Tonight, 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.
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:
- Work: “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals” from my chapbook, My Mother’s Child (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015)
- Love & Longing: “The Truth about Fire” published in The Pedestal Magazine in 2012
- Planets & the Universe: “To Earth, From Mars” published in Construction Literary Magazine in 2014
- Family: “At Night I Dream of Trains” published in the Grief issue of When Women Waken in 2013
- 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.
- “White, White Collars” by Denis Johnson, from The Incognito Lounge, 1982
- “Drone” by Wanda Coleman, from African Sleeping Sickness, 1990
- “The Gulf” by Brian Brodeur, from The Missouri Review, Winter 2010
- “Coming Closer” by Philip Levine, from What Work Is, 1991
- “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.
Pluto’s Frozen Heart. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to write a poem in honor of the King of the Dwarf Planets—Pluto—as part of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences weekly Science Café talks. NASA Ambassador Shawn Bayle provided background about Pluto and the New Horizons mission that has been transmitting stunning images of the ninth rock from the Sun.
This event was the third time the museum had invited Living Poetry members to craft poems inspired by a science talk:
Pluto’s Poetesses. Credits: Erin Osborn & Alice Osborn
I don’t think it was accidental that old King Pluto had four ladies scribing in his honor. He’s got that effect on women—ask Proserpina (aka Greek’s Persephone) and his largest moon, Charon, which is gravitationally locked in sync with Pluto’s orbit so that the two celestial bodies always face each other. Some other facts about Pluto and the New Horizons mission gathered from the talk and mentioned in the poems:
- discovered by mistake by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 in search for Planet X presumed to exist beyond Neptune
- first object identified in the Kuiper Belt
- New Horizons took 9 years to get to Pluto; the gravitational boost from Jupiter reduced the time to get to Pluto by 5 years.
- scientists discovered two of Pluto’s moons—Styx & Kerberos—after the New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006
I enjoy writing planetary poems already but especially at these events because I can hear similar threads in each poem while noting each poet’s unique voice. I’ll share an expert from my poem here, “New Horizons Meets Planet X,” but be sure to watch the entire talk on YouTube (poets start about an hour into the video).
Feed me your data in bits
and bytes as we shimmy
in front of Neptune to soak
up the sun. I don’t see any rings
around you, so maybe we can
make a new moon or two.
Transit of Venus June 5, 2012, NASA/Goddard/SDO
One of the first poems in my chapbook that was published was “Transit of Venus,” which was inspired by the 2012 event that will not happen again until 2117. What I saw with my own eyes (black drop / crossing / the sun / dipping down / curving around / up again) is now visible in some amazing pictures from a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. I consider the Venus poem the first in a series of poems about the planets I intend to write. Last year, Construction Magazine published “To Earth, From Mars,” the second planetary poem, and I wrote “Pluto, My Brother” at my last Cave Canem retreat (back in my day there were 9 planets). My poetry-date partner, Kelly, says the Pluto poem is ready to send out, so I’ll be spending some time this weekend in the Poet’s Gym (aka UNC Davis Library) figuring out where it should land.
Photograph via Flickr by bluedharma
I love writing about the planets and other objects in the universe. They are like our distant relatives: made of the same stuff but existing in a different era. Poetry offers a unique way to consider the beauty and individuality of each body as well as explore the myths and folklore we project onto each globe. I’ve also written poems about the spacecraft we’ve sent to explore other objects in our universe. My biggest challenge is *getting the science right* inside the poem. Often, the scientific terms are not accessible or pleasant-sounding to the average reader. It’s my job to make the connection between science and metaphor so that we can understand each planet on its own merit as well as how it relates to our own lives.
Tonight, I will get another opportunity to write about Pluto at the Science Cafe at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The talk will feature some of the stunning images taken of our dear *dwarf* planet from the New Horizons probe. I can’t wait to see what these new images inspire.
NASA Instagram photo of Pluto from New Horizons
My chapbook is finally here, My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press. In my last post, I promised to share the details of this amazing journey. Although some of these poems were written almost four years ago and about 10 months elapsed from signing the publication contract to publication date, it’s really felt like a serendipitous labor of love.
- The Poems. I can trace the origins of some of these poems back to 2011 in my second semester at VCFA. I wrote other poems at two Cave Canem retreats, in response to a visual prompt at my weekly writing group, Written Word, and a workshop through the Raleigh Review. I know many of these poems started as hunks of stone scribbled in my notebooks while commuting on the DRX bus and were later revised during my times at UNC Davis Library (aka The Poet’s Gym). Six poems were previously published; five in 2013 and one in an anthology published in 2014.
- The Chapbook. Assembling chapbook is different than putting 3-5 poems together for a journal submission or workshop application packet. The poems have to speak to each other and belong together. After a year of submitting to contests for full-length collections and getting nowhere, I changed my strategy. When I sat down to look at all the poems, they seemed to separate themselves into two groups with a few bridge poems. Depending on the chapbook contest guidelines, I included more or fewer poems. I probably had 3 or 4 different configurations.
- The Contest. I entered My Mother’s Child into the Imaginary Friend Press chapbook contest in 2013. I liked this contest because it was specifically for anyone who did NOT identify as a heteronormative white male. Although I was a finalist for this contest, one of the judges, Margaret Bashaar, asked to publish the chapbook through her small press, Hyacinth Girl Press. This could not have happened if I didn’t enter contests and submit my work.
- The Cover Art. This amazing sketch was done by a local artist, Jolmar Millar (4th photo). I met Jolmar at a tribute event for Maya Angelou I emceed in November 2014. When Margaret gently nudged me about cover art, it took a while before I thought of Jolmar. And then when she came to mind, I didn’t have her email address. I emailed a mutual contact for Jolmar’s email address and the email went to spam. Then about a month later we were connected.
- The Publication Process. This process is no joke, and being a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. There comes a point where you have to let go. Having a wonderful publisher and layout person helps. I still don’t think I caught everything, so don’t be too hard on me if you find something.
Here’s an excerpt from a poem that started out as an image I couldn’t get out of my head while driving to a poetry-on-demand event at Cloer Family Vineyard in April 2012. The first draft was written at Cave Canem in June 2012.
What makes sense disappears
under straw hats,
this bizarre America,
where they pay
to return to rural
roots my people fled—
that second Exodus
to auto plants, steel mills,
so I wouldn’t
have to stand in sweat
tasting the dry,
on my tongue.– Stuff White People Like #132: Picking Their Own Fruit
, from My Mother’s Child
– See more at: http://hyacinthgirlpress.com/yearfive/mymotherschild.html#sthash.q08uIMgj.dpuf
I had to rest up after writing all those April poems for the Poem-a-Day Challenge. It took 3-4 days before I could read the poems, and I have to say, I’m quite happy with the result. During the challenge, I can’t spend time with each poem because I’ve got to crank out another one. So having the time to step away and come back to what I’ve written helps me see each poem in a new light. There are quite a few that I want to work with so they can be sent out for publication this summer and fall.
With the true arrival of Spring, I’m getting out more. The NC Museum of Natural Sciences invited the poets back on the last day of April to write poems in response to a science talk about the Hubble Telescope. I also debuted some of the April poems at a Sunday brunch with the girls at the home of my tango friend and photographer, Katia Singletary and at the Open Mic at Johnny’s Gone Fishing in Carrboro. I resumed my Tuesday poetry dates with the Two Writers Walk Into a Bar reading with Duncan Murrell and Liana Roux. The Murrell piece follows pyrotechnicians (yes, the people who set fireworks), so I can’t wait to go to Davis Library and read it in the Virginia Quarterly Review.
Also, ahead this month—the release of my new chapbook, My Mother’s Child from Hyacinth Girl Press. It’s been an amazing experience working with this small press and I can’t wait to share the details of this journey.
After writing poems for 30 days, I had to shift gears to focus on the work side of this double life. In fact the work project I was leading was a constant in the backdrop of September’s poetrySpark, the November poem-a-day challenge, and poetry submission deadlines. As hard as I worked on my poems on Sunday afternoons in the office at the library, I worked equally hard–if not harder–in writing a report for work. And finally, it has culminated in a presentation before a state legislative committee on operational efficiency within the University of North Carolina system (check out the video clip from News 14 and the write-up on WRAL).
In true double-life fashion, this work accomplishment is accompanied by a few poetic accomplishments: submitting a chapbook to two contests and getting two poems published in the Grief Issue of When Women Waken, including the Day 5 poem of the November 2013 PAD challenge.
Times like this is why I love the double life!
Unlike my favorite superhero, Spider-Man, I don’t hide my poet identity in the workplace. My colleagues have witnessed my transformation from just writing to writing poems to being enrolled in an MFA program for poetry to being a published poet. I have written several poems based on my experiences as a Black female professional and have started getting a few of the work-related poems published. So I’m ok with being a poet in the office.
Lately though, the word has gotten out beyond the safety of the cubicle walls. My LinkedIn profile and office website list the MFA in Writing degree next to the PhD. And now that I’ve transitioned to being a team lead, people outside of the office are interested in discovering my credentials. I can tell that people whom I interview have read my bio when they ask, “How did you go from being a statistician to poetry?”
I’m guilty of spreading the word too. At the beginning of the project I mentioned to the agency that I was going out of town. Curious they asked where I was vacationing and in the interest of full disclosure I told them I told them I was going to a poetry retreat. Since then they have asked how it went and if there were poems they could read. I sent them a few links to what I have online, but it felt weird for people that I only know through my job to know about my poetry. I don’t hide it but I’m not used to being a poet and everybody knowing it. I think I need to get used to it.