A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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Four Chairs & a Bench


From the first time I saw the apartment in Brookline, I knew I wanted to buy a long table and host quiet Sunday afternoons with writers heads bowed in our notebooks and laptops, the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards and jazz in the background. Today, I finally got my wish.

Five people seated around a table smiling, laptops and notebooks open during the first writing session for Four Chairs & a Bench.

Four Chairs & a Bench – January 2018

Special thanks to Daniel, Laura, KT, Nancy, & Sofiya for being the first five writers at the table. I already have all the seats at the table reserved for February.


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Writing Space


It’s been a little over a year since I signed the lease for my apartment in Brookline. This apartment seemed to be waiting for me. I had seen 7-8 apartments in a two-hour window, but then caught a glimpse of a For Rent sign in front of the building near where I was parked. I called the number and told the agent I was sitting outside. He showed up about 10 minutes later. The tenants hadn’t moved out yet, but were willing to let him show me the place. A rectangular table in dining area is the first thing I saw when I walked in the door. Immediately, I envisioned myself sitting with other writers while we worked on laptops and munched on snacks. I’m happy to say that after a year of living here, I finally found the table.IMG_9990

Finding a poetry community in Boston has been a little tough. Although the move to Brookline makes the city more accessible on the weekends, the longer commute to my job makes it much harder for me to attend events during the week. Recently, the poetry workshop I facilitated ended because the library will be undergoing renovations over the next two years.

Now seems like the right time to form my own writing community. All I need are the other writers to bring some snacks!


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P is for P-town


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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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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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Getting Back Into the Game


Four Queens Playing Cards

I’ve always had a good mind for important dates, milestones, and anniversaries. For example, I’ve been living in Boston for one year, five months, and 17 days. In the self-review portion of my performance evaluation, I reflected back on where I was last year this time (working alone on the 4th floor of an old building that was 7-minute walk from the heart of campus) to remind myself of how much progress had been made (working on the same floor as the senior leadership with two staff reporting to me). I know a lot of people don’t record the world in this way.  To help everyone else out, Facebook shows you posts that you shared from 1-, 3-, 4-, and 7+ years ago to help jog your memory.

Recently, I shared two memories announcing my published poems, “Transit of Venus” & “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals.” I re-posted these memories primarily for the benefit of the Boston tangueros who have found out I was a poet, but had yet to read my work. It’s been over two years since my work was published and even longer since I’ve submitted my work anywhere. Of course, I’ve had a lot of big changes since then (ahem—new job & new city).

Fortunately, I’ve kept writing—meeting regularly with Kelly Lenox over Skype, attending the Dudley Poetry Club, & producing daily poems via the April PAD Challenges and the poetry cleanse. For a while, I’ve been writing with no sense of direction. I had to pull together 10 poems in order to apply to a writing residency and felt like the poems in the application had the making of a narrative arch.

I feel inspired to follow where these poems lead. To that end, I attended a weekly write-in Meetup group and have started to research publications where these poems can land. I feel ready to get back into the publication game. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.