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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December 2019 Recap


Today reminds me of December 2019—inches of snow falling in thick flakes. The bulk of the Boston area’s snowfall fell in that month. Back then I thought these pre-winter storms  were a harbinger of a long season of “New England workouts,” i.e., cleaning off my car & digging out of parking spot. Thankfully, this winter was mild. Still it’s odd to see snow falling when we’re a month past spring.

Snow on budding trees in April

December in April

Week 1: December started on a Sunday. I tagged along with the faculty and students in a Women’s and Gender Studies class to see the movie, “Frozen II.” After the movie we stopped at a pupusa place in Framingham and then went back to campus for a discussion. Although the movie features strong female characters, there were subtle messages about women playing it safe & not taking risks as well as an obvious attempt by Disney to show indigenous people in a positive light that seemed to repackage the Pocahontas story for the next generation. The highlight of mid-week was the Celtics versus Miami game, my second of the season, where I got to see Jimmy Butler play. I’ve always liked him as a player, but started to follow him after he embarrassed his former teammates at practice a few days before he got traded. I love the NBA drama! The week ended with the President’s Holiday Open House packed with 100+ people and heavy hors d’oeuvres.

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Week 2: The double life was in full effect once again. Sunday was the Christmas Vespers program of music, readings, and carols that heralds the start of the holiday season. I’ve heard about this event since I arrived but never got around to going. Then I was invited to read the eighth and last lesson (see video starting at 1:02:22). I drew on all my growing-up years of performing in church plays and reading scriptures aloud in front of the congregation on Youth Sunday. It had been awhile since I had gone to a Christmas service. Oh how much I miss the music! The rest of the week I spent at a professional conference in Copley Square. I enjoying going to this conference because I get to ride the T like a normal person. Saturday, I capped off the week with a fantastic concert by the Brookline Symphony Orchestra, featuring Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar. Elgar composed each variation to reflect the personality & character of some of his friends.

Week 3: A busy, abbreviated week bookended by movies. On Sunday, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to see the film “Say Amen, Somebody,” a documentary about two of the originators of gospel music Thomas Dorsey & Willie Mae Ford Smith. I also had lunch with some of my sistah-friends at the newest restaurant at the museum. Thursday was the opening day of the ninth Star Wars movie The Rise of Skywalker. I was fortunate to be invited by some tango friends to see a private screening with no previews. Unfortunately, I left my wallet at work, went back to campus get it, and arrived at AMC Boston Common a little late. Friday, I got up super early to catch the 6 AM Megabus from BOS to NYC & ran several errands with my mom when I got home Saturday morning, I packed up my mom’s car with family and gifts to head down to my brother’s house in Virginia. We also showed up fashionably late to my aunt’s 80th birthday party and got to see lots of people I haven’t seen since I left the south.

Week 4+: Like many of you, I spent the holidays with family and friends. We enjoyed five days in Virginia, the first time the bulk of the Taylors & Carringtons had been together since our trip to St. Maarten in 2017. For the first time we opened gifts on Christmas Eve to allow the NYC crew to drive back home on Christmas Day to avoid holiday traffic. The day after Christmas, I went to see the Nets versus Knicks game at the Barclays Center. It was my first time there. What a microcosm of NYC—with all the different languages and cuisines at the arena plus a DJ playing Biggie tunes. I wrapped up the year ringing in the New Year Russian style.

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November 2019 Recap


November rivaled October in its schedule. I took five flights, drove over 900 miles, had two executive coaching calls, saw two movies, presented at a professional conference, and went to my first Celtics game of the season. November stretched the double life to the point where there was an event or activity almost every day of the month.

November 2019 calendar on Nov 13th - Wizards at Celtics

November 2019

Week 1: November began on a Friday. I started that day with an executive coaching call and ended it with a flight from BOS to SJC to attend the wedding of a good friend’s daughter. By the time I drove from the San Jose airport to the hotel in Palo Alto, I had been awake for over 18 hours. I spent less than 36 hours on the ground and still managed to see a former student research assistant and a former colleague in addition to the attending the wedding reception. When I returned on Sunday evening, I went home for a quick bite to eat, and then, tossed my business suitcase in the car and drove down to Newport, RI. I spent the beginning of the week at the North East Association of Institutional Research (NEAIR) annual conference. I was a first-time attendee and presented in one of first panels on Monday morning. Needless to say, I was so relieved that all the logistics worked out. The rest of the week was pretty tame—aqua jogging class, dinner + music, and nails.

Week 2: This week as bookended by the poetry/personal life and the professional life. At the beginning of the week, I had brunch with a group of friends in Cambridge, took the T to meet a poet-friend at Boston Public Library to exchange work, and had dinner with another friend. I ended up visiting the same restaurant thrice–twice for dinner and once for after work drinks. Wednesday was the Wizards vs. Celtics, my first game of the season. The Celtics were on an eight-game winning streak having only lost the opener to the 76ers. This game was no different. Even at that stage in the season, the C’s had better chemistry with Kemba than with Kyrie (Sigh. I miss basketball). Friday evening and all-day Saturday, I participated as a member of a search committee for a high-level position on campus. Yes, you read that right. And I still managed to attend my favorite Boston-area milonga and a meetup event that weekend.

Week 3: Compared to the first two weeks of the month, this week was quite tame. I started off the week with brunch at the home of my good friends and their 2-year-old (Sigh. I miss brunch too). Monday was the Blacksmith House Poetry Series featuring a poet I met locally, Rage Hezekiah, and Jill McDonough. I had recently heard McDonough’s poem, “Cindy Comes to Hear Me Read” on an episode of The Slowdown (an excellent weekday poetry podcast from former PLOTUS Tracy K. Smith). It was the only week in November I had my Skype poetry date. I also had my second executive coaching call, which is part of the professional development program I’m participating in this academic year. The program features a small cohort of individuals who report to senior leadership. Although I know everyone in the group, I hadn’t had the opportunity to interact to this degree and understand the challenges they have been facing. When I first came to campus, all of the direct reports to senior staff met on a monthly basis, but that group dissolved. Participating in this program reminds me of how much I miss the opportunity to interact with my peers at work. The week ended with another type of loss—UCLA’s sixth loss of the season to our crosstown rivals, USC. The Bruins #BeatSC every year I attended UCLA, but of course, that was back in the 90s.

Two crew rowing on the Charles River from the Boston University Bridge

BU Bridge scene

Week 4: This week did not start with brunch. Instead, I went a writing retreat at GrubStreet sponsored by Boston Writers of Color. These monthly retreats provide space for writers of color to write and submit their work…kind of like Four Chairs and a Bench, but with 10 times as many people coming in and out during the day. I also managed to see the movie “Harriet” on the same day. The rest of capped off the week with a brief, but spectacular Thanksgiving trip to Durham. I saw ten different friends in 48 hours, including two Thanksgiving dinners, a Thanksgiving dessert, a Black Friday brunch, a pizza making party, and coffee at the RDU airport Starbucks before my flight back. Somewhere in there I had a really good slice sweet potato pie and saw the movie “Queen & Slim” with my movie buddy, Jim.


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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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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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Dear Husband: A Manuscript


Plate of french toast and fried egg in the foreground; open laptop in the background with cup of Earl Grey tea and teapot

My favorite poet’s brunch at my favorite Sunday brunch spot, Rifrullo Café

Yesterday, I attended the Colrain One-Day Informational Retreat on the poetry manuscript. The workshop leaders, Fred Marchant and Joan Houlihan, touched on all the topics they cover in their four-day retreats. Each participant brought a packet of six poems they thought represented their manuscript. Fred and Joan guided the discussion of the packet by asking us: Is the voice consistent? Do the poems feel like they represent the manuscript in style and tone? Throughout the day, we considered the emotional content holding the poems together and whether the chronology of the poems supported or detracted from the overall feeling the manuscript established for the reader. The latter third of the day, we discussed the specifics of creating a manuscript: length (15-30 pages for a chapbook; typically 60-70 pages for a full-length collection); finding publications and contests for manuscripts and individual poems; and establishing your presence in the poetry world. At the end, we did an exercise where we searched for good titles within our poems, and closed the day by reading some of our work.

The specific feedback for my poems made me feel good about the progress I’ve made since I took Kwoya Maples‘ advice to create a document and title it “manuscript.” The manuscript’s working title, “Dear Husband,” is a series of poems with the same title. I thought I needed to keep the set together, but Joan & Fred suggested that I use each “Dear Husband” poem as a structural device, and possibly as section dividers that provide the reader with emotional markers throughout the manuscript. This advice is probably going to be easier said than done. It did get me to think differently about the themes each “Dear Husband” poem addressed and the other poems that could amplify that theme. Overall, the workshop made me realize I needed to be more intentional about the order of poems, their themes, the variations on that theme, and taking opportunities to swerve and surprise the reader.

I’m about a third of the way to a full-length collection, and after this workshop, I feel more confident about where it is going. There’s a lot more writing ahead and a lot more brunches needed to support the work.


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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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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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