A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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Four Chairs & a Bench


From the first time I saw the apartment in Brookline, I knew I wanted to buy a long table and host quiet Sunday afternoons with writers heads bowed in our notebooks and laptops, the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards and jazz in the background. Today, I finally got my wish.

Five people seated around a table smiling, laptops and notebooks open during the first writing session for Four Chairs & a Bench.

Four Chairs & a Bench – January 2018

Special thanks to Daniel, Laura, KT, Nancy, & Sofiya for being the first five writers at the table. I already have all the seats at the table reserved for February.


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First Snow


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Yesterday was the first snowfall of the season. I’m sure it was the first of many days of snow this winter. I’ve lived in Massachusetts for 23 months and 9 days (but’s who’s counting). I spent a few hours of the snowy day at my neighborhood café, Athan’s Bakery. It’s not as crowded or loud as the Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and Caffè Nero in Washington Square. There are plenty of people reading, typing, or scrolling through their phones. The Earl Grey is good and they will refill your hot water.

I spent the first hour of my two-hour time limit writing letters. I hoard cards to have them on hand for various occasions. Right now, I collect more cards than I send out. I had planned to spend more time writing Ietters this fall. Then the semester started. Until April 2019, the work life will take priority as I serve as the staff co-chair of the college’s reaccreditation process. For a while, I’ve been trying to figure out a way how not to let this process take over my life. I have finally stopped resisting. The challenge is to find the pockets where poetry can still live.

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Poetry doesn’t need that much air or space to live comfortably. I have to make and/or find that space, though. I finished the Oprah & Deepak 21-day meditation challenge – which surprised me because I don’t usually stick to those types of efforts – and found that the morning time I had set aside for meditation could be repurposed as time to write. I write for two pages in my journal every day. My poetry partner in crime, Kelly, reminded me that this daily writing habit is like the morning pages from the Artist’s Way. I make a point to write at the dining table and not in bed. I want to get my body and mind into the habit of getting up and going to the table to write. After all, that’s why I bought it.

 


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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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Getting Back Into the Game


Four Queens Playing Cards

I’ve always had a good mind for important dates, milestones, and anniversaries. For example, I’ve been living in Boston for one year, five months, and 17 days. In the self-review portion of my performance evaluation, I reflected back on where I was last year this time (working alone on the 4th floor of an old building that was 7-minute walk from the heart of campus) to remind myself of how much progress had been made (working on the same floor as the senior leadership with two staff reporting to me). I know a lot of people don’t record the world in this way.  To help everyone else out, Facebook shows you posts that you shared from 1-, 3-, 4-, and 7+ years ago to help jog your memory.

Recently, I shared two memories announcing my published poems, “Transit of Venus” & “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals.” I re-posted these memories primarily for the benefit of the Boston tangueros who have found out I was a poet, but had yet to read my work. It’s been over two years since my work was published and even longer since I’ve submitted my work anywhere. Of course, I’ve had a lot of big changes since then (ahem—new job & new city).

Fortunately, I’ve kept writing—meeting regularly with Kelly Lenox over Skype, attending the Dudley Poetry Club, & producing daily poems via the April PAD Challenges and the poetry cleanse. For a while, I’ve been writing with no sense of direction. I had to pull together 10 poems in order to apply to a writing residency and felt like the poems in the application had the making of a narrative arch.

I feel inspired to follow where these poems lead. To that end, I attended a weekly write-in Meetup group and have started to research publications where these poems can land. I feel ready to get back into the publication game. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


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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!