A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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November 2019 Recap


November rivaled October in its schedule. I took five flights, drove over 900 miles, had two executive coaching calls, saw two movies, presented at a professional conference, and went to my first Celtics game of the season. November stretched the double life to the point where there was an event or activity almost every day of the month.

November 2019 calendar on Nov 13th - Wizards at Celtics

November 2019

Week 1: November began on a Friday. I started that day with an executive coaching call and ended it with a flight from BOS to SJC to attend the wedding of a good friend’s daughter. By the time I drove from the San Jose airport to the hotel in Palo Alto, I had been awake for over 18 hours. I spent less than 36 hours on the ground and still managed to see a former student research assistant and a former colleague in addition to the attending the wedding reception. When I returned on Sunday evening, I went home for a quick bite to eat, and then, tossed my business suitcase in the car and drove down to Newport, RI. I spent the beginning of the week at the North East Association of Institutional Research (NEAIR) annual conference. I was a first-time attendee and presented in one of first panels on Monday morning. Needless to say, I was so relieved that all the logistics worked out. The rest of the week was pretty tame—aqua jogging class, dinner + music, and nails.

Week 2: This week as bookended by the poetry/personal life and the professional life. At the beginning of the week, I had brunch with a group of friends in Cambridge, took the T to meet a poet-friend at Boston Public Library to exchange work, and had dinner with another friend. I ended up visiting the same restaurant thrice–twice for dinner and once for after work drinks. Wednesday was the Wizards vs. Celtics, my first game of the season. The Celtics were on an eight-game winning streak having only lost the opener to the 76ers. This game was no different. Even at that stage in the season, the C’s had better chemistry with Kemba than with Kyrie (Sigh. I miss basketball). Friday evening and all-day Saturday, I participated as a member of a search committee for a high-level position on campus. Yes, you read that right. And I still managed to attend my favorite Boston-area milonga and a meetup event that weekend.

Week 3: Compared to the first two weeks of the month, this week was quite tame. I started off the week with brunch at the home of my good friends and their 2-year-old (Sigh. I miss brunch too). Monday was the Blacksmith House Poetry Series featuring a poet I met locally, Rage Hezekiah, and Jill McDonough. I had recently heard McDonough’s poem, “Cindy Comes to Hear Me Read” on an episode of The Slowdown (an excellent weekday poetry podcast from former PLOTUS Tracy K. Smith). It was the only week in November I had my Skype poetry date. I also had my second executive coaching call, which is part of the professional development program I’m participating in this academic year. The program features a small cohort of individuals who report to senior leadership. Although I know everyone in the group, I hadn’t had the opportunity to interact to this degree and understand the challenges they have been facing. When I first came to campus, all of the direct reports to senior staff met on a monthly basis, but that group dissolved. Participating in this program reminds me of how much I miss the opportunity to interact with my peers at work. The week ended with another type of loss—UCLA’s sixth loss of the season to our crosstown rivals, USC. The Bruins #BeatSC every year I attended UCLA, but of course, that was back in the 90s.

Two crew rowing on the Charles River from the Boston University Bridge

BU Bridge scene

Week 4: This week did not start with brunch. Instead, I went a writing retreat at GrubStreet sponsored by Boston Writers of Color. These monthly retreats provide space for writers of color to write and submit their work…kind of like Four Chairs and a Bench, but with 10 times as many people coming in and out during the day. I also managed to see the movie “Harriet” on the same day. The rest of capped off the week with a brief, but spectacular Thanksgiving trip to Durham. I saw ten different friends in 48 hours, including two Thanksgiving dinners, a Thanksgiving dessert, a Black Friday brunch, a pizza making party, and coffee at the RDU airport Starbucks before my flight back. Somewhere in there I had a really good slice sweet potato pie and saw the movie “Queen & Slim” with my movie buddy, Jim.


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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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Sunday in the Office with Poems


For three straight weeks, I’ve spent Sunday afternoons in a small office on the 4th floor of UNC Davis Library. I’m thankful for this space and for my generous German friend who keeps the key to his faculty study in a place where I can find it. This is why America should maintain the trust of our German allies.

Typically, I spend about 5 or 6 hours there revising some poems, writing blog posts, researching literary magazines and book publishers or a little bit of all of the above. Yesterday’s goal was to assemble the 10-36 pages of poems that could possibly become a chapbook. Last week’s session whittled down the bulk of my writing to 43 pages, which completely covered the limited desk space. Then coffee arrived and chatting ensued, leaving the poems to talk amongst themselves.

Poems need this time to get to know each other, figure out how to arrange themselves, and decide whether to be part of the group. Forty-three pages became 27, including the four that called out to be revised in the middle of the process for a literary journal submission. Some of the poems in the Group of Twenty-Seven may not make the final cut. I see two distinct themes and about eight poems that bridge these ideas but are not wedded to either camp. And so the process continues.

The Group of Twenty-Seven


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Back to Business


opensignThe end of the government shutdown coincided with the end of writing a report for work. Now I have more time to turn my attention back to the business of poetry. Like any job—double life or otherwise—some tasks  you love and other tasks you tolerate as necessary evils. For me, submitting work to literary magazines and contests is  on the necessary evil side of things. It’s a lot of work for little (if any) reward and the process is never-ending:

  • Search for places to publish
  • Read published work to get a sense of how my work fits
  • Read and re-read submission guidelines
  • Print out potential poems to submit
  • Read, revise, and tweak selected poems
  • Order selected poems
  • Re-re-read submission guidelines
  • Prepare submission packet (cover letter/bio and poems)
  • Submit packet (and payment, if required)
  • Hope and pray

Last year, I focused on getting individual poems published and was successful. I’m still working that angle and adding chapbook contests to the mix. I have quite a few poems, but not all of them are ready for prime time. So selecting 10-30 of my better poems for a chapbook seems less daunting. Here are the chapbook contests on the horizon:

  1. Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Prize (10/31): co-sponsored by Tupelo press; 20-36 pages judged by Mark Doty 
  2. Coal Hill Review (11/1): co-sponsored by Autumn House Press; 10-15 pages judged by Michael Simms
  3. Minerva Rising Chapbook Contest (12/1): themed contest, “Daring to be the Woman that I Am;” 12-15 pages judged by Rosemary Daniell 
  4. Imaginary Friend Chapbook Contest (12/15): open to anyone who doesn’t identify as a straight, white male; 12-20 pages judged by Shane McCrae, Ching-In Chen, Margaret Bashaar, Noel Pabillo Mariano, and Ayshia Stephenson


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A September to Remember


As the government is shutting down, I am emerging from one of the busiest months for work and poetry. My last post gave a snapshot of my schedule for the first week of September and outlined all the events I had on the calendar. I had planned to take a break from tango classes and didn’t know whether work or poetry would fill that void. Now I know the answer—a little bit of both. Here are some of the highlights:

Blackberry Literary Magazine (Tuesday, September 1, 2013): This month’s issue diverged from the usual theme-related writing to display an eclectic mix of poems and fiction from African American female writers, including two of my Cave Canem poems and a work-related poem, “Sighting: Mother”, “There is a Graveyard in My Belly”, and “Tuesday Morning Rain.”

Tuesday Morning Rain

The VCFA alumni gathering (Friday, September 6, 2013): What a great turnout of prospective students, current students, and alumni at Nantucket Grill in Chapel Hill. It was good to connect and reconnect to VCFA alum and interact with other creatives. The only glitch: the name badges and promotional materials sent from Vermont to my work address didn’t arrive until Tuesday. Obviously, the US Postal Service doesn’t believe poetry and work should mix.

PT's VCFA badge

The Music-Shanks Wedding (Saturday, September 7, 2013): I was honored to be asked to write a poem for the occasion. The couple are filmmakers and the poem used The Wizard of Oz as an extended metaphor for finding love. “And by Good Glinda’s grace you stand today, with your brain, courage, and heart  in tact, those ruby-red slippers ready to click.”

Wedding poem

Poetry book club – ee cummings (Sunday, September 8, 2013): There were only two of us, but we spent the entire two hours reading and discussing selections from The Complete Poems of ee cummings, 1914-1962. We listened to cummings reading his work and winced because his voice was full of the Unitarian minister who raised him rather than the whimsical verse he wrote. This poem is my new favorite poem.

the sky was luminous

poetrySpark’s Spark After Dark Erotic Poetry and Burlesque show (Thursday, September 12, 2013): After a full week of writing a work report, I took the stage with 25 other poets and performers for the event that kicked off SparkCon. The standing-room-only crowd was an eager audience for “some dirty poetry”, and someone handed me a rose when I was done.

Spark after Dark

poetrySpark’s  Poetry on Demand booth (Saturday, September 14, 2013): What do you get when you take 9 poets and sit them in a booth to write poems in 3 minutes for a dollar a piece for over 4 hours? $167 dollars, that’s what! Plus some of the craziest words—triskaidekaphobia, kookaburra, honorificabilitudinitatibus, coprophagia, apotheosis, and smook (invented word for whipped cream). Fortunately, my colleague gave me a normal word as a prompt. Note: the spelling errors are hers, not mine. 😉

Swordfighting

Passion: A Salon of Music, Dance, Theater, and Cabaret (Friday, September 20, 2013): After another full week of writing a work report, I stood on different stage, this time for a three-minute “modern dance duet with a tango feel to it.” No one has posted pictures from the event, but we got a good pre-show write up in the Daily Tar Heel.

National Legislative Program Evaluation Society Fall Professional Development Seminar (Sunday, September 22 to Wednesday, September 25, 2013): Over 130 individuals representing over 20 states met in Austin, Texas for the annual meeting of legislative audit and program evaluation staff. And though we would like to believe that the sessions on retaining staff, using graphics, and tracking recommendation results were most memorable, what’s burned in our minds is the image of men kissing giraffes at the Texas Disposal System Exotic Game Ranch.  Even better, I got to dance tango with the Austin community on Saturday and Tuesday and add to my ever-growing collection of college paraphernalia.

Giraffe at "The Dump" Halloween at UT Austin

UNC Davis Library (Sunday, September 29, 2013): After a 60+ hour work week and the Living Poetry organizer’s meeting, I stopped by one of my favorite writing spaces in the Triangle (what I call the Poet’s Gym) to pick up three books by Rachel Wetzsteon, including her posthumous collection, Silver Roses.

Rachel Wetzsteon


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Poems Every Day


Conversation with my friend, J, in her kitchen on Wednesday night:

JH: How many poems do you read a day?

PT: Only two. Writer’s Almanac and the daily poem from Poets.org. I read those on my phone.

JH: That’s it?

PT: Oh wait! I changed my email settings for the Library of Congress Poetry 180 project. I used to get the weekly digest, but I get those poems every day. Or whenever the government sends them out.

J continues potting her winter bulbs.

PT:  Well, it does depend on the day. The American Life in Poetry poem comes on Mondays. And then on Wednesday, there’s the Linebreak poem. This week’s poem was great. Let me read it to you:

PT reads “The Centurion Divulges More

PT:  Oh yeah, I’ve got the Poetry Daily app on my phone. They post a new poem everyday, but sometimes I don’t remember to check and end up reading a week’s worth of poems on the bus.

JH: Is that it?

PT: Well, there’s always whatever poetry book I’m reading now.


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Finding a Home for Your Poems


A good friend once told me, “Dating is all about getting the at-bats.” The same can be said about publishing poems. Part of my struggle is the time it takes to sift through my VCFA manuscript and the poems I’ve written since graduating in January to figure out which poems I still feel good about sending, which ones still needs revision, and which ones make me shake my head (What was I thinking when I wrote that?!).

Last month, I posted about my first time sending out publications, and now, I am gearing up for a second round. My pool of poems is limited by the submissions that are pending and whether the lit mag accepts simultaneous submission. So far, I’ve heard news only about 2 out of the 5 submission – a “nice rejection” (try again) and an acceptance 1 out of the 3 poems I sent (yay!)

This time, I’m using these sites to identify literary magazines:

  • Duotrope – has a submissions manager to help track the results of your submissions, lists new, defunct, and resurrected literary magazines, and allows writers to search for a good match
  • New Pages – maintains the “Big List of Literary Magazines” with reviews of each publication as well as links to their websites

Browsing through each site is a bit overwhelming, but I find comfort in knowing there are so many possibilities out there. It gives me hope that each poem will find the right home. Now if only dating worked the same way. 😉