A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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A Midsummer’s Night Reading


Since moving to the Boston area, the tango community here has been a constant presence. I remember sampling all the milongas when I first arrived, before settling on the handful that matched my schedule. You can dance here every night of the week, and sometimes, I indulge in dancing multiple nights in a row. After 18 months, I’m happy to say I’ve been embraced by the Boston Tango community, not only as a dancer, but also as a poet.

I first heard of the idea for a reading as the Fourth of July tango picnic by the Charles River. There seemed to be enough tangueros who also wrote poetry or prose for each of us to read for 10 minutes. We had a willing host who offered his backyard and had a deadline: we must have the event before the host’s wife gave birth to their first child. No problem! I dusted off my Living Poetry organizer skills and got to work creating the Facebook event page, inviting friends, gathering reader bios, setting the line up, soliciting  people for snacks and setup/cleanup duty. For me, it felt like the poetrySpark! days minus the poetry-on-demand booth.

My set included two poems from my chapbook, the first tango poem I wrote and published, a tango poem from the 2017 April Poem-a-Day Challenge, and three poems from the poetry cleanse—a good mix of old and new work. We had a great crowd, mostly from the tango community but with a few non-tangueros in the audience. Although the event went way later than planned (as the guy whose bedroom window opened to the backyard reminded us), we all agreed that we needed to have another reading in the fall. I’m looking forward to it!


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Poem-a-Days: April & May Updates


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The April Poem-a-Day Challenge left me so exhausted I neglected to post the snippets of the poems for the last week. Since then, I’ve finished a series of poems for a tango event and written a week’s worth a poems in a poetry cleanse organized by fellow VCFA alumna, KT Landon. I attending the reading for her new chapbook, Orange Dreaming, a few months back at The Cellar in Beverly. I’ll post more about my Boston poetry outings soon.

April Poems

Day 23 Prompt: Last <Blank>

Goodbye kisses fly / left and right / and hugs linger / as if we might not / see each other/ next time. (Last Tanda)

Day 24 Prompt: Faith

When a runner doubles over / one of us will bend down / whisper You’re almost there/ then trot along the pedestrian / side of the barrier / until his legs pick up speed. (Marathon Watchers: Mile 23)

Day 25 Prompt: Love or Anti-love

I keep pieces of you / on the tip of my bones. (Safekeeping)

Day 26 Prompt: Regret

Our shadow dances / in slow motion, / and when dawn comes, / won’t leave a trace. (No Regrets)

Day 27 Prompt: Use the words pest, crack, ramble, hiccup, wince, festoon

A big donor sees a face among us he recognizes. / He’s a known reception pest, the kind who peppers / staff with budget questions as we sip our tasteless red wine. (At the After-Work Reception)

Day 28 Prompt: Smell

Medium / sometimes / hazelnut / brewed by 6 a.m. (How My Neighbor Likes Her Coffee)

Day 29 Prompt: Metric

We’ve taught the same way for years, / but some kids have never measured up. (Achievement Gap)

Day 30 Prompt: The <blank>

One day, the tulips / lifted their heads. / The next day, / their faces fell / wide open. (The Last April Poem)

Here are the opening lines from a few of the May poems

Siri: Sometimes if I listen without thinking, I can follow her directions.

Boston in May: Angled buildings vie to reflect the final orange rays of the day as sailboats drift along the Charles.

But I Don’t See You as Black“: Oh, she’s in there. That gum smacking, neck rolling, finger wagging, please-talk-to-the-hand Black woman you think I’m not.


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April Poem-a-Day Challenge: Week 3


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As they say in the South, We’re getting down to the short rows. There are 8 more days in the Poem-a-Day Challenge. Although I’ve done the challenge for many years, it still surprises me how the prompts stimulate ideas I didn’t know were in my head. Enjoy the excerpts from this week.

Day 16 Prompt: <blank> System

Once we were orbs / in our own space / spun out / unable to withstand / the dust and rocks / hurled in our direction. (Solar System)

Day 17 Prompt: Dance

Cuddled / against / his chest / I become / bandoneon. (On the Dance Floor)

Day 18 Prompt: Life or Death

It doesn’t happen overnight. / You still wake up at the same time / but there is no rush to get ready. (Retired Life)

Day 19 Prompt: Memory

My blind / Date doesn’t show/ The waitstaff comps my meal/ But it doesn’t make me feel much / Better (The Times I Got Stood Up)

Day 20 Prompt: Task

Go downstairs / Read the sign above the washer–$3.50 per load / Walk back upstairs/ Bemoan the number of quarters added to your life (How to Do Laundry at Your New Apartment)

Day 21 Prompt: Object

What did you bring me today? A catalog, / forwarded mail, solicitations from old / charities? I know it’s not your fault, / but sometimes it feels like you’re in on the conspiracy. (Mailbox)

Day 22 Prompt: Fable

The people with the golden hair plucked his feathers one by one, took out his innards, washed and stuffed his body, and put him in an oven until he was golden brown. Then they sat down around the table, held hands, and prayed before tearing him limb from limb. You were lucky we found you before they did the same thing to you. (Little Golden)


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April Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 2


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We’re halfway to the finish line of the Poem-a-Day challenge. Here are the excerpts from Week 2.

Day 9 Prompt: So <Blank>

You will / return to me / like the swallows / of Capistrano / to build / your nests / under the eaves / of my mission walls. (So Long)

Day 10 Prompt: Travel

In the city, / you rarely go from place to place alone. You’re stuck / in tin boxes underground, breathing in armpits and belches, / turning away from the man nodding off next to you.  (Commuting)

Day 11 Prompt: Sonnet or Anti-form

Spring’s blush / Dabbed in light strokes / As the days grow longer / The color in her cheeks deepens / To green (Cinquain)

Day 12 Prompt: Guilty

But you’ve banished yourself to the basement of your mind / where you watch the replays on reel-to-reel to pinpoint / that one wrong move, but it’s never just one, is it? (Mea Culpa)

Day 13 Prompt: Family

My father sent Ginger Snaps, boxed drinks, / and microwavable meals wrapped / in the Daily News sports pages / then stuffed in a small U-Haul box. (Care Packages)

Day 14 Prompt: Popular Saying

Life is a tunnel / I’m navigating with my hands. / Sometimes I have to stoop / or crawl to keep going. (Slowly but Surely)

Day 15 Prompt: One Time

As a girl, I had been told about this day / when my body would bleed / and it would be a normal part / of becoming woman. But nobody said / it could happen in the middle of math / with 19 pairs of eyes. (One Time in 6th Grade)