A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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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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Quintessential Poetry and More


Herstory 2019

On Monday, March 18th I will have the honor to read my poems on the Quintessential Listening: Poetry show on Blog Talk Radio along with poets Francine Montemurro and Lynne Viti. The theme of the event is HERSTORY in celebration of Women’s History Month. I plan to share some of my published work as well as some poems from the manuscript-in-progress. The show starts at 8 pm. You can listen live or hear the episode after it has been posted to the site.

The last time I read my poetry was probably two summers ago when I helped to organize the poetry and prose reading of writers who were also tango dancers. It will be the first time I’ve read many of the poems that I’ve written since then. I’m also seriously thinking about reading at the open mic at the Cantab Lounge on March 27th posted to the Boston Writers of Color Meetup group. The format allows for a maximum of 3 minutes to read, which means I can read two short poems or one long poem.

In between those readings, I will attend the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference‘s one-day informational retreat, “What is a Manuscript?” next Saturday. I must admit to feeling like I’m paying too much for a one-day workshop where I am likely be the only poet of color. I have paid less for Celtics tickets in row C where the TD Garden crowd reflects more diversity than I tend to experience in Boston on a daily basis. We’ll see.


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The Start of Summer


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Boston harbor skyline

Summer in New England has started early, a small favor considering winter outlasted its welcome. Summer for this double-life poet means the beginning of Summer Fridays—working nine-hour days from Monday–Thursday with Fridays off. I plan to use this time to jumpstart a manuscript (yes, I said the m-word), a full-length collection of poems.

I ran into a fellow Cave Canem poet, Kyowa Fagin Maples a few months back at the NOLA Poetry Festival. It was a treat to see her since neither one of us knew the other was attending. Kwoya had been my mentor at my first CC retreat back when she was pregnant with twins. Now, she has three children age six and under and a forthcoming book, Mend (University of Kentucky Press). Of course, I asked her how she managed to work on a manuscript with three kids and husband. She told me how, in order to get over the fear of starting a manuscript, she created a Word document, named it manuscript and started to write her poems in the same document. She made a schedule to write two poems a week (!). Not all of her poems were good, but some of them were worthy. She didn’t worry so much about whether the poems hung together as a collection; she figured they would because the poems were temporally linked.

Ever since I heard Kwoya’s story, I thought I could use my Summer Fridays to work on my manuscript, to finally say that I am writing toward something. I still don’t know what the title will be, but I know that the common thread is me. Lately, I have been writing a lot of poems one of my oldest poet friends and Living Poetry founder, Angelika, would call the poems of love and longing. I say ‘lately’ as if I haven’t been writing these types of poems since before I started calling myself a poet. At today’s Four Chairs & a Bench I made a start: I created a Google doc, titled the document Manuscript, and copied and pasted 29 poems.

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Birthday Week


Screenshot on Thursday, April 12 at 4:12 am

April is my favorite month of the year because I celebrate my birthday. When I lived in North Carolina, I was known to take 2-10 days off and plan something grand like skydiving or hiking through three National Parks in Utah. Now that I work at a college, my birthday falls in the second half of the semester where we rush to get everything done before students and faculty scatter across the world for the summer. I can’t take vacation like before, but I can still celebrate all month. For my birthday, people were kind enough to buy me dinner, cook for me, join me at a Celtics game, dance with me, send me lovely cards & gifts, and wish me well via phone calls, Facebook messages, and texts.

That April is also National Poetry Month probably means I was destined to be a poet. It’s been great to share a photo of a poem that I love every day. People are being introduced to and reacquainted with the poems and poets that have touched me over the years. As the NYT article on Tracy K. Smith implies, poetry can certainly be the cure that ails us at this moment.

Here are the next 7 poems:

Day 9: A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay

Day 10: Waiting by Yevgeny Yuvtushenko

Day 11: Harlem Dancer by Claude McKay

Day 12: Twenty Questions for Black Professionals by Pamela Taylor

Day 13: For Grace, After a Party by Frank O’Hara

Day 14: Angina Pectoris by Nazim Hikmet

Day 15: I, Too by Langston Hughes

 

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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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April Poem-a-Day Challenge: Week 3


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As they say in the South, We’re getting down to the short rows. There are 8 more days in the Poem-a-Day Challenge. Although I’ve done the challenge for many years, it still surprises me how the prompts stimulate ideas I didn’t know were in my head. Enjoy the excerpts from this week.

Day 16 Prompt: <blank> System

Once we were orbs / in our own space / spun out / unable to withstand / the dust and rocks / hurled in our direction. (Solar System)

Day 17 Prompt: Dance

Cuddled / against / his chest / I become / bandoneon. (On the Dance Floor)

Day 18 Prompt: Life or Death

It doesn’t happen overnight. / You still wake up at the same time / but there is no rush to get ready. (Retired Life)

Day 19 Prompt: Memory

My blind / Date doesn’t show/ The waitstaff comps my meal/ But it doesn’t make me feel much / Better (The Times I Got Stood Up)

Day 20 Prompt: Task

Go downstairs / Read the sign above the washer–$3.50 per load / Walk back upstairs/ Bemoan the number of quarters added to your life (How to Do Laundry at Your New Apartment)

Day 21 Prompt: Object

What did you bring me today? A catalog, / forwarded mail, solicitations from old / charities? I know it’s not your fault, / but sometimes it feels like you’re in on the conspiracy. (Mailbox)

Day 22 Prompt: Fable

The people with the golden hair plucked his feathers one by one, took out his innards, washed and stuffed his body, and put him in an oven until he was golden brown. Then they sat down around the table, held hands, and prayed before tearing him limb from limb. You were lucky we found you before they did the same thing to you. (Little Golden)


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April Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 2


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We’re halfway to the finish line of the Poem-a-Day challenge. Here are the excerpts from Week 2.

Day 9 Prompt: So <Blank>

You will / return to me / like the swallows / of Capistrano / to build / your nests / under the eaves / of my mission walls. (So Long)

Day 10 Prompt: Travel

In the city, / you rarely go from place to place alone. You’re stuck / in tin boxes underground, breathing in armpits and belches, / turning away from the man nodding off next to you.  (Commuting)

Day 11 Prompt: Sonnet or Anti-form

Spring’s blush / Dabbed in light strokes / As the days grow longer / The color in her cheeks deepens / To green (Cinquain)

Day 12 Prompt: Guilty

But you’ve banished yourself to the basement of your mind / where you watch the replays on reel-to-reel to pinpoint / that one wrong move, but it’s never just one, is it? (Mea Culpa)

Day 13 Prompt: Family

My father sent Ginger Snaps, boxed drinks, / and microwavable meals wrapped / in the Daily News sports pages / then stuffed in a small U-Haul box. (Care Packages)

Day 14 Prompt: Popular Saying

Life is a tunnel / I’m navigating with my hands. / Sometimes I have to stoop / or crawl to keep going. (Slowly but Surely)

Day 15 Prompt: One Time

As a girl, I had been told about this day / when my body would bleed / and it would be a normal part / of becoming woman. But nobody said / it could happen in the middle of math / with 19 pairs of eyes. (One Time in 6th Grade)


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April 2017 Poem-a-Day Challenge: Week 1


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Here are excerpts from the poems from Week 1 of the Poem-A-Day Challenge. Prompts courtesy of Poetic Asides.

Day 2 Prompt: Not Today

Friends are more bold in their predictions / each new person a possibility, a prospect / their you never knows float in your mind / like hot air balloons—colorful and grand, / but always disappearing from view. (The Question of Love)

Day 3 Prompt: <blank> of Love

I can’t see the driver’s face, / but I imagine him stroking / her knee, wrapping his sweet / talk in a smooth baritone. (Look of Love)

Day 4 Prompt: Beginning or End

It begins and ends with boxes—/ some stuffed and taped, others / flattened and stacked in a corner. (Moving)

Day 5 Prompt: Element

He wanted something to symbolize / his marriage vows. Tungsten was the strongest / element that would still bend to the will of love. (The Strongest Element)

Day 6 Prompt: A Sound

Sometimes / nothing but the roar / of the impossible sea / returning (Silence)

Day 7 Prompt: Discovery

That sinking feeling is not / from discovering the lie / but from realizing we’ve known / the truth the whole time (Icebergs)

Day 8 Prompt: Panic

I hear the boom, stop, run back faster faster. / The yellow mushroom cloud fogs the sky, my eyes. (Mariam on the Way to the Exam)


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April 2017 Poem-a-Day Challenge


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What better way to jumpstart the blog than by jumping into the Poem-a-Day Challenge. I had debated whether I would do the challenge because I didn’t think I would be able to sustain 30 days of poetry writing. But that’s how I always feel on March 31st, and by April 30th, I’m glad I have a pile of new work to sift through.

As in the past, I will post the prompt and a few lines from each poem from the past week. Here’s today’s poem:

Day 1 Prompt: Reminiscing

Your dear old friends share their new

scars and hopes and you will leave unsure

how either will turn out. A part of you

will want to keep everything in its old place

but that’s like trying to hold back a river

with your weak hand. You can go home again.

You can’t stop home or yourself from changing.

I will post more excerpts next week!