A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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End of Summer 2019


In case you missed it, yesterday was Earth, Wind & Fire Day, affectionately named because their song “September” immortalized the 21st night of September in our memories. Humming the song throughout the day on Saturday forced me to recognize how close we were to fall. Not that that autumn’s arrival is a surprise this year. Swaths of leaves have turned golden or red, proof that they have already caught “the fever” as a I like to call it.

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Snacks for the Four Chairs & a Bench writers

On this last day of summer, the temperature is holding steady at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A pleasant breeze drifts through my open window. My fellow writers have assembled around the table for another writing session. Today’s group featured a writer from the various rooms of my life—college, tango, my MFA program, and the MassPoetry scene.

I wrote two new poems for an art salon next week on the theme Majestic

The other poems I’ll share are from my 2015 trip to Utah when I visited Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. Here are the photos that inspired the poems:

 


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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.