A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

Superheroes at Work

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I often say being a poet with a double life is a lot like being a superhero. Here’s a cool photo from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of some superheroes at their day jobs (maybe a few of them are poets, too!).

Window-washers from left, Mark Errico (Captain America), Jim Zaremba (Batman), Ed Hetrick (Super-Man) and Rick Boloinger (Spiderman) rappel down the side of Children’s Hospital on Monday morning, Oct. 22, 2012 as the crew of washers from Allegheny Window Cleaning Inc. rid the windows of the Lawrenceville hospital of grime. © James Knox

Special thanks to double-life poet and blogger, Jodi Barnes for sending this photo!


Ekphrastic Poetry

For me, art is a constant source of inspiration. I walk through museums and galleries with a petite notebook and matching pen in my back pocket to catch whatever comes to mind. When I look at a work of art—be it a painting, photography, sculpture, or mixed media—I try to imagine myself inside the piece, either as the subject or the person observing the scene. For example, here’s what I wrote in response to this photo of fireworks:


Photo by Katia Singletary Art and Photography

One hand gropes
in the dark
and finds its match.
Now fingers intertwine
like stacked wood
transferring heat
from pressed palms
to wrapped arms,
pulling closer
and closer.
Then lips touch
and the miracle
of fire burns slow
through hips and toes.
Embers of shared
breath rise until reds,
purples, and golds bloom
and burst into fiery

I like photography because a photo is literally a snapshot of a moment, which goes along with the narrative elements of the poems I write. Former North Carolina Poet Laureate, Cathy Smith Bowers calls this, “shining a light on a moment in time.”

Photo by Manish Ahuja

As a poet, I have complete freedom to choose which moment to feature. The unseen creatures are the focus of this haiku:

The receding tide
leaves sand crabs bare on the shore
Raucous seagulls snack

A good ekphrastic poem should be able to stand by itself—without the requiring artwork to provide the context. At the same time, the poem should complement the artwork, enhance the meaning of the scene beyond what you can experience just by looking at it. Here’s a poem inspired by the well-known painting, The Sleeping Gypsy (read the poem and then visit the painting).

The Sleeping Gypsy

And now she sleeps—
stretched—with her water jug
nearby and the moon standing
guard overhead. I’ve stalked her
wandering scent in the desert heat,
beheld her bedazzling garments
as if a rainbow wrapped its arms
around her dark beauty. The mandolin
silent, but still singing her deep
alto into my jaws, my paws. I long
to be that instrument—what she wants
near, what her arms can hold.

Special thanks to photographers, Manish Ahuja and Katia Singletary, for granting permission to use their work.


Poetry Prompts

Last week was one of those weeks when my writing rhythm was thrown off by travel and late nights in Raleigh for work and poetrySpark.  When I can’t think of anything to write or haven’t written in a while, prompts are a way to jumpstart the creative juices.  Luckily, one of my responsibilities for Living Poetry is sending out the weekly poetry prompt. Every Monday on the ride into work, I have to figure out what the prompt is going to be—which means focusing my energies on thinking about what topic might possibly inspire me to write.  Here are a few of the prompts I’ve used so far:

skin * breath * night *  fireworks * the smell of mint

Recently, I started using a visual prompt on the 3rd Monday of the month. Last month, a photo in the UCLA Magazine inspired this poem:

Carbon Footprint

From the “Vegan Campus” article in UCLA Magazine: http://magazine.ucla.edu/features/the-vegan-campus/index1.html

I want to leave
something behind,
more than this poem,
this page, this pen,
a lineage beyond
what my fruitless
loins choose to bear.
In time, the mind purges
any memory too heavy
to carry. The soul
must be free to take
the next step without
a trace of regret.

Today, I sent out a photo from National Geographic. I’ll post the poem I come up with next week.


Poet in the City: Chicago

It’s been one of those weeks again! From Sunday to Thursday, I attended a professional conference on the non-literary side with over 3,000 attendees from every state and a few international observers. I arrived in Chicago on Sunday and took tons of pictures on the architectural boat tour, but didn’t feel comfortable downloading the images on my work laptop until now. (I like to keep the careers separate. It’s the Wallace Stevens in me). After the tour, I took myself out to dinner at P.J. Clarke’s while I waited for the 8:20 showing of Beasts of the Southern Wild. (Believe me, the cucumber martini looked as good as it tasted, and the potpie wasn’t bad either). Wednesday was the only other day I had time to see the city. I walked from McCormick Place to the Adler Planetarium along the Lake Shore trail. Two miles and 40 minutes later, I was happy to sit in a cool, dark room and veg out in front of the stars. Chicago is such an inspiring place.  No wonder Carl Sandburg wrote a whole poem about it!  In my next post, I’ll share a few of my own city-inspired poems.

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Poet in the City: Charlotte, North Carolina


My poet self never goes on vacation. She sees the beauty of the empty streets of Uptown Charlotte, finds the quotes posted on concrete columns, stands in awe of the foggy skyline, discovers artwork, converses with a queen, and seeks the truth along her path.

“Books are meat and medicine and flame and flight and flower, steel, stitch, cloud and clout, and drumbeats on the air” ~ Gwendolyn Brooks
“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ~Frank Kafka

Uptown Charlotte Skyline in Morning Fog

Uptown Charlotte Skyline from Spirit Square

Art installation in front of Carillon Tower on Trade Street

Mural in front of Spirit Square

“If reading one good book is fun, reading four must be quadruple the pleasure. Two hardcovers and two paperbacks carelessly snuggle about me in the hammock.”

Queen Charlotte in Her Garden

49 Seconds to Cross

Train Crossing Sign on 6th Street

Public Art @ ImaginON

Speak the Truth @ ImaginON

Seek the Truth @ ImaginON

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