A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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!

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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.


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What Happened to Fall?


In five days, it will officially be winter. Winter, y’all! The Boston area had its first snowfall on November 15th. Last year, our first snowfall was on December 9th (Yes, I keep track). Durham, North Carolina, where I used to live, saw an entire season of snowfall in one day!! And did I mention we still have five more days before the winter solstice?

Working at a college, the start of the fall semester feels like you’re standing in front of a broken fire hydrant, but by the end of October things settle down. Not so during the reaccreditation process. The pace slowed down around Thanksgiving, and when it did, my body succumbed to a cold that has taken almost two weeks to shake.

However, I still managed to have a good time between my last post in June and now.

August: Trip to Hong Kong & Taiwan and a wedding in LA

September: Four Chairs & a Bench

October: Pittsburgh Steelers game and two Celtics games

November: Thanksgiving in Durham

December: Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker and another Celtics game

Check out my photo montage!

 

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Although I haven’t been keeping up with the blog, I have been keeping up with my writing. Travel provides the needed time and headspace to write and the local sites and other passengers become featured in my work. Also, I’ve been keeping up with my poetry dates as much as I could. I also found a new favorite place to write in my neighborhood, Rifrullo Café. It has good brunch options on Sunday (caramelized French toast), a long wooden table to share with other patrons, and a comfy, curved, pink leather couch. I tend to spend about two hours writing or editing poems, including the six poems that were recently published in The Adirondack Review and Atlas and Alice.


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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.