A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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


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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


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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!


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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)