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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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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End of Summer 2019


In case you missed it, yesterday was Earth, Wind & Fire Day, affectionately named because their song “September” immortalized the 21st night of September in our memories. Humming the song throughout the day on Saturday forced me to recognize how close we were to fall. Not that that autumn’s arrival is a surprise this year. Swaths of leaves have turned golden or red, proof that they have already caught “the fever” as a I like to call it.

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Snacks for the Four Chairs & a Bench writers

On this last day of summer, the temperature is holding steady at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A pleasant breeze drifts through my open window. My fellow writers have assembled around the table for another writing session. Today’s group featured a writer from the various rooms of my life—college, tango, my MFA program, and the MassPoetry scene.

I wrote two new poems for an art salon next week on the theme Majestic

The other poems I’ll share are from my 2015 trip to Utah when I visited Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. Here are the photos that inspired the poems:

 


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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 1


Happy National Poetry Month!

I hosted another Four Chairs & a Bench, finishing up two revisions and a submission. Check out the photo of the spread!

FACB 201904JPG

Snacks for Four Chairs and a Bench

In keeping with last year’s tradition, I am posting a poem that I love every day to Instagram (@ptpoet). Here are the first seven poems:

Day 1: “the lesson of the falling leaves by Lucille Clifton

Day 2: “Psalm 150” by Jericho Brown

Day 3: “Insomnia” by Elizabeth Bishop

Day 4: “The Garden” by Jacques Prévert

Day 5: “Sonnet 28” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

Day 6: “Thirsting” by Alicia Ostriker

Day 7: “Topography” by Sharon Olds

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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.