A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Getting Back Into the Game


Four Queens Playing Cards

I’ve always had a good mind for important dates, milestones, and anniversaries. For example, I’ve been living in Boston for one year, five months, and 17 days. In the self-review portion of my performance evaluation, I reflected back on where I was last year this time (working alone on the 4th floor of an old building that was 7-minute walk from the heart of campus) to remind myself of how much progress had been made (working on the same floor as the senior leadership with two staff reporting to me). I know a lot of people don’t record the world in this way.  To help everyone else out, Facebook shows you posts that you shared from 1-, 3-, 4-, and 7+ years ago to help jog your memory.

Recently, I shared two memories announcing my published poems, “Transit of Venus” & “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals.” I re-posted these memories primarily for the benefit of the Boston tangueros who have found out I was a poet, but had yet to read my work. It’s been over two years since my work was published and even longer since I’ve submitted my work anywhere. Of course, I’ve had a lot of big changes since then (ahem—new job & new city).

Fortunately, I’ve kept writing—meeting regularly with Kelly Lenox over Skype, attending the Dudley Poetry Club, & producing daily poems via the April PAD Challenges and the poetry cleanse. For a while, I’ve been writing with no sense of direction. I had to pull together 10 poems in order to apply to a writing residency and felt like the poems in the application had the making of a narrative arch.

I feel inspired to follow where these poems lead. To that end, I attended a weekly write-in Meetup group and have started to research publications where these poems can land. I feel ready to get back into the publication game. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


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Summer in New England


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In Boston, Spring felt like it arrived on June 7th, a mere two-weeks before the official start of summer. We had so much rain and unseasonably cool temperatures. I’m glad I didn’t put my lightest down coat in storage. Now that the warm weather has decided to stick around for a while, it’s time to plan ahead for summer in New England.

I started the month of June with a staycation where I breakfasted my way around the neighborhood. Brookline has a lot of shops and restaurants that I usually whiz by during my morning walks. Staying at home meant I could take longer walks that ended in delicious meals. Like this one from Eagles Deli (0.07 miles from my apartment).

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Staycation also meant I could pop into various boutiques and see a movie in the middle of the day at Coolidge Corner Theatre. I took my journal with me everywhere to work on the poetry cleanse poems while I was eating, waiting, or on the Green Line.

At work, Summer Fridays started on Friday! We work Mondays throughThursdays, 8 am to 5 pm and take Fridays off. I plan to use my Summer Fridays to focus on the creative life that had been neglected as the Spring semester winded down. You’ve already seen evidence of that from the last post. I also took the opportunity to update the News from the Corner Office and About the Poet pages on the website. I’ll also use my Fridays to apply for residencies, and maybe, get back to submitting my work.

This summer, I’ve signed up for two poetry workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown: a four-week online workshop with Ada Limón; and an in-person workshop with Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Only while writing this post did I realize the two workshops overlap. I guess that means more intense poems. Fortunately, the in-person workshop meets from 9 am until noon and the online class is asynchronous.

In addition, I will continue my role as facilitator for the Dudley Poetry Club. In January, took over this role from Brionne Janae, a fellow Cave Canem alumna. The group met weekly during the Spring and decided to continue meeting once a month this summer. I love the diverse faces and voices of this group. The workshop has really helped me transition to Boston.

Although not nailed down, my summer plans include a NYC trip and a visit to Maine, both 3.5-hour drives in opposite directions. That’s East Coast living, y’all!


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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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April Poem-a-Day Challenge: Week 3


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As they say in the South, We’re getting down to the short rows. There are 8 more days in the Poem-a-Day Challenge. Although I’ve done the challenge for many years, it still surprises me how the prompts stimulate ideas I didn’t know were in my head. Enjoy the excerpts from this week.

Day 16 Prompt: <blank> System

Once we were orbs / in our own space / spun out / unable to withstand / the dust and rocks / hurled in our direction. (Solar System)

Day 17 Prompt: Dance

Cuddled / against / his chest / I become / bandoneon. (On the Dance Floor)

Day 18 Prompt: Life or Death

It doesn’t happen overnight. / You still wake up at the same time / but there is no rush to get ready. (Retired Life)

Day 19 Prompt: Memory

My blind / Date doesn’t show/ The waitstaff comps my meal/ But it doesn’t make me feel much / Better (The Times I Got Stood Up)

Day 20 Prompt: Task

Go downstairs / Read the sign above the washer–$3.50 per load / Walk back upstairs/ Bemoan the number of quarters added to your life (How to Do Laundry at Your New Apartment)

Day 21 Prompt: Object

What did you bring me today? A catalog, / forwarded mail, solicitations from old / charities? I know it’s not your fault, / but sometimes it feels like you’re in on the conspiracy. (Mailbox)

Day 22 Prompt: Fable

The people with the golden hair plucked his feathers one by one, took out his innards, washed and stuffed his body, and put him in an oven until he was golden brown. Then they sat down around the table, held hands, and prayed before tearing him limb from limb. You were lucky we found you before they did the same thing to you. (Little Golden)


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Poet Interviews


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I promise a longer post on my adjustment to the Boston area. In the meantime, check me out on Andrea Blythe’s Poet Spotlight. It was an interview an introvert could love – questions posted to a Google doc that I could answer on my phone wherever I was: at the airport, sitting on the couch trying to think of a poem for the daily challenge, at the nail salon.

And in case you’ve missed it, here’s the interview conducted by Elizabeth Zertuche, a writer I met at VONA last summer.

Enjoy!


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Poet’s Resolutions 2016


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Of the three resolutions I made last year, I accomplished two fully and one partially.

  • Six poems published: I’m giving myself partial credit because my chapbook, My Mother’s Child, was published.
  • Write at least three poems for my poetry project: Although I haven’t written a poem specifically about dark matter, most of my writing this year dealt with the issue of darkness and light in some way. Kelly definitely thinks my poems are part of my next collection.
  • Go to a poetry retreat or writer’s residency: I attended the VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts) retreat for writers of color in July.

 

With the big move to the Boston area this year, my 2016 poetry resolutions focus on establishing a poetry community in my new home.

  1. Start virtual poetry dates: These meetings have been so important and necessary for both of us, so Kelly and I will continue our poetry dates via Skype.
  2. Join a book club: Whether focused solely on reading poetry or fiction, a book club will help me find like-minded individuals.
  3. Attend five poetry open mics: This resolution will get me out and about in Boston and the MetroWest area. Only aiming for five this year to give myself time to find them and to account for bad weather months.
  4. Find a place to write: Moving means finding a new place where I can be creative, so locating a room of my own will be imperative.


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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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A Poet Organizes Her Books and (Almost) Cries Trying


It’s been quiet on the blog as of late because the career side of the double life has commanded my full attention since the end of August.

First, the big news—I’m relocating to the Boston area and returning to higher education administration. The role involves providing data about student learning and outcomes so that the leadership can make better decisions. This position is similar to one I had at UCLA, except the focus is on undergraduates (and very impressive students at that).

I’m excited about this position for several reasons:
1) I get to return to a college campus—my favorite working environment.
2) The work I do daily has a direct effect on the strategic direction of the institution and the students it serves.
3) I have the opportunity to work with intelligent people who believe in the mission of the institution wholeheartedly.
4) I report to a manager who has made me feel valued and supported as a person and as a professional already.

I report to work in early January, which leaves a small window of time to pack and move. Of course, I started with the books. As a first step, I separated the books into three piles: must carry with me; could go to storage for six months if need be; and needs a new owner.

Identifying the books that needed to be donated was relatively easy. The paperback books went the Prison Books Collective in Carrboro. They accept all kinds of books, even my ethnic and gender studies books from grad school and numerous books on Spanish grammar and vocabulary. I donated the hardcover books to the Durham Public Library, mostly fiction books I had read and enjoyed, but didn’t need to carry with me because they were so large.

For some books, the decision to keep versus donate was a close call. For example, I donated Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True (hardcover) but kept She’s Come Undone (paperback). I found duplicates as well—for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (hardcover & paperback). Clearly, I love both of these books enough to have bought a second copy at one point. I’ll give them to someone instead of dropping them off in the library donation bin.

FullSizeRender(1)The books I chose to carry with me were no-brainers. Some of these books lived in my bedroom or in my car and not on bookshelves. I left them out because I liked seeing them everyday. A few I had read recently—The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon by Willie Perdomo and The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani; others were classics—The Correct Thing To Do, To Say, To Wear by Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Roy DeCarava & Langston Hughes.

By default, I needed to pack the rest of the books. I decided to organize them by genre before putting them in boxes, so I could easily unpack the books whenever I got settled. This process in one word: agonizing. I had to touch every single book I owned and fight back the urge to sneak it into the crates for the must-carry books. Some of these books have been on the to-read list for a while, but for each one of those books there is another I remember reading on the DRX bus or for poetry book club. They carry memories of my life in Durham because I bought most of these books during my 9 years here.

For some books, I had the comfort of knowing I had another book by the same author in the crates—Jaki Shelton Green‘s Breath of the Song in the crate; Conjure Blues in the box. What’s worse is that poetry books, in particular, are slim and can slip into the sliver of remaining space in the crate. It’s been hard to keep myself in line with my first mind.

I was so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task and the reality of moving, I wrote this blog post instead of continuing to organize. At least no tears were shed during the process. 😉

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News from the Corner Office


PT ReadingTonight, I’m the featured poet for my favorite local reading series, Two Writers Walk into a Bar at Durham’s West End Wine Bar (7 pm). As the name suggests, the event features two writers—one poet, one prose writer—who each read for 20 minutes in the bar’s upstairs loft. The vibe is laid back and the readings always leave a word or a phrase etched on my mind. I look forward to the second Tuesday of the month, especially this one.

Thursday, I’ll be featured on the SAFTACast the bi-weekly podcast of the Sundress Academy for the Arts. This show focuses on the writer and whatever topics come up in the hour-long conversation with the gracious host, Scott Fynboe. Fitbits, hiking, and my worst dating story were a few of the things we discussed. Hyacinth Girl Press publisher, Margaret Bashaar and fellow HGP author, TA Noonan have appeared on the show.

Finally, with all this news, I’m launching a new page on the site: News from the Corner Office. This page will list my appearances and interviews and share a few photos. Deepest thanks to writer-blogger extraordinaire Tara Lynne Groth for this suggestion.


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Summer Reading List 2015


IMG_6298August is flying by. My family came to visit in the beginning of the month, and since then, I’ve been busy with cookouts,  meteor showers, and birthday parties on top of the usual schedule of dancing, yoga, and poetry dates. I’m surprised that I even found time to read this summer. And my reading has been all over the place, thanks to recommendations from colleagues and friends.

Fiction

  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: Borrowed from my colleague, this was the first book I fell in love with this summer. I related to much of the story—the pressure of being the overachiever, the isolation of being a minority—and thoroughly enjoyed the language from beginning to end.
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: Another borrowed book. Took me back to the 80s with its depiction of AIDS, Reagan, high school, sibling relationships, and New York City.
  • The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani: Ever read a mystery novel that centers on conjoined twins and where most of the main characters are Black? Me neither. That’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying it so much.

Poetry Book Club

  • Citizen by Claudia Rankine: A lyric essay which sparked as much conversation about race as it did about the poems and craft, if not more.
  • Black Zodiac by Charles Wright: A dense mediation which our small group thought inaccessible at first; together we came to appreciate the book, especially the last poem, “Disjecta Membra.”
  • The Gift by Hafiz: Just starting this book for our September meeting.

History/Non-Fiction