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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October 2019 Recap


In my last post, I decided to recap each month between September 2019 and April 2020 with a separate post instead of summarizing everything in one post. October was the best month of 2019, which is why I didn’t want to distill everything down to a paragraph.

I did so much. Just look at this photo of October 21–24th on my calendar. And that’s only five days!

Calendar events Sun Oct 20 Financial District Walking Tour; Mon Oct 21 Aqua Jogging, Purple Rain Lecture & Movie; Tue Oct 22 Women Leaders Tango Class; Wed Oct 23 Eye Exam; Thu Oct 24 Women of Color in Academic Panel

Third week of October 2019

Week 1: October started off with a business trip to Lebanon to be part of an interim evaluation team for an accredited institution in Beirut. Everything about this trip was great—flying business class on Air France, the other members of my team, the hospitality of the host institution, the food, people, and history of Lebanon, and the rooftop pool at my hotel. The only downside of the trip was learning my limits with regard to dairy. Air France business class meals are curated by Michelin-starred chefs and feature yogurt-cheese-cheese-cream-butter-butter-butter-cheese-cheese + Chateauneuf de Pape. Since that trip, I’ve had to watch my dairy intake.

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Week 2: Started off with a college holiday and fall break, which gave me time to regroup from the jetlag of my Lebanon trip. Back then, I was also taking a tango class for experienced women leaders in Cambridge. I started leading in the summer with a couple that teaches at MIT. Being a leader, you have to manage multiple tasks at the same time—be aware of my axis, have an idea of what I want to do, be aware of my follower’s axis, understand the follower’s balance and skill level, communicate what I want the follower to do, lead that step, and then, react to the step the follower takes. All of this activity is happening while I am listening to and interpreting the music and navigating around other couples on the dance floor. And somewhere along the way, I want to make this a pleasurable experience for both of us. No wonder I’ve danced tango since November 2007 and I hadn’t seriously tried leading until 2019. The other highlight of the week was attending a lecture by Eve Ewing the scholar-poet-comic book writer-activist. I had bought her collection “Electric Arches” based on the cover photo, before I knew anything about her. It was great to hear about her research uncovering the effects of racism and inequality on Chicago Public Schools and get my book signed. I rounded out the week with brunch at what had become my favorite local spots and a planning meeting for the next Art Salon (more about the event when I get to January).

Slide from Eve Ewing lecture-50% schools closed by Chicago Public School; 90% of close schools were majority Black; 88% of students are African American; 1 in 4 schools with majority Black students and Black teachers were closed

Eve Ewing–Facts!

 

Week 3: I celebrated my three-year friend-iversary by going on a walking tour in the Financial District. I met my dear friend in October 2016 and were the only single people on a tour. I’ve been so grateful for her presence in my life, especially when I was working so hard preparing for accreditation. Another highlight of the week was seeing Purple Rain at Coolidge Corner Theatre. While it was great to relive Prince’s music & life, watching the movie at this age made me realize that movie is much better in nostalgia. But it was a great experience to see people of all ages, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, identities, and orientations celebrate an artist who meant so much to them. As the first photo of this post showed, I took an eye exam on October 23rd. I was fortunate to visit the optometrist who came to campus, a young woman with the loveliest Tennessee accent. I hadn’t been to the eye doctor since my Lasik surgery in 2009, and now, I’m at the age where I need to use reading glasses (+1.00 for now). In fact, I stopped writing this post to find my reading glasses because I need to wear them if I’m working in front of a screen a lot. I rounded out the week by participating in a Women of Color in Academia Panel on campus followed by drinks with a co-worker, my aqua jogging deep-water aerobics class, and tea with my accreditation work-husband at Athan’s Bakery.

Week 4: Definitely a double-life week. Sunday was another edition of Four Chairs & a Bench, and then, I headed to Kingston to catch up with a college friend. She invited me to to talk poetry with her AP English class. The class was reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets From the Portuguese,” which I had on my bookshelf. It was great to chat with the class about their lives, their interests, and the next step of their journeys. I took the commuter rail back to South Station, my first time riding the commuter rail in the Boston metro area. So happy that I had the app to purchase the ticket back to the city. I drove to campus in time to briefly meet with a job candidate. The week and month ended with the MLK Memorial Lecture featuring Jabari Asim the author-poet-playwright-writing professor. I couldn’t stay for the whole event, but what I managed to hear was inspiring and necessary. Some quotes:

  • Some of us didn’t have many books, but we had plenty of stories.
  • Participating in the process of literary creation is always done with our ancestors looking over our shoulders.
  • For those first Black writers, each letter they made into parchment was a nail in slavery’s coffin.
  • Sometimes we strut to reassure ourselves we belong.
Jabari Asim at a lecturn

Jabari Asim MLK Lecture


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Out Like a Lamb


With the faculty and students away for Spring Break, I took a few days off. Most of my days centered on meals—lunch at Dumpling Café, dinner at Burro Bar, lunch at MFA Boston, lunch at Café Landwer, and dinner in celebration of a friend’s new position—with a half day centered on relaxation at the Mandarin Oriental spa.

Check out some of my staycation photos:

 

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the open mic at the Cantab Lounge with other members of the Boston Writers of Colors Meetup group. It was the first time I had read at an open mic in a long time. Fortunately, there is video evidence of the event.  Enjoy!

 

 


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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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Summer in New England


BOS harbor

In Boston, Spring felt like it arrived on June 7th, a mere two-weeks before the official start of summer. We had so much rain and unseasonably cool temperatures. I’m glad I didn’t put my lightest down coat in storage. Now that the warm weather has decided to stick around for a while, it’s time to plan ahead for summer in New England.

I started the month of June with a staycation where I breakfasted my way around the neighborhood. Brookline has a lot of shops and restaurants that I usually whiz by during my morning walks. Staying at home meant I could take longer walks that ended in delicious meals. Like this one from Eagles Deli (0.07 miles from my apartment).

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Staycation also meant I could pop into various boutiques and see a movie in the middle of the day at Coolidge Corner Theatre. I took my journal with me everywhere to work on the poetry cleanse poems while I was eating, waiting, or on the Green Line.

At work, Summer Fridays started on Friday! We work Mondays throughThursdays, 8 am to 5 pm and take Fridays off. I plan to use my Summer Fridays to focus on the creative life that had been neglected as the Spring semester winded down. You’ve already seen evidence of that from the last post. I also took the opportunity to update the News from the Corner Office and About the Poet pages on the website. I’ll also use my Fridays to apply for residencies, and maybe, get back to submitting my work.

This summer, I’ve signed up for two poetry workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown: a four-week online workshop with Ada Limón; and an in-person workshop with Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Only while writing this post did I realize the two workshops overlap. I guess that means more intense poems. Fortunately, the in-person workshop meets from 9 am until noon and the online class is asynchronous.

In addition, I will continue my role as facilitator for the Dudley Poetry Club. In January, took over this role from Brionne Janae, a fellow Cave Canem alumna. The group met weekly during the Spring and decided to continue meeting once a month this summer. I love the diverse faces and voices of this group. The workshop has really helped me transition to Boston.

Although not nailed down, my summer plans include a NYC trip and a visit to Maine, both 3.5-hour drives in opposite directions. That’s East Coast living, y’all!


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Poem-a-Days: April & May Updates


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The April Poem-a-Day Challenge left me so exhausted I neglected to post the snippets of the poems for the last week. Since then, I’ve finished a series of poems for a tango event and written a week’s worth a poems in a poetry cleanse organized by fellow VCFA alumna, KT Landon. I attending the reading for her new chapbook, Orange Dreaming, a few months back at The Cellar in Beverly. I’ll post more about my Boston poetry outings soon.

April Poems

Day 23 Prompt: Last <Blank>

Goodbye kisses fly / left and right / and hugs linger / as if we might not / see each other/ next time. (Last Tanda)

Day 24 Prompt: Faith

When a runner doubles over / one of us will bend down / whisper You’re almost there/ then trot along the pedestrian / side of the barrier / until his legs pick up speed. (Marathon Watchers: Mile 23)

Day 25 Prompt: Love or Anti-love

I keep pieces of you / on the tip of my bones. (Safekeeping)

Day 26 Prompt: Regret

Our shadow dances / in slow motion, / and when dawn comes, / won’t leave a trace. (No Regrets)

Day 27 Prompt: Use the words pest, crack, ramble, hiccup, wince, festoon

A big donor sees a face among us he recognizes. / He’s a known reception pest, the kind who peppers / staff with budget questions as we sip our tasteless red wine. (At the After-Work Reception)

Day 28 Prompt: Smell

Medium / sometimes / hazelnut / brewed by 6 a.m. (How My Neighbor Likes Her Coffee)

Day 29 Prompt: Metric

We’ve taught the same way for years, / but some kids have never measured up. (Achievement Gap)

Day 30 Prompt: The <blank>

One day, the tulips / lifted their heads. / The next day, / their faces fell / wide open. (The Last April Poem)

Here are the opening lines from a few of the May poems

Siri: Sometimes if I listen without thinking, I can follow her directions.

Boston in May: Angled buildings vie to reflect the final orange rays of the day as sailboats drift along the Charles.

But I Don’t See You as Black“: Oh, she’s in there. That gum smacking, neck rolling, finger wagging, please-talk-to-the-hand Black woman you think I’m not.


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Making of a Poetry Reading


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What started off as simple question on Facebook—I’m toying with the idea of doing a mini-tour for Blue Hallelujahs. Are their any specific places or reading series I should hit up?—became a full-blown poetry reading happening this Sunday, November 6th from 4:30-6:30 pm at the Arts at the Armory in Somerville, MA.

Different worlds collided in order to bring this reading into being. First, you have the Cave Canem universe, the home for black poetry, which randomly assigned me to share a suite with Cynthia Manick at the 2012 Fellows retreat. Subsequent retreats in 2013 & 2014 is where I met Brionne Janae & Breauna Roach. When I moved to the Boston area, I started attending the Dudley Poetry Group, where Brionne facilitates a weekly poetry workshop on Monday nights at the library. Back in August, she invited me to a poetry reading at Arts at the Armory. This place is an old National Guard building that has been converted into a community arts center. They host several events in their café and make them available at no cost if the event is free and open to the public. I connected with Nicole Terez Dutton at that reading in August. I knew of Nicole’s debut collection If One of Us Should Fall because it won the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry prize and was pleased to finally make her acquaintance.

The rest, as they say, is history—meshing available dates for the poets with available dates from the venue, confirming the date and time, the photos and bios, the flyer, deciding the lineup, and promoting the event. Needless to say, I’m excited the event it happening this weekend. Now all I have to do is decide which poems to read.

 

 


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Year in Review 2015


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This year was truly a double-life year. The first half of the year focused on getting the chapbook out into the world. The second half of the year focused on getting a new job and moving to Massachusetts. One realization: big changes in one side of the double life means the other side has to take a backseat. Once the job opportunity showed up, I got busy with preparing my applications and for two interviews as well as saying a very long goodbye to the city of Durham. Admittedly, I started the year in a bit of a writing funk. Fortunately, the weekly poetry dates with Kelly and the monthly poetry book club buoyed the poetry career while I focused on landing that job. This year’s highlights reveal how I was able to keep my toes in the poetry world.

January: Celebrated Living Poetry‘s 6th anniversary party.

February: Wrote poems for 14 Words of Love.

March: Appointed to Durham’s Public Art Committee.

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Organized poets writing at a Science talk and wrote a poem about the Hubble Telescope at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

May: Made the final revisions for the chapbook.

June: Chapbook launch and party for My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press.

July: Attended VONA retreat in Miami for writers of color and made so many more wonderful writer friends. Organized a second event and wrote a poem for King Pluto at the Science Talk on at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Took the Five-Day Poetry Challenge.

August: Not much writing but I did attend the poetry book club for Charles Wright. Read a poem at the 2015 Gospel Expo fundraiser for Johnson C. Smith University.

September: Read at Two Writers Walk Into a Bar one year after attending the event for the first time. Interviewed by Scott Fynboe for the SAFTACast.

October: Attended the West End Poetry Festival.

November: Started sorting and organizing my books for the big move!

December: Made my final poetic appearance before moving to Massachusetts at Living Poetry’s Holiday Chocolate Open Mic. My Mother’s Child chosen as one of Sundress Authors’ Picks for Best Reads of 2015.

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News from the Corner Office


PT ReadingTonight, I’m the featured poet for my favorite local reading series, Two Writers Walk into a Bar at Durham’s West End Wine Bar (7 pm). As the name suggests, the event features two writers—one poet, one prose writer—who each read for 20 minutes in the bar’s upstairs loft. The vibe is laid back and the readings always leave a word or a phrase etched on my mind. I look forward to the second Tuesday of the month, especially this one.

Thursday, I’ll be featured on the SAFTACast the bi-weekly podcast of the Sundress Academy for the Arts. This show focuses on the writer and whatever topics come up in the hour-long conversation with the gracious host, Scott Fynboe. Fitbits, hiking, and my worst dating story were a few of the things we discussed. Hyacinth Girl Press publisher, Margaret Bashaar and fellow HGP author, TA Noonan have appeared on the show.

Finally, with all this news, I’m launching a new page on the site: News from the Corner Office. This page will list my appearances and interviews and share a few photos. Deepest thanks to writer-blogger extraordinaire Tara Lynne Groth for this suggestion.