A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Like a Lion


Ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…the accreditation site visit.

Image of the front of Pendleton West, a building on Wellesley College's campus

The cover of the self-study features this photo of Pendleton West

I first mentioned my role as co-chair of my college’s reaccreditation process back in December 2017, but really, the process started over two years ago. Preparing the self-study and the campus community for the site visit has been my primary focus at work and has driven many of the decisions I’ve made thus far. Why did I move to Brookline instead of leaving Massachusetts altogether? Because I wanted the experience of managing an accreditation process. What made me travel across the globe to visit Hong Kong and Taiwan in August? Because I wanted to take a big vacation before the worst of the accreditation preparations hit in the fall. Why am I auditing a poetry class this semester? Because by the time the site visit concludes, there’ll still be seven class meetings left.

We are one week away from the visiting team’s arrival on campus. I’m almost to the point where there is nothing else I can do to prepare. For the past week or so, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to email myself a to-do list or a short note to jog my memory of something I didn’t want to forget to do at work. I don’t think I’ll get to the point where I can stop worrying about the visit until March 13th at noon when the visiting team leaves, their boxed lunches in hand. Unlike Caesar, I can’t wait until the Ides of March.

Dark chocolate almonds, clementines, olives, guacamole, corn chips, banana chips, and an assortment of teas

The snacks for Four Chairs & a Bench

Today, I’m hosting the first Four Chairs & a Bench of 2019. It feels good to gather to have other writers gathered around the table with Dave Brubeck playing in the background. I have a few poems to revise after this blog post, and maybe, I will work on poem that describes trees in winter à la manière de Ansel Adams’ photograph, “Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park.”

Photo of pine forest in snow by Ansel Adams

Image from the “Ansel Adams In Our Time” exhibit at MFA Boston, 2019

I imagine several trees in the Boston area will resemble this photo after tonight’s snowstorm. We all thought this winter had been relatively mild, but March is starting off like the lion we knew her to be. The Weather app even has a snowflake forecast for next Sunday. We’ll see…

 


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February is Time to Flourish


 

My first blog post of 2019 comes two almost months after my last post. I’ve cut the time in between posts by 66% this year. It’s Day 41 and I’m already winning!

It’s also been 3 years, 1 month, 1 week, and 2 days since I moved to the Boston area. The passage of this time has never quite affected me as much as it did this morning when I activated my new HSA card. The friendly automated voice told me that the company issues a new card every three years. Who knew WageWorks was counting too?!

Now that the reaccreditation visit is four weeks away, I’ve directed my energy toward my manuscript. I’m fortunate enough to work at a college where I can audit a course with a Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Book Award-winning poet and that his course meets late afternoons once a week. I’ll have to come to work early and/or stay late in order to make up the time, but it’s a small sacrifice for the opportunity to learn and contribute to a community of poets on a weekly basis. I had a poem workshopped in the second class. I wasn’t quite sure about getting feedback from students—any of whom could be my child had I made different life choices. However, they had thoughtful suggestions and helped me to see how my poem resonated with their experiences.

As if taking a class on campus isn’t cool enough, I’ve been invited to submit a poem for MBTA’s Poetry on the T and to read with Lynne Viti on BlogTalk Radio’s Quintessential Listening program (check out this episode with writing faculty member, Heather Bryant).    These opportunities certainly make me feel like 2019 is indeed my year to flourish. Flourish is the one word I have chosen to embody this year, an idea inspired by this post by a friend on the OneWord365 website. I’m looking forward to what the other 324 days will bring.

 


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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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May-pril then June


Since I’ve started working at a college, I’ve noticed that April & May become one long month. It’s the mad rush after Spring Break to get in those last one or two meetings of the academic year before students and (most) faculty leave for the summer. May-pril is the reason I could not commit to writing poems every day for National Poetry Month, but instead posted photos of 30 poems I loved. Here’s the Day 30 poem, From Space to Time by Carolyn Rodgers.

day 30 from space to time

“From Space to Time” by Carolyn Rodgers

In May-pril, the work life requires all of my time and attention. This year is a little more intense because I’m trying to leave room for writing and poetry events while keeping up with the NBA playoffs (#CUsRise ☘️). Last weekend, I went to the 10th annual MassPoetry Festival where I attended readings by Cave Canem executive director, Nicole Sealey (see her poem on Day 16) and fellows Lillian Yvonne Bertram, Curtis Crisler, Chanda Feldman, Brionne Janae, and Kamilah Aisha Moon. On Sunday, I caught the tail end of the panel about building community through the poetry cleanse and participated in a panel with fellow VCFA alums—Victorio Reyes Asili, Greg Hill,  Lauren Banks-Killelea, and KT Landon—to share our experiences at a low-residency MFA programs with people trying to figure out if such a program was right for them.

I look forward to June and the return of Summer Fridays. I plan to use that time to write (and do errands and restart my yoga routine and eat at my favorite breakfast places in walking distance). Until then, I’m going to try to enjoy the Spring weather as we countdown to commencement on the 1st.

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Year in Review 2017


2017 in review

Time for the year in review. I decided to post the review early because I’m traveling for the holidays. No new publications – I still haven’t submitted to any journals. But I continue to the poetry dates via Skype most weeks. I had to go review my calendar and emails to pull together this list. Although I didn’t blog much about my poetic endeavors, I managed to do something creative almost once a month.

January

February

April

May

  • Organized the Dudley Poetry Open Mic
  • Completed the May poetry cleanse
  • Attended the MassPoetry Festival in Salem
  • Facilitated the monthly summer workshops of the Dudley Poetry Club
  • Wrote poems for the Utopia Encuentro Milongero: Charleston Edition

June

July

August

September

October

November

December


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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.