A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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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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April in NOLA


Last weekend, I met the Margaret Bashaar, editor and founder of Hyacinth Girl Press the micro-press that published my chapbook. It was the first time we had met in person and she had heard me read the poems from the chapbook. Margaret submitted a proposal for a panel reading from various HGP titles at the New Orleans Poetry Festival. I told her if the panel got accepted, I would “make it work.” In actuality, it was harder to find a flight for a decent price and reserve accommodations than it was to take time off from work.

For the reading, I selected poems from the chapbook that I do not normally read— “Peaches and Pound Cake,” “Why I Stopped Mentoring White Women,” “There’s a Graveyard in My Belly,” and “Transit of Venus”—in addition to the one poem I love to read, “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals,” which was, thankfully, the poem my editor wanted to hear. I also read three new poems I’ve written in the past year that have received the polishing after they’ve been through the weekly critiques over Skype. Although I was on the ground less than 48 hours, I got a chance to meet and hear some great poets, take in the street art on St. Roch Avenue, eat beignets at Café du Monde, have a Bloody Mary & gumbo at Stanley, and visit Marie LaVeau’s House of Voodoo before heading back to the airport.

This week’s poems were a combination of poets I wanted to make sure I included and poems that jumped off the page (or the screen) when I was reading them.

Day 23: The Abandoned Valley by Jack Gilbert 

Day 24: The White Ones by Langston Hughes

Day 25: from Citizen, VI [My brothers are notorious] by Claudia Rankine

Day 26: Facing It by Yusef Komunyakaa

Day 27: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Day 28: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Day 29: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by Amiri Baraka 

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April is a Marathon


A sea of Boston Marathon Runners

122nd Boston Marathon through Brookline

Massachusetts is one of four states that observe Patriots’ Day (or Patriot’s Day if you live in Maine) commemorating the Battles of Lexington & Concord. This state holiday is also known as Marathon Monday when runners wind their way through 26.2 miles of Massachusetts from Hopkinton to Boston. Now that I live Brookline, it’s a 3-minute walk from my apartment to Mile Marker 23 on the marathon route. Even with miserable weather, I felt it was my civic duty to cheer the runners on. 

This week, I decided to be more deliberate in the poems I chose to post, all Black women poets, most with a Cave Canem connection.

Day 16: Object Permanence by Nicole Sealey

Day 17: When Your Small Form Tumbled Into Me by Tracy K. Smith

Day 18: Incident by Natasha Trethewey 

Day 19: Summer by Robin Coste Lewis

Day 20: Given to Rust by Vievee Francis

Day 21: Hash Marks by Nikki Finney

Day 22: To Be In Love by Gwendolyn Brooks

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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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Happy April!


Spring in Boston is errant piles of melting snow, crocuses and daffodils bravely stretching their heads into the crisp air, and trees with bare limbs looking like legions of ladies in sleeveless tops.

Today, I held the third Four Chairs & a Bench writing session—two poets and two novelists made for a bit of balance around the table.

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Four Chairs and a Bench April Session with Kali, Kiril, Nancy & Pam (who is bad at taking selfies)

Instead of writing a poem every day, I am posting a poem that I love every day via Instagram. Here are the first eight poems.

Day 1: “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton

Day 2: “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black” by Cortney Lamar Charleston

Day 3: Absence by Pablo Neruda

Day 4: “You will hear thunder” by Anna Akhmatova

Day 5: Heart to Heart by Rita Dove

Day 6: I Ask My Mother to Sing by Li-Young Lee

Day 7: Morningside Park by Wanda Coleman

Day 8: Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

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End of Summer Rush


Last Monday, the student leaders arrived on campus, signaling the slippery slope to the start of the semester. Knowing that my summer was officially coming to an end, I headed off to NYC with my mom & sister to see a Broadway show and the sights. Even though I’m a native New Yorker, there’s still something special about the skyscrapers that make the city what it is.
Empire State Building

I’m also rushing to cram in as much poetry as I possibly can. I finished an online workshop with Ada Limón, where I wrote three new poems and one revision. She provided prompts with sample poems to inspire us. We had to post our poems by Monday and comment on everyone else’s poem by Sunday night. It was tough to keep the momentum after a full week of poetry in Provincetown. My brain spent more time focused on the semester ahead. Poetic thoughts mostly occurred in the moments before fully waking up or falling asleep, which doesn’t help when you need to write them down. All in all, I’m glad I took the time to participate and now have some material to mold in the fall.

 


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P is for P-town


PoeT

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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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!


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Fall Reading List


In New England, summer slips off like a thin nightgown. Longer sleeves, thicker sweaters, and sturdier coats push toward the front of the closet. The many pairs of Hanes Gentlebrown hosiery rise out of drawers as if summoned by a snake charmer.

Fall starts as soon as the calendar turns a page. Last week, I wore a green short-sleeved dress with beige open-toe shoes. This week, I wore a wool-blend cardigan over a houndstooth sheath dress, stockings, and tan suede shoes. I see the sun in spurts. If we’re lucky, those spurts last a whole day. Lately, the clouds have thickened as if the sky has put on its coat.

My reading list has gotten longer. I’ve got stacks of books on either side of the bed. Somewhere between the last post and this one, I discovered the Minuteman Library Network connecting public libraries in 36 towns in Massachusetts, including the three places where I split my time.

 

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Unlike campus library, I borrow these books 3 weeks at a time. More popular books have an shorter time borrowing period. These books jump the line when I want to read something before I go to bed or when I have trouble getting back to sleep. Here’s the lineup:

  • The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparkes. A friend of mine heard one of the short stories “13 Ways of Destroying a Painting” on public radio. It’s about a time traveler who tries to stop an artist from completing this painting. The story has an interesting twist and the other stories in the book will make you wince or gasp.
  • Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. A historian who traces the development of segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist ideas to defend or thwart racist policies from the 15th century to present day. I saw this book sitting face up in the Wellesley Free library and had to get it. It made the long-list for the 2016 National Book Awards for Non-Fiction. I’m only on page 70 of this book and my mind is blown. I’ll probably end up buying this book because I’ve dog-earned almost every other page.
  • Things that I Do in the Dark: Selected Poems by June Jordan. I saw a poem from this collection posted or shared somewhere. Had to get it. It’s the kind of poetry collection you can open to any page, read one poem, and be nourished for the entire day.
  • The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems edited by Mark Eisner. Another book I picked up because someone used two lines from Neruda’sPoema XX” in their poem. And it’s Neruda after all. He’s supposed to be by your bedside.
  • The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. A book recommendation from my friend, Iryna, who has excellent taste in books. I gave her and her husband, Cecil, a personal tour of the campus. I had to drag her away historic book display in the library. This book has jumped the line because it’s one of those 14-day books I cannot renew.

In addition to the public library books, I have my author-signed copies of Blue Hallelujahs  by Cynthia Manick, Soul Psalms by U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo, and That Church Life by long-time friend Teresa Howell as well as the collection, There are Talismans by Doris Radin, gifted to me by her daughter, Robin, a local photographer. These books are sitting by the bedside in my new apartment (more on that later). And did I mention I still have Audre Lorde’s Black Unicorn in my possession?

Who knows when I’ll get time to read them all. I’ll keep renewing until the library gods make me stop.

 

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