A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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June 2020: Lucille Speaks


The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010

My last post was on the day before Memorial Day–the day before the world witnessed George Floyd’s murderbefore their eyes, the day before Christian Cooper posted his video of a white women pretending to be frightened as she called the police to say that a Black man was threatening her when he simply wanted to watch birds in peace, six days after the arrest of the man who shot the video of Ahmaud Arberybeing chased and killed by white men because he was #joggingwhileblack, and 12 days after Breonna Taylor was killed while in her bed whenthe police entered without warning and fired multiple shots into her apartment.

I had been posting poems I read before lunch and before dinner on Facebook and Instagram following the Italian poet’s Franco Arminio’s first of 10 recommended domestic decalogues—ways to spend our time during lockdown. The first poem I posted (3/21), Emily Dickinson’s “My life closed twice before its close“ is part of the anthology The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing edited by Kevin Young. I bought this book on March 7th—the last time I got my nails done before the last social gathering I attended before stay-at-home became a thing. Little did I know how much I was going to need this book three weeks later.

I posted my first Lucille Clifton poem on April 21st—“blessing the boats”—a poem featured in the Academy of American Poets’ selection of “Shelter in Poems.” Their selection of Clifton’s work prompted me to pull out my copy of The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, a 700+ page volume edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser. Her poems provided comfort during that month of isolation, and after recent events that reminded us that racism is alive and well in America, I found that her poems spoke all of the words we needed to hear and that anyone needed to say. So for the last 2+ months, I’ve let Mama Lucille speak.

BlessingtheBoats

blessing the boats by Lucille Clifton

Yesterday would have been Lucille Clifton’s 84th birthday. I had the honor of meeting her the year before she died at the Furious Flower Poetry Center. I posted the two poems she wrote about turning 70. I think it is only fitting to end this mark this mile of my stay-at-home marathon with her poem, The Last Day (p. 365):

we will find ourselves surrounded
by our kind          all of them now
wearing the eyes they had
only imagined possible
and they will reproach us
with those eyes
in a language more actual
than speech
asking why we allowed this
to happen          asking why
for the love of God
we did this to ourselves
and we will answer
in our feeble voices          because
because          because

 

~from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (BOA Editions Ltd, 2012) edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser.

 


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National Poetry Month 2020


I’ve spent the entire month of April “at home during a crisis trying to work.” Although it was definitely not the month I envisioned, I managed to stay as busy as I would have been in a typical National Poetry Month. Poetry quickly pivoted from in-person open mics to virtual live poetry readings and pre-recorded readings shown at a specified time and/or made available to watch on demand. I attended and participated in my fair share over these 30 days.

Seized by Wicked Enchantment: A Wanda Coleman Celebration (April 7). This virtual event celebrated the launch of a new selected volume of Coleman’s poetry edited by Terrance Hayes, and readings by Hayes, Mahogany L. Browne, Dorothea Lasky, Rachel McKibbens, Patricia Smith, and host Amber Tamblyn.

Living Poetry Open Mic of the Ether (April 9). My friends from Living Poetry hosted a virtual open mic where I was the featured reader. It was great to see and hear some of my Triangle area poets again.

Wednesday Night Poetry (April 22). This event has been held every Wednesday since 1989 and has moved to a pre-recorded format posted to their Facebook page during the pandemic. The Earth Day reading featured Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield, and current U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.

Wellesley Books Reading (April 23). I participated in a poetry reading featuring Wellesley faculty that invited me to read with them last year, Lynne Viti (emerita) and Heather Bryant, as well as assistant professor of English, Tavi Gonzalez. This event was originally scheduled for in-person, but migrated to Zoom. The virtual format allowed members of my family to listen in.

In addition to these events, I continued in the tradition of posting photos of poems during National Poetry Month. This time, I posted my own published poems. I was very happy to have 30 published poems to share. I also read “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton for the Boston Athenaeum’s celebration of poetry.

On the double life front, I participated in a panel with our Posse II students and attended an online discussion of anti-Asian discrimination during COVID-19. The campus has adjusted to #thatZoomlife. I have 3-4 video conferences per day. Sitting in front of the camera for extended periods of time is exhausting and has made me rely on my reading glasses more.

Looking ahead to May, I anticipate a month pretty much like April—days spend indoors, evenings spent online. The sun and warmer weather will be welcomed companions on the next leg of this pandemic journey.


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From April to August 2019


Fraser Park Trail in Colorado - view of the mountains and pond from the bridge

Fraser Park Trail in Colorado

I’ve had a busy summer. In true double-life fashion, there was as much going professionally as poetically, though the scales probably tilted more to the poetry side. Summer at a college is mostly quiet, time to focus on a few projects, and of course, attend conferences. Summer in New England is fabulous. The warm weather came in late May and the heatwave started in July (the hottest July in record in Boston). Now that it is August, I can feel the wind cool down, the sun dial itself back, and the heartbeat of my Boston life pick up the pace. The marathon of the 2019–20 academic year is about to start.

Before the memory of summer fades, I wanted to share some highlights:

APRIL

The last two poems from the 2019 Poem-a-Day—”Naturalization” by Jenny Xie & “How to Triumph Like a Girl” by Ada Limón—and a photo of the Gateway Arch that I visited while attending a professional conference in St. Louis.

 

MAY

Highlights include a Mother’s Day visit by mom & sister, a Boston Harbor cruise, and the Marvin Gaye stamps from USPS (released on April 3, 2019). In the photo below, my mom is standing in front of the state capitol building in Rhode Island, knocking that state off of her list.

 

JUNE

June was a month filled with double-life events. First up, a drive up to Montpelier, Vermont to celebrate the release of “Five Midnights” by my fabulous VCFA sister, Ann Dávila Cardinal. Then I spent two weeks in Cambridge at the Harvard Institute for Management & Leadership in Education. I learned a lot from the smart & funny crew in Group #1, saw some really cool maps at Harvard’s Map collection, and got this nifty certificate. And of course, another shot of Boston Harbor during a sunset cruise.

 

JULY

In July, I’m able to enjoy my summer Fridays. I found a new place to write at the Boston Athenaeum, a private library across from the MA state capitol building. My favorite spot to write so far is the 5th floor terrace. Once it gets cooler, I’ll have to explore other parts of the building. I also saw Mark Doty read at the Longfellow House & was inspired to buy a new hat. At the end of the month, I saw some really cool Porsches at a car show at Wachusett Mountain.

 

AUGUST

I spent a lot of time this summer writing and critiquing poems. In August, I went out to Colorado to work on my manuscript. The long weekend in the mountains was really a check-in to see which poems can coalesce into a coherent collection. I’m about two-thirds of the way, so there’s definitely more writing at Boston Athenaeum in the near future. I’m so grateful to my VONA 2015 Jellyfish, June Inuzuka, for lending me her cabin  for the weekend, a wonderful space to write & relax (see hot tub photo below).

 


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April 2019 Poem-a-Day, Week 4


Writing nook at the Moonrise hotel in St. Louis

The double life is in full effect. In addition to preparing two presentations for board meetings, I also facilitated two workshops for high school students for MassPoetry‘s Student Day of Poetry and participated in a pop-up poetry reading during the Community Day of Poetry. Right now, I am in St. Louis for a professional conference, and later this week, I will host an open mic during the faculty-staff pub night.

Here are the poems for Week 4, featuring several Cave Canem fellows & faculty:

Day 22: “Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden

Day 23: “Ode to the Flute” by Ross Gay

Day 24: “Poem for Amadou Diallo” by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

Day 25: “Hysterical Strength” by Nicole Sealey

Day 26: “Muscadine” by Mary Moore Easter

Day 27: “Vacation” by Rita Dove

Day 28: “Poet of an Ordinary Heartbreak” by Chris Abani

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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!

FACB 201904JPG

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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Out Like a Lamb


With the faculty and students away for Spring Break, I took a few days off. Most of my days centered on meals—lunch at Dumpling Café, dinner at Burro Bar, lunch at MFA Boston, lunch at Café Landwer, and dinner in celebration of a friend’s new position—with a half day centered on relaxation at the Mandarin Oriental spa.

Check out some of my staycation photos:

 

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the open mic at the Cantab Lounge with other members of the Boston Writers of Colors Meetup group. It was the first time I had read at an open mic in a long time. Fortunately, there is video evidence of the event.  Enjoy!

 

 


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Quintessential Poetry and More


Herstory 2019

On Monday, March 18th I will have the honor to read my poems on the Quintessential Listening: Poetry show on Blog Talk Radio along with poets Francine Montemurro and Lynne Viti. The theme of the event is HERSTORY in celebration of Women’s History Month. I plan to share some of my published work as well as some poems from the manuscript-in-progress. The show starts at 8 pm. You can listen live or hear the episode after it has been posted to the site.

The last time I read my poetry was probably two summers ago when I helped to organize the poetry and prose reading of writers who were also tango dancers. It will be the first time I’ve read many of the poems that I’ve written since then. I’m also seriously thinking about reading at the open mic at the Cantab Lounge on March 27th posted to the Boston Writers of Color Meetup group. The format allows for a maximum of 3 minutes to read, which means I can read two short poems or one long poem.

In between those readings, I will attend the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference‘s one-day informational retreat, “What is a Manuscript?” next Saturday. I must admit to feeling like I’m paying too much for a one-day workshop where I am likely be the only poet of color. I have paid less for Celtics tickets in row C where the TD Garden crowd reflects more diversity than I tend to experience in Boston on a daily basis. We’ll see.


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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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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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