Poetry in a Pandemic

It feels like March 2020 and December 37th at the same time, somehow. The world feels so uncertain right now. This country feels so uncertain and hostile — this is not new.

When I’m anxious, confused, and trying to understand myself and the world around me better, I turn to writing and reading. It’s how I process. Yes, poetry goes on even in a pandemic. It may be even more important during a public health emergency and a reckoning of America’s racist and white supremacist history (and present).

So, I’m here to share some writing news and upcoming readings with you.

Pushcart Prize Nomination

You know that little child you still have deep in you? The one who had all those dreams, who didn’t know if they were possible but kept on believing? The one who whispers to you to keep going, even when you’re doubting yourself and listening to that imposter syndrome voice? Yeah, her; little Marlena would be so proud right now.

In December, Doubleback Review nominated my poem “Armpit arsonist” for the 2020 Pushcart Prize! This poem was inspired by a true story from 2014, where a passenger set the driver’s armpit hair on fire in Idaho, causing a rollover crash. I hope the teens (now adults) are alright. I certainly don’t intend to offend or cause harm when writing based on true events.

This is such an incredible honor! The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series has been published every year since 1976. The literary prize honors the best poetry, fiction, and essays published in American small presses from the previous year. Literary magazines and small presses can nominate up to six works they have featured that year. The winners haven’t been announced yet, so stay tuned. You can read the nominated writing from this year by searching for presses and writers who are sharing the news on social media.

Tl;dr: it’s a big deal in literary circles.

2021 Poetry Events

For almost a year now, we’ve been figuring out how to keep in touch with our family and friends, go to school, go to work, and host events virtually. And poetry readings are no exception! There’s a plethora of readings, workshops, open mics, and more available from libraries, universities, indie bookstores, and more.

Here are a few events throughout the year that I’m organizing or participating in.

A Space for Grief: An OutWrite Reading During Pandemic Times
Friday, January 15 | 7:00-8:00 p.m. ET
This Friday, join OutWrite as we host a space to reckon with our grief. This reading features powerful local poets Sunu Chandy, C. Thomas, Keondra Freeman, and Gowri Koneswaran, and the incomparable Rasha Abdulhadi will be hosting this space. The reading will be accessible via Facebook Live (link will be made available through the Facebook Event once the event begins).

Disability’s Influence on Literature: Realism As A Craft Concept
Wednesday, March 3 | 1:30-2:30 p.m. CT
I’m honored to have been invited to moderate this vital discussion for AWP 2021. I’ll be facilitating this panel discussion with fellow disabled writers Eileen Cronin, James Tate Hill, and T. K. Dalton. They write memoir, fiction, and poetry, and have varied experiences with disability. Originally planned for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ 2020 conference, but delayed due to COVID-19, we’re excited to be hosting this conversation virtually. Link information to come.

Here are more details on this discussion: Literature has long defined disability erroneously. Movements started by disabled people have shifted the narrative. With false, manipulated, or erased narratives surrounding us in a 24/7 news cycle, the truth is more important than ever. Disability literature offers a deeper exploration of adaptation, survival, and humanity.

Writing at the Intersections
Saturday, March 20 | 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. ET

I’m so excited to be facilitating a workshop, as part of the Bay To Ocean Writers Conference 2021, with my friend and incredible writer Taylor Lewis! This workshop will delve into the intersections of identity. Poets of various identities — queer, disabled, women — will guide participants to explore their identities, their intersectionality, and their biographies. This workshop will provide the necessary space for freewriting and discussion on what it means to write at the intersections. Bay to Ocean, a Maryland writing conference, will feature sessions on fiction, poetry, memoir, craft, publication, and promoting your work. More details to come.

Writers Here & Now
Wednesday, April 14 | 7:00-8:30 p.m. ET

It’s such an honor to be invited back to read at my alma mater! It’s been a dream for years. I’ll be a featured reader, along with my friend and prolific writer Meg Eden, at the April Writers Here & Now at the University of Maryland. Writers Here & Now brings writers of national and international prominence to the University of Maryland and provides an opportunity for the university community to hear and meet the best writers of contemporary poetry and fiction. Link to the virtual reading to come.

DC Poet Project
May 1 | 8:00-9:30 p.m. ET
I’m thrilled to have been invited to be a featured reader for the 2021 DC Poet Project Series. Founded in 2017, the DC Poet Project is a poetry reading series connected to a poetry competition. Along with other featured readers, to be announced, I’ll be voting on the best poems we witness from the open mic. Project partners include the DC Public Library, BRINK Media, and American Poetry Museum, as well as the support of LISC DC and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. More details to come.

OutWrite 2021
August 6-8
OutWrite is Washington, D.C.’s annual LGBTQ literary festival. OutWrite 2021 will be held August 6-8, 2021. I’m the new Co-Chair of OutWrite, along with local poet Malik Thompson. We’re currently reviewing submissions for panel discussions and readings for the 2021 festival, so submit your ideas! At this time, due to the pandemic, it is likely that the 2021 festival will be required to be virtual. Follow OutWrite on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for updates.

Share what you’re reading, what’s inspiring you or keeping you up at night, or, always, pet pictures. Here’s my kitty Jiji and my sister’s dog Dexter. Can’t believe it’s been a year since I adopted her!

I hope you’re finding solace in these difficult, dark, winter days. May the spring come soon.