Winter Tangerine

The view from Poets House.

“Wow! The ocean looks beautiful!”

“That’s the Hudson River, Logan.”


Maybe I’d spent more time listening to Empire State of Mind than I had reading maps, but after a few subway rides, a walk, and panic ordering an Uber when I walked in the opposite direction of my destination twice, I’d made it to Winter Tangerine: a literary journal that focuses on writing by individuals who are typically not as centered or recognized as others. They were hosting a four-day workshop at Poets House, a luminous yet cavernous poetry library with numberless nooks, crannies, and very, very comfortable seats to write in.

The entrance to Poets House — another opportunity for me to work on my (ir?)rational fear of revolving doors!

“She hums a spellbound joy, a trinity of weary blues now well rested. This voice has sewn itself into the fabric of memory.”

I inhaled four bagels from the welcome breakfast spread, which seemed like a good idea before and during the second bagel, but less so half-way through the fourth. In my defense, they looked really good! And they were! Even though eating that much that quickly felt like the equivalent of taking NyQuil, the workshop was vividly awakening and electrifying from its inception. It was a place of rigor but also rejuvenation and relaxation — I was challenged and pushed to grow without feeling depleted, within a quickly-paced yet tranquil sanctuary. Winter Tangerine was seemingly an oxymoron, but a welcome, coherent one.

With a little over 20 poets from across the country in attendance, we all divided into three groups of seven, working closely with our advisors. From the first few hours, we were tested by an environment that cared for both us and our progress. 

We wrote poems about what fascinated us. What terrified us. About the soul in Alicia Keys’ voice, about picnics without napkins and berry juice, about adapting The Creature from the Black Lagoon to be a metaphor for code-switching, with as little as seven minutes or as much as several hours to write — all in the midst of a nebulous yet curious archive. I was told that Poets House’s library holds one of the largest collections in the country, with over 70,000 books of poetry — which made the whole experience both daunting and fascinating.

Here’s where I’d sit each morning to free-write, look out at the city, and stress eat granola bars!

“At the incidence of eternity, a cosmic surgeon conjures a luminous blade within early palms.”

One of our activities included looking through the Poets House library, selecting five words each from four poetry books that we’d never read before, and then using those collective 20 words to write our own creation story, all in an hour. I wrote about a cosmic surgeon who used a scalpel made of light to perform surgery on a dying phoenix and extract the universe from its chest.

Yup. I know. There was a lot going on in that poem, to say the least — I had to reread what I wrote more than a few times to try and understand it, to no avail. Whirlpool stars? Glorious ash? Gold-gauzed remembrance? Can’t tell you what any of that means. It sounds cool, though! So we’ll chalk it up to vivid imagery and call it a day, I suppose? Both in writing, and at Yale, I’m often unsure of myself or what I’m accomplishing — but the excitement and development that follow seem inextricable from the uncertainty of the moment.

Me reading at the end of workshop open mic.

“You can only write what you know, so all your odes to love start with amnesia — this poem starts with amnesia. Starts dark. Starts empty.”

At the workshop’s conclusion, which passed slowly yet swiftly, each of us chose our favorite piece to read during an open mic. With every poem whispered, hummed, laughed, and spoken into the mic, the room seemed to amplify itself with a glowing anticipation for the next word and a wistful longing for what had just been spoken. Every piece was a bop, though. Each reading was absolutely stacked with back to back bars. I was simultaneously trying to rewind the moment to process what I’d just heard, wishing I’d thought of it first, and sitting in awe of the work we’d assembled in just a few days. 

We’d written in coffee shops. In conference rooms. On the subway. Atop leaky air mattresses. With the last rays of the sunset stretching across our pages. In the company of friends, and strangers — and here, at the end, we celebrated the synthesis of words that were crafted by, yet inadequate to articulate, what we’d created there.

The Winter Tangerine March ‘19 workshop.

Bag secured! Everyone in the workshop got a free one.

After four days of a rigorous avalanche of writing, I thought I’d treat myself! Curly fries taste best when dipped in milkshakes. That’s a fact.