (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015)
  2. Love & Longing: “The Truth about Fire” published in The Pedestal Magazine in 2012
  3. Planets & the Universe: “To Earth, From Mars” published in Construction Literary Magazine in 2014
  4. Family: “At Night I Dream of Trains” published in the Grief issue of When Women Waken in 2013
  5. Tango: “If I Could Love You Like Tango” published in the anthology, …and love…(Jacar Press, 2011)

For the poems about the working world, I picked two of my favorites that I’ve posted to the blog before as well as a few poems that showed work and workers in a more positive light.

  1. “White, White Collars” by Denis Johnson, from The Incognito Lounge, 1982
  2. “Drone” by Wanda Coleman, from African Sleeping Sickness, 1990
  3. “The Gulf” by Brian Brodeur, from The Missouri Review, Winter 2010
  4. “Coming Closer” by Philip Levine, from What Work Is, 1991
  5. “Domestic Work, 1937” by Natasha Trethewey, from Domestic Work, 1999

Here’s the last stanza from the Trethewey poem that always sticks with me.

She beats time on the rugs,
blows dust from the broom
like dandelion spores, each one
a wish for something better.

If you haven’t been tagged, start your own 5-day poetry challenge. I’d love to hear about it.