A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


Poet Beyond Work

securedownloadUnlike my favorite superhero, Spider-Man, I don’t hide my poet identity in the workplace. My colleagues have witnessed my transformation from just writing to writing poems to being enrolled in an MFA program for poetry to being a published poet. I have written several poems based on my experiences as a Black female professional and have started getting a few of the work-related poems published. So I’m ok with being a poet in the office.

Lately though, the word has gotten out beyond the safety of the cubicle walls. My LinkedIn profile and office website list the MFA in Writing degree next to the PhD. And now that I’ve transitioned to being a team lead, people outside of the office are interested in discovering my credentials. I can tell that people whom I interview have read my bio when they ask, “How did you go from being a statistician to poetry?

I’m guilty of spreading the word too. At the beginning of the project I mentioned to the agency that I was going out of town. Curious they asked where I was vacationing and in the interest of full disclosure I told them I told them I was going to a poetry retreat. Since then they have asked how it went and if there were poems they could read. I sent them a few links to what I have online, but it felt weird for people that I only know through my job to know about my poetry. I don’t hide it but I’m not used to being a poet and everybody knowing it. I think I need to get used to it.


Happy Double Life Anniversary!


It’s been a year since Poet’s Double Life joined the blogosphere. A few quick stats (because that IS what I do): 95 posts over 3,000 views from over 20 countries! I’ve posted mostly about how I maintain the creative side while having a full-time career in the non-literary world. For me, it boils down to the three R’s:

1) Reading: Keeping the brain fed with other good writing is the primary way  I maintain my creative side. I’ve had several posts on the books that have found their way off the library shelves and into my hands.  I’m currently reading two books that came highly recommended: a young adult sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game, and a poetry collection by Carolyn Rodgers, How I Got Ovah. Reading helps me maintain inspiration, even when I have trouble writing.

2) (W)riting/Revision:  These two R’s go hand-in-hand. Having several writing spaces in the Triangle helps me find the necessary solitude to get my ideas on paper. Though I often carry my poet’s notebook, having an iPhone handy is another way I jot down ideas that come to me. Writing challenges and prompt, such as the November and April poem-a-day challenges push me to produce on a daily basis and have resulted in plenty of clay to shape into better poems. Critique groups also help improve my work by letting me understand how trusted readers hear my work.

3) Reach: I am true to myself as a poet when I am getting my poems out in the world. I attend at least one open mic in the Triangle each month to read poems and connect to other writers. This past year,I’ve taken the plunge into publication by submitting my work to various contests and literary journals and have been happy with the results (see Transit of Venus, Poetry in Plain Sight,  to name a few).

Thanks for taking time to follow my double life adventures. I appreciate your comments and support.


Transit of Venus

Back in January I read my poem, “Transit of Venus,” as part of Poetry Scope, an event hosted by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences that featured  science-related poems. I submitted this poem to the Carolina Woman Magazine‘s Mighty Pens writing contest and won second place! The poem is featured in the magazine’s June issue:


And here’s the second place prize, courtesy of Margo Froehlich of Brooke & Birdie Interior Design:


Poetry in Plain Sight

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Winston-Salem Writers started a cool program this year where they put poetry on display in stores throughout the downtown area. My poem, “Something Missing,” was selected as one of four poems featured for the month of May. This poem has special significance to me because I wrote it on my birthday last year (April 12th) as part of the April Poem-a-Day Challenge and it is a poem about my father, a subject I have a hard time writing about. Here’s a link to the video of me reading this poem and two other poems, “Work Husband” and “Hold That Hot Potato.”

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March: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

march-lion1March was a busy time for me—this post is only the 4th one I had time to write this month. I did manage to blog about the most important things that happened in March: AWP and the six women writers that inspire my work.

But this month brought a lot of transition at work—moving into a new role where I lead projects and manage people. I am also spearheading a process to compile ideas for the next 15 projects we will complete over the next two years. I am no longer behind the scenes, but rather, have become a point-person to answer questions from my colleagues and do special projects for my boss, including being the staff support to the big bosses. We are also interviewing for four positions, so I spent a lot of time combing through 50+ applications packets to narrow down the few who might be my future colleagues.

I didn’t worry about writing in March because I knew I would need all that inspiration for April’s Poem-a-Day Challenge. But I did attend three open mics, including a new event at Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough. With little emphasis on writing, I decided to focus on reading a novel—The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht was chockfull of imagery and rich language, and had an intricate story line. I was so enamored by this book, I posted quotes as my Facebook status and convinced five other people to read it. I finished up Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Selected Poems by Sharon Olds, and Final Poems by Rabindranath Tagore and checked out several from my favorite library:

Of course with all that reading material for inspiration, two poems found their way out, “Childless” and “Bicycle.” Today and tomorrow, I’ll be working to edit these and other poems for March 31st submission deadlines and preparing my manuscript, Black.Woman.Professional, for submission to the Cave Canem  first-book award contest.

And I got word that my science poem, “Transit of Venus,” won second place in the Carolina Woman Writing Contest! Suddenly, I’m feeling a little Helen Reddy: I am woman. Hear me roar!


My Half Dozen

Sou’wester recently accepted one of my November Poem-A-Day poems for it’s upcoming issue featuring women writers. As part of the issue, they have asked all contributors to list “Her Half Dozen”, the six women writers who have influenced their writing the most.ednavincentmillay_purple_1 After sleeping on it (and being awakened at 3 AM with the list fully formed), I decided to share the women writers who have influenced my writing the most:

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950): The Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first book of poetry I ever owned. It was a gift from someone I was trying to get to know and who was trying to get to know me. Her poem, “The Interim,” about the death of her husband, inspired me to write my first poem as a way of voicing the grief and loss I had suffered in 2003.

agathachristieAgatha Christie (September 15, 1890 – January 12 1976): The British crime writer is the only prose writer on my list. Agatha Christie inspired my love for reading. Growing up, I devoured every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on, and started reading other British female mystery writers like P.D. James and Martha Grimes after learning their writing was influenced by Christie. Her stories piqued my interest human behavior because I wanted to understand what drives a perfectly normal person to kill another.

Rita Dove (August 28, 1952): Her laurels speak for themselves: appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993–1995; became the secondritadove African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987; served as Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004–2006; and edited The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, published in 2011. And she’s an avid ballroom dancer! Needless to say, Dove is my poetry role model.

kay-ryan2Kay Ryan (September 21, 1945): Ryan was appointed the 16th U.S. Poet Laureate in 2008. After reading her collection, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, I stopped feeling bad about myself for writing short poems. I love how Ryan can bend a sentence to her poetic will.

Nikky Finney (born Lynn Carol Finney on August 26, 1957): Nikky Finney was one of those poets I had heard about but had never read—even after she won thfinney3e 2011 National Book Award for her collection, Head Off & Split. Last June at the Cave Canem retreat, I had the fortune of not only meeting her, hearing her read, and seeing her interview Nikki Giovanni, one of the women who influenced her as a writer, but also learning from her how to weave the personal, local, and historical together in a poem.

Leslie Ullman (April 28, 1947): Leslie was my creative thesis advisor for my last semester at VCFA. After working with men for the first three semesters, I felt I needed a woman’s touch to help me give birth to the collection of poems for my thesis (Fun Fact: Leslie leslie_ullmanwrote a poem titled, “Midwife”). When I was completely stressed out trying to finish the thesis and juggle work responsibilities, Leslie advised me to stop doing what was stressing me out—even if that meant I had to stop writing, which it did. Her calm and grace were exactly what I needed in a moment of panic.

Who are the women writers who influence and inspire your work?


Black * Woman * Professional

Manuscript Section 1That’s the title of the poetry manuscript I submitted to a book contest one day before the January 31st deadline. On the one hand, assembling the manuscript was exactly like organizing the creative thesis for my MFA program—printing out every poem, creating piles of poems with a similar theme, ordering the poems in each themed pile, putting the themes in the order they should be read.  That part was easy.

The hard part was changing my mindset from a “hoop-to-jump-through-in-grad-school” to a “poetry-collection-someone-might-read-one-day.” Making that switch meant I had to treat the manuscript as if it were already a published book. These days, many poetry and prose books have sections break up the reading and the poems or chapters that follow. Some are as simple as Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars—One, Two, Three, Four. Others provide more information about the poems or chapters that follow. For example in Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling uses quotes from the Local Administration Manual to give a clue to what to expect in the next set of chapters. Having just finished that book on my Kindle Fire, I looked for something to help me tie the sections and the book together.

Then I remembered the book, Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women Struggle for Professional Identity. I read this book about 10 Our separate waysyears ago, and then again in 2011, in my critical thesis semester. Flipping through it, I realized the chapter titles could organize the themes of my collection, and then, chose quotes from the book that connected to the poems:

  • Fitting In (I feel like a guest in somebody’s house.”)
  • Work Isn’t Everything (The thing that’s on every single black women’s mind is the whole issue of relationships.”)
  • Their Father’s Daughters (My life is different from my mother’s and father’s; theirs was a different time.”)
  • The Racialized Self (I experience myself as being exotic and mysterious to most white people.”)

No matter what happens with the contest, I’m satisfied with how my first poetry collection turned out.


Poet Resolutions 2013

2013-goalsIn my year-in-review post, I promised to share my resolutions for the New Year. Each one of these goals pushes me a bit outside of my comfort zone:

Teach a poetry workshop: Yes, I think I’m ready. I’ve toyed with the idea several times, but haven’t made the time to do it. Some of the ideas that come to mind are found poetry, erasure poetry, or maybe even a workshop on finding the journal that’s right for your work. Actually that last topic is not a bad idea.

Write a sonnet: To me, the sonnet is the pinnacle of poetic form. I love reading them, but have been very intimated by the thought of writing one because I’ve read so many good ones. But I do have one on my mental list of poems I need to write, inspired by Adrienne Su’s “Asian Driver”. It will probably take me the whole year to find the courage to write it.

Six poems published: Same number as last year. The over-achiever in me wanted to set the bar at 10 publications, but I’m going to try to get her to take it easy this year. Either way means I have to continue to Write! Write! Write! Submit! Submit! Submit! and that’s the part that pushes me.

Share my poetry: Last year I realized that publications aren’t the only way to share my work. I posted my April poems on Facebook, but took them down at the end of the month. The November poems are still up there, so that’s a step in the right direction. But to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I will start posting more poems to this blog, like “Winter Solstice.” Maybe I can make the Three-Minute Poem a regular feature.

Talk to more double life poets: I know they are out there. I read their work, but I don’t reach out to them. I want to feature their work and their creative process on this blog. I want to learn from them.

Blend double lives more: I started doing this when I updated my LinkedIn profile. I don’t know what this will looks like or how to do this, but I have a feeling it will be an interesting journey.

Let me know some of your writing resolutions for the New Year by leaving a comment!


Year in Review 2012

2012 YIR

I’m taking a page from the playbook of my poet-friend and blogging guru, Tara Lynne Groth of WriteNaked, and doing the hip thing: a post what I learned and accomplished this year.

What I learned is simple: Write! Write! Write! Submit! Submit! Submit! ‘Nuff said.

Now—on to the month-by-month highlights of 2012

January: Graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with my MFA in Writing.

February:  Participated in peer review with fellow VCFA alum. Made 2nd presentation for the job.

March: Worked like crazy. Not much else. 😦

April: Wrote 30 poems for April Poem-A-Day Challenge. Turned 40!

May: Attended Raleigh Review writing workshop with Dorianne Laux and Joe Millar. Made 3rd presentation for the job.

June: Attended 17th Cave Canem Retreat.

July: Launched this blog, Poet’s Double Life.

August: Attended a professional conference in Chicago, wrote poems, and took tons of photos.

September: poetrySpark! “Professional Disagreement” published in Mused: BellaOnline Literary Review.

October: Worked like crazy and got an “exceptional” annual performance rating. Attended a new open mic.

November: 29 poems for November Poem-A-Day Challenge. Five years at the job!

December: Three April poems published in the Best of Fuquay-Varina Reading Series anthology. “The Truth About Fire” accepted in Pedestal Magazine’s December 2012 edition.

I’m still working on my New Year’s resolutions for an upcoming post!


Publication Update

Good news!  All that effort to submit to literary magazines has yielded one acceptance, Mused: BellaOnline Literary Review. A few of my poet-friends in the Triangle have published there, so I thought I would give this mag a try.

The poem, “Professional Disagreement,” is one of my work-related poems and is based on a heated exchange I witnessed during a public meeting. The real argument was not pretty to watch and my boss’ description of what we saw and heard became the last two lines:

 “it´s just two country gals / throwing rocks with their tongues”

I wrote this poem during the April 2012 Poem-A-Day Challenge in response to the prompt, “communication.” You can read the poem here: http://www.bellaonline.com/review/issues/fall2012/p033.html