A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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 3


This week was short and busy. In Massachusetts, it was April vacation week. My colleague took time off while school was out, which means I was “home alone” at work. It also meant that there wasn’t as much traffic on the drive to campus every day. I spent most of the week lamenting how much farther along Spring was in Durham compared to Boston. By the end of the week, the trees in Boston started waking up. Next weekend, I’m heading to St. Louis for a professional conference. The weather is so nice there that I’ll have to break out my open-toed sandals.

The highlights of this week include a celebratory dinner in honor of getting into a summer institute program at Harvard and hearing my VONA faculty, Willie Perdomo, read from his new collection, The Crazy Bunch.

Here are the poems from Week 3

Day 16: “That’s My Heart Right There” by Willie Perdomo

Day 17: “Don’t Go Into the Library” by Alberto Ríos

Day 18: “You Thought I Was That Type” by Anna Akhmatova

Day 19: “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

Day 20: “A poem from a father to his youngest son” by Timothy TB

Day 21: “Twenty-Year Marriage” by Ai

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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 attending 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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Dear Husband: A Manuscript


Plate of french toast and fried egg in the foreground; open laptop in the background with cup of Earl Grey tea and teapot

My favorite poet’s brunch at my favorite Sunday brunch spot, Rifrullo Café

Yesterday, I attended the Colrain One-Day Informational Retreat on the poetry manuscript. The workshop leaders, Fred Marchant and Joan Houlihan, touched on all the topics they cover in their four-day retreats. Each participant brought a packet of six poems they thought represented their manuscript. Fred and Joan guided the discussion of the packet by asking us: Is the voice consistent? Do the poems feel like they represent the manuscript in style and tone? Throughout the day, we considered the emotional content holding the poems together and whether the chronology of the poems supported or detracted from the overall feeling the manuscript established for the reader. The latter third of the day, we discussed the specifics of creating a manuscript: length (15-30 pages for a chapbook; typically 60-70 pages for a full-length collection); finding publications and contests for manuscripts and individual poems; and establishing your presence in the poetry world. At the end, we did an exercise where we searched for good titles within our poems, and closed the day by reading some of our work.

The specific feedback for my poems made me feel good about the progress I’ve made since I took Kwoya Maples‘ advice to create a document and title it “manuscript.” The manuscript’s working title, “Dear Husband,” is a series of poems with the same title. I thought I needed to keep the set together, but Joan & Fred suggested that I use each “Dear Husband” poem as a structural device, and possibly as section dividers that provide the reader with emotional markers throughout the manuscript. This advice is probably going to be easier said than done. It did get me to think differently about the themes each “Dear Husband” poem addressed and the other poems that could amplify that theme. Overall, the workshop made me realize I needed to be more intentional about the order of poems, their themes, the variations on that theme, and taking opportunities to swerve and surprise the reader.

I’m about a third of the way to a full-length collection, and after this workshop, I feel more confident about where it is going. There’s a lot more writing ahead and a lot more brunches needed to support the work.


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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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Like a Lion


Ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…the accreditation site visit.

Image of the front of Pendleton West, a building on Wellesley College's campus

The cover of the self-study features this photo of Pendleton West

I first mentioned my role as co-chair of my college’s reaccreditation process back in December 2017, but really, the process started over two years ago. Preparing the self-study and the campus community for the site visit has been my primary focus at work and has driven many of the decisions I’ve made thus far. Why did I move to Brookline instead of leaving Massachusetts altogether? Because I wanted the experience of managing an accreditation process. What made me travel across the globe to visit Hong Kong and Taiwan in August? Because I wanted to take a big vacation before the worst of the accreditation preparations hit in the fall. Why am I auditing a poetry class this semester? Because by the time the site visit concludes, there’ll still be seven class meetings left.

We are one week away from the visiting team’s arrival on campus. I’m almost to the point where there is nothing else I can do to prepare. For the past week or so, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to email myself a to-do list or a short note to jog my memory of something I didn’t want to forget to do at work. I don’t think I’ll get to the point where I can stop worrying about the visit until March 13th at noon when the visiting team leaves, their boxed lunches in hand. Unlike Caesar, I can’t wait until the Ides of March.

Dark chocolate almonds, clementines, olives, guacamole, corn chips, banana chips, and an assortment of teas

The snacks for Four Chairs & a Bench

Today, I’m hosting the first Four Chairs & a Bench of 2019. It feels good to gather to have other writers gathered around the table with Dave Brubeck playing in the background. I have a few poems to revise after this blog post, and maybe, I will work on poem that describes trees in winter à la manière de Ansel Adams’ photograph, “Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park.”

Photo of pine forest in snow by Ansel Adams

Image from the “Ansel Adams In Our Time” exhibit at MFA Boston, 2019

I imagine several trees in the Boston area will resemble this photo after tonight’s snowstorm. We all thought this winter had been relatively mild, but March is starting off like the lion we knew her to be. The Weather app even has a snowflake forecast for next Sunday. We’ll see…