A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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Making of a Poetry Reading


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What started off as simple question on Facebook—I’m toying with the idea of doing a mini-tour for Blue Hallelujahs. Are their any specific places or reading series I should hit up?—became a full-blown poetry reading happening this Sunday, November 6th from 4:30-6:30 pm at the Arts at the Armory in Somerville, MA.

Different worlds collided in order to bring this reading into being. First, you have the Cave Canem universe, the home for black poetry, which randomly assigned me to share a suite with Cynthia Manick at the 2012 Fellows retreat. Subsequent retreats in 2013 & 2014 is where I met Brionne Janae & Breauna Roach. When I moved to the Boston area, I started attending the Dudley Poetry Group, where Brionne facilitates a weekly poetry workshop on Monday nights at the library. Back in August, she invited me to a poetry reading at Arts at the Armory. This place is an old National Guard building that has been converted into a community arts center. They host several events in their café and make them available at no cost if the event is free and open to the public. I connected with Nicole Terez Dutton at that reading in August. I knew of Nicole’s debut collection If One of Us Should Fall because it won the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry prize and was pleased to finally make her acquaintance.

The rest, as they say, is history—meshing available dates for the poets with available dates from the venue, confirming the date and time, the photos and bios, the flyer, deciding the lineup, and promoting the event. Needless to say, I’m excited the event it happening this weekend. Now all I have to do is decide which poems to read.

 

 


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Year in Review 2015


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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.

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Poems for King Pluto


Pluto's Frozen Heart. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Pluto’s Frozen Heart. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to write a poem in honor of the King of the Dwarf Planets—Pluto—as part of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences weekly Science Café talks. NASA Ambassador Shawn Bayle provided background about Pluto and the New Horizons mission that has been transmitting stunning images of the ninth rock from the Sun.

This event was the third time the museum had invited Living Poetry members to craft poems inspired by a science talk:

Pluto's Poetesses. Credits: Erin Osborn & Alice Osborn

Pluto’s Poetesses. Credits: Erin Osborn & Alice Osborn

I don’t think it was accidental that old King Pluto had four ladies scribing in his honor. He’s got that effect on women—ask Proserpina (aka Greek’s Persephone) and his largest moon, Charon, which is gravitationally locked in sync with Pluto’s orbit so that the two celestial bodies always face each other. Some other facts about Pluto and the New Horizons mission gathered from the talk and mentioned in the poems:

  • discovered by mistake by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 in search for Planet X presumed to exist beyond Neptune
  • first object identified in the Kuiper Belt
  • New Horizons took 9 years to get to Pluto; the gravitational boost from Jupiter reduced the time to get to Pluto by 5 years.
  • scientists discovered two of Pluto’s moons—Styx & Kerberos—after the New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006

I enjoy writing planetary poems already but especially at these events because I can hear similar threads in each poem while noting each poet’s unique voice. I’ll share an expert from my poem here, “New Horizons Meets Planet X,” but be sure to watch the entire talk on YouTube (poets start about an hour into the video).

Feed me your data in bits
and bytes as we shimmy
in front of Neptune to soak

up the sun. I don’t see any rings
around you, so maybe we can
make a new moon or two.

 

 

 

 


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Planetary Influences


Transit of Venus June 5, 2012, NASA/Goddard/SDO

Transit of Venus June 5, 2012, NASA/Goddard/SDO

One of the first poems in my chapbook that was published was “Transit of Venus,” which was inspired by the 2012 event that will not happen again until 2117. What I saw with my own eyes (black drop / crossing / the sun / dipping down / curving around / up again) is now visible in some amazing pictures from a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. I consider the Venus poem the first in a series of poems about the planets I intend to write. Last year, Construction Magazine publishedTo Earth, From Mars,” the second planetary poem, and I wrote “Pluto, My Brother” at my last Cave Canem retreat (back in my day there were 9 planets). My poetry-date partner, Kelly, says the Pluto poem is ready to send out, so I’ll be spending some time this weekend in the Poet’s Gym (aka UNC Davis Library) figuring out where it should land.

Photograph via Flickr by bluedharma

Photograph via Flickr by bluedharma

I love writing about the planets and other objects in the universe. They are like our distant relatives: made of the same stuff but existing in a different era. Poetry offers a unique way to consider the beauty and individuality of each body as well as explore the myths and folklore we project onto each globe. I’ve also written  poems about the spacecraft we’ve sent to explore other objects in our universe. My biggest challenge is *getting the science right* inside the poem. Often, the scientific terms are not accessible or pleasant-sounding to the average reader. It’s my job to make the connection between science and metaphor so that we can understand each planet on its own merit as well as how it relates to our own lives.

Tonight, I will get another opportunity to write about Pluto at the Science Cafe at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The talk will feature some of the stunning images taken of our dear *dwarf* planet from the New Horizons probe. I can’t wait to see what these new images inspire.

NASA Instagram photo of Pluto from New Horizons

NASA Instagram photo of Pluto from New Horizons


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May Days


hs-2011-11-a-xlarge_300I had to rest up after writing all those April poems for the Poem-a-Day Challenge. It took 3-4 days before I could read the poems, and I have to say, I’m quite happy with the result. During the challenge, I can’t spend time with each poem because I’ve got to crank out another one. So having the time to step away and come back to what I’ve written helps me see each poem in a new light. There are quite a few that I want to work with so they can be sent out for publication this summer and fall.

With the true arrival of Spring, I’m getting out more. The NC Museum of Natural Sciences invited the poets back on the last day of April to write poems in response to a science talk about the Hubble Telescope. I also debuted some of the April poems at a Sunday brunch with the girls at the home of my tango friend and photographer, Katia Singletary and  at the Open Mic at Johnny’s Gone Fishing in Carrboro. I resumed my Tuesday poetry dates with the Two Writers Walk Into a Bar reading with Duncan Murrell and Liana Roux. The Murrell piece follows pyrotechnicians (yes, the people who set fireworks), so I can’t wait to go to Davis Library and read it in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Also, ahead this month—the release of my new chapbook, My Mother’s Child from Hyacinth Girl Press. It’s been an amazing experience working with this small press and I can’t wait to share the details of this journey.