Welcome to the new I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin.   I’ve made the switch from Blogspot to WordPress in an effort to obtain better organization.   (I’m madly in love with the WordPress tab option!)

I’ve imported all my Blogspot posts—nothing should be missing.

I’m excited about this change, and I hope you’ll continue to follow I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin.

Double Ds: Marilyn Nelson


Marilyn Nelson is the inaugural poet for the Double Ds!

Nelson is the author or translator of twelve books and three chapbooks. Her book The Homeplacewon the 1992 Annisfield-Wolf Award and was a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award. The Fields Of Praise: New And Selected Poemswon the 1998 Poets’ Prize and was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Award, the PEN Winship Award, and the Lenore Marshall Prize. Carver: A Life In Poemswon the 2001 Boston Globe/Hornbook Award and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Book, and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Fortune’s Bones was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and won the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. A Wreath For Emmett Tillwon the 2005 Boston Globe—Horn Book Award and was a 2006 Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a 2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and a 2006 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book. The Cachoeira Tales And Other Poemswon the L.E. Phillabaum Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.  Click here to read more about Marilyn Nelson and her endeavors.


Denise asks:
In A Wreath for Emmett Till, you employ the sonnet with grace and expertise. To what extent did the use of form help you to deal with the subject matter?
Marilyn Nelson:
The use of form helped a lot, I think. I don’t think I would have written the poem if I hadn’t imagined the form could be something I could hide behind in self-defense.  I wrote that poem several years ago. I don’t really remember much about the composition experience, except for the frustration of looking for rhymes and the eager, sleepless period when I raced to finish it, because I couldn’t wait to see what was going to come next.


Dustin asks:
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
Marilyn Nelson:
My favorite place to vacation. I’ve had some wonderful trips, but I don’t usually think of them as “vacations.” One one trip I spent a couple of days lying in a hammock on the beach on Margarita Island, near Venezuela. On another trip, I spent a week visiting one of my college roommates, on Chiloe Island in Chile. Another time, hiked around Fuur, a North Sea island in Denmark. Another time, went on retreat in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. I guess I have a weakness for islands. On the other hand, I’ve had a couple of wonderful road-trips in the Kalahari, in Botswana.

WHY I WRITE ~ Arisa White

WHY I WRITE ~ Arisa White

Photo by Sven Wiederholt

I write because I’m trying to love others and myself.

It is a way of getting to.

It’s an opportunity to try on humanity, from varying points of view. If I can write from the perspective of the murdered and murderer, I can discover in myself something I did not know.

To get to a place where I am not ashamed of my secrets.

To not judge.

It’s how I keep myself sane and honest. Growing up with six other siblings, a mother who chose abusive boyfriends as partners, I needed a space to breathe, to remind myself that I had a voice that could be listened to, even if it was only by me. And despite the lies my mother told herself and us to permit and excuse such violence in our home, writing allowed me my own truth.

Writing is raising the silenced and inaudible voices to heard.

I’ve chosen poetry to help me navigate the questions I ask about people and the things people do, and the systems that we create to keep people doing the same, often, unhealthy things they do.

I can’t let things go: I like the challenge of finding the words to remake the moment again. The constant translation of events, situations, and emotions keep my brain turned-on.

I like to be turned-on.

It is truly, the times when I feel safe. Free to take risk, to emote, and to be led by imagination without fear.

Sometimes, I need a knife, a lover, a priest, a compass, and the poem offers direction, listens, loves, and stabs.

It allows me to not be while still being. When you walk in the world as black, woman, queer, poor, and the such, you get read before you reveal who you are. And sometimes, there is no space to learn who you are without being constantly challenged by assumptions, stereotypes, and expectations to perform or produce in a certain way because of those social identities. So writing is restorative, recuperative and permits me to ask myself vulnerable questions about my own who-ness and humanness.

I love it.

Double Ds Move!

Well, I have a lot on my plate. Yes, I’m a big boy who enjoys a full a plate and often seconds, even I have to realize when I need to embrace change to keep everything on my plate balanced.

I have decided to move the Double Ds, which is a monthly column I organize with Denise Duhamel, from Read Write Poem to I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin. I hate to move the series from the fantastic Read Write Poems site. Read Write Poem has it all– writing prompts, forums, and more web traffic than my blog; however, I have to think of the project. I am balancing a full-time job, college, Atlanta Pride Committee, Atlanta Queer Literary Festival Committee, Project Verse, Quarrel, Poetry Swap, Limp Wrist, and as of this week, promoting a chapbook that is going to be published by Pudding House Press. I’m a one man show doing all of this, so I have to do what is easiest for me while keeping the integrity of the project. — moving the Double Ds to I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin will do just that!

I owe Dana a huge thanks for embracing the Double Ds as soon as I pitched the idea to her. I owe a big thanks to the RWP staff for posting the first entry with Marilyn Nelson.

Please check back for the Double Ds questioning Dara Weir in September. You won’t want to miss it!

Sagittarius Agitprop from Black Lawrence Press

Matthew Frank’s new collection of poems exchanges ideas for music and music for pictures, with completely unexpected freshness and velocity– and this is not the experience of surrealism, but of a current realism that is hastening with the times. And these times are often rude and beyond all correction and all comparison. This book is sort of miraculous. I love it.
-Norman Dubie

In Matthew Gavin Frank’s splendid debut collection, Sagittarius Agitprop, poem after poem is unswervingly bold and astonishing. “Parts of a Feather,” to give an illustration, may be grounded in the experience of newlyweds home from a rainy honeymoon in Venice, but its opening announces that something very different from a personal narrative is at work in a Frank poem: “The superstitious geometry of the rock dove rests/ between its first and fifth rib. And you// rest between it, poised as water. It’s easy/ to call you a disease. Better: a heart or rain[.]” These are striking lines and they move into a startling meditation on art, life, union, and mortality: “Of course, you say, my hands// are the skeletons of everything with wings . . ./ A feather // stripped of barbs is bone.” Frank is a master of deft balance between the material of experience and lyric transformation, never losing his poetic footing or his sense of humor. As the speaker hilariously observes: “A marriage license/ makes a lousy umbrella” (“Parts of a Feather”). These poems are inventive, fearless, and wise. To be Frank, I think he walks on the water that is the page!
-Cynthia Hogue, author of The Incognito Body and Flux

Judge Announcement: The Replacement

This morning it was announced that Dana Guthrie Martin will not be able to serve as a judge for Project Verse’s Week 10: Final Assignment. Click here if you missed the post with all the details.

Matthew Hittinger is stepping in to fill Dana’s spot for the Week 10: Final Assignment. Not only did Matthew serve as the guest judge for Week 3: Simile Vs Metaphor, he has been following Project Verse since Week 1.

Welcome aboard, Matthew!

Project Verse: Judge Announcement

Originally, the final Project Verse assignment was not what was posted early this morning. In fact, the original task probably wasn’t even a hard enough task worthy of the fierce final two: Emily and Kathi. After a discussion with weekly guest judge Beth Gylys, we decided to incorporate change. This change keeps us close to our mission of promoting poets and poetry by giving a poetic makeover to Project Runway.

Unfortunately, weekly judge Dana Guthrie Martin will not be able to participate in the judging of the final assignment because of this change. Dana poured herself into Project Verse– my thanks to her is endless. The contestents will never truly know how much she cared and cheered for each one of them– I heard it in her voice each time we spoke on the time to discuss Project Verse. Your hard work and dedication is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Dana.

Here is a statement from Dana:

The Project Verse competition has been a wonderful experience, and I wish the final two candidates — as well as all the incredibly talented poets who competed — the very best with their writing.

Because of changes to the competition’s end date that have pushed Project Verse into September, I unfortunately won’t be able to be part of the final judging and must step away from the competition at this time.

An extra-special thanks is due to Dustin for all he’s put into this competition, and for having such a fantastic idea in the first place.

Good luck, everyone! I’ve learned a lot, and you have all been amazing to work with.

Poem on! And step in a little shit when you write. (That’s the opposite of the best advice my mother ever gave me. You don’t even want to know her second-best advice to me. It involves what kind of speculum not to allow the gynecologist to insert into you during a pelvic exam.)

Stay tuned for updates!

Week 10: Final Assignment

Emily and Kathi, you’ve made it a long way; however, you have one last assignment.

Only one poet can win Project Verse and receive the Project Verse prize package.

The final assignments consists of five parts:

Poem #1:
Part of your Week 9: Duel Task assignment required you to select what you consider the strongest line from your revised poem. The selected line will be used to write a new poem. While the new poem must use the strongest line, the new poem must not be anything like the poem from which it came. I almost forgot: you must swap lines.
Emily, you will use Kathi’s Unrequited love can kill you.
Kathi, you will use Emily’s and glittering. The sky is vintage celluloid, the hell.

Poem #2:
Revisit Week 5: The Between; redo the assignment. Yes, you must follow the rules as originally listed in the assignment. Poets, you may NOT use the lines you selected the first time around. Here is a reminder as to which lines you used the first time around:
Emily: He already has a name, she sighs reproachfully.
Kathi: As soon as he saw her, he knew that this wouldn’t happen.

Poem #3:
Revisit Week 6: Epigraph; redo the assignment. Yes, you must follow the rules as originally listed in the assignment. Poets, you must select a different poem to create an epigraph from. Here is a reminder as to which poem you used the first time around:
Emily: “With Mercy for the Greedy” by Anne Sexton
Kathi: “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poem #4:
Dorianne Laux participated in the new celebrity writing prompt series at Read Write poem. Click here to read Laux’s prompt. Poets, you will use Dorianne Laux’s RWP prompt to write a poem. Follow the instructions of the prompt carefully.

Poem #5:
Write a poem that begins with “I started writing poetry when I found out…” You can insert line breaks into those eight words any way you see fit; however, the poem MUST begin with those eight words. No, using the words in an epigraph won’t suffice. The poem must be written in 50 lines or less. There is no form constraint.

DEADLINE: Poems should be submitted in a single Microsoft Word document by 4pm on Friday, September 11, 2009.

Good luck!

Get to writing.

Week 9: Duel Task ~ Results

Beth, Dustin, and Dana were joined by guest judge Denise Duhamel for Week 9: Duel Task. Click here to revisit pop culture portion of the assignment, and click here to revisit the revision portion of the assignment.


Beth Gylys said it best when she said, “I want to be clear, my top choice and bottom choice are not separated by miles, but rather by degrees of degrees.” I hope each of you take Beth’s words to heart.

Emily, you’ve earned a spot in the final two. Congratulations!

W.F. and Kathi, both of you are talented poets. Both of you have been active in the poetry scene before this contest, and I know you’ll continue after.

I’m sorry, W.F., you are on permanent caesura.

Kathi, congratulations!