A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

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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.



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.




Poem for Ieshia Evans


Ieshia Evans calmly gets arrested after protesting the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge (Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)


When nothing has been done
when the problem of the color line
has been ignored intellectualized and dismissed
when black bodies have been cut down
and communities shaken
in the silence of the moment
—a woman always arrives
to strike a match
shine a light and fight the dark
to stand against a brutal sea of blue.

It never fails.

~after “Woman” by Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir translated by Salka Guomun∂sdóttir and quoted by Iceland’s former prime minister, Jóhanna Sigur∂ardóttir

Ieshia Evans heard silence as law enforcement officers clad in body armor approached her with guns drawn and zip-tie handcuffs at the ready. But her stand in the face of silence speaks volumes for many of us. I invite you to listen to her interview with CBS News.


Year in Review 2015


This year was truly a double-life year. The first half of the year focused on getting the chapbook out into the world. The second half of the year focused on getting a new job and moving to Massachusetts. One realization: big changes in one side of the double life means the other side has to take a backseat. Once the job opportunity showed up, I got busy with preparing my applications and for two interviews as well as saying a very long goodbye to the city of Durham. Admittedly, I started the year in a bit of a writing funk. Fortunately, the weekly poetry dates with Kelly and the monthly poetry book club buoyed the poetry career while I focused on landing that job. This year’s highlights reveal how I was able to keep my toes in the poetry world.

January: Celebrated Living Poetry‘s 6th anniversary party.

February: Wrote poems for 14 Words of Love.

March: Appointed to Durham’s Public Art Committee.

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Organized poets writing at a Science talk and wrote a poem about the Hubble Telescope at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

May: Made the final revisions for the chapbook.

June: Chapbook launch and party for My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press.

July: Attended VONA retreat in Miami for writers of color and made so many more wonderful writer friends. Organized a second event and wrote a poem for King Pluto at the Science Talk on at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Took the Five-Day Poetry Challenge.

August: Not much writing but I did attend the poetry book club for Charles Wright. Read a poem at the 2015 Gospel Expo fundraiser for Johnson C. Smith University.

September: Read at Two Writers Walk Into a Bar one year after attending the event for the first time. Interviewed by Scott Fynboe for the SAFTACast.

October: Attended the West End Poetry Festival.

November: Started sorting and organizing my books for the big move!

December: Made my final poetic appearance before moving to Massachusetts at Living Poetry’s Holiday Chocolate Open Mic. My Mother’s Child chosen as one of Sundress Authors’ Picks for Best Reads of 2015.



Five-Day Poetry Challenge

Old paper grunge background - Challenge yourself

Five-Day Poetry Challenge – DONE!

The 5-day poetry challenge is a popular meme where you post one of your poems (preferably published) to your Facebook timeline then tag another poet to continue the challenge. Last week, I was double-tagged by poets Anna Weaver and Elizabeth Jackson. So in true double-life fashion, I decided to post two poems each day—one of my published poems around 9 am and one of my favorite poems about the working world around 5 pm.

I selected poems from the range of themes I tend to visit and revisit in my work:

  1. Work: “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals” from my chapbook, My Mother’s Child (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015)
  2. Love & Longing: “The Truth about Fire” published in The Pedestal Magazine in 2012
  3. Planets & the Universe: “To Earth, From Mars” published in Construction Literary Magazine in 2014
  4. Family: “At Night I Dream of Trains” published in the Grief issue of When Women Waken in 2013
  5. Tango: “If I Could Love You Like Tango” published in the anthology, …and love…(Jacar Press, 2011)

For the poems about the working world, I picked two of my favorites that I’ve posted to the blog before as well as a few poems that showed work and workers in a more positive light.

  1. “White, White Collars” by Denis Johnson, from The Incognito Lounge, 1982
  2. “Drone” by Wanda Coleman, from African Sleeping Sickness, 1990
  3. “The Gulf” by Brian Brodeur, from The Missouri Review, Winter 2010
  4. “Coming Closer” by Philip Levine, from What Work Is, 1991
  5. “Domestic Work, 1937” by Natasha Trethewey, from Domestic Work, 1999

Here’s the last stanza from the Trethewey poem that always sticks with me.

She beats time on the rugs,
blows dust from the broom
like dandelion spores, each one
a wish for something better.

If you haven’t been tagged, start your own 5-day poetry challenge. I’d love to hear about it.

Chapbook Party!


On Friday, June 26th, I had the launch party for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child. Thanks to my tango-friend Mariana, I was able to have the party at Terra Nova Global Properties new office in downtown Durham. And my friend Janet provided the food, decorations, prosecco, and the real champagne glasses.



After a fabulous introduction by fellow Living Poetry organizer, Bartholomew Barker, I read a four poems from the chapbook and a few others I had written over the last two years. Many in the crowd had followed my April and November poem-a-day challenges and a few had never heard me read before. I’m so thankful to everyone who came out to support me and buy books.

This gallery contains 15 photos


April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge, The End

2009 CalendarAs much as I love National Poetry Month, I always get to the point where I am DONE with writing poems. Unfortunately, I run of energy before April runs out of days. This year, I was mentally finished writing on April 25th, so I’m just happy to get all these poems done.


Day 27 – Looking Back

Red rocks reek of a time before
this river raged, when ocean waves kept the peace
with their rhythmic sway and the fish sang
lullabies through gaping mouths.


Day 28 – Matter/Anti-Matter

Apply heat to cause a burn,
a balling up into a rock-sized fist
of dust to be broken apart at will.


Day 29 – What Nobody Knows

She hadn’t moved away nor fallen
madly deeply for the Italian guy
from the housewarming party.


Day 30 – Bury the <Blank>

Seven years to get here, four more
to get the hang of the place
and bask in its bright orange glow.

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April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 4

ПечатьAs we say in the South, It’s getting down to the short rows! I’m at the point in the poem-a-day challenge where I don’t remember the poem I wrote yesterday because I’m so focused on finishing today’s poem and resting up before tomorrow’s prompt is posted. When my friends comment on poems I’ve written earlier in the month, I sometimes don’t remember writing it. The challenge keeps me in the moment of writing without the attachment that what I write has got to be good, finished, publishable, inspiring, <insert any other adjective here>. Which I guess, is part of the point.

Day 20 – My <Blank>

My eyes open before the early bird’s song
as if starting this job on the first day. After seven years,
I know the rhythm of this place like a child’s favorite lullaby,
can fall back in line like a soldier on his fourth tour.


Day 21 – What You Are (Not)

Born of the Atlantic
but I am nothing
like my mother.


Day 22 – Nature

The days grow long, my patience grows thin
The work you do to emerge from the ground is hidden


Day 23 – Historic

We call you by your first name as if we grew up
side by side on those red cushioned pews
in your daddy’s church


Day 24 – Moment

In the end, she did nothing
even though this was the time
she’d promised to do different.


Day 25 –  Across the Sea

A woman waiting
Her sister dying
Bleeding from eyes
Ears and nose.


Day 26 – Shakespearean Words

a frugal compromise
to end Lonely’s reign