Recently, Bethany Reid posted about taking a break from writing. I take breaks from writing all the time–meaning that I skip writing. And feel guilty, worry that I’m not a real writer. But that isn’t the same as taking a vacation from writing.

On my vacation last week, I decided to really take a vacation. Usually, time off means time with a stack of books and a manuscript or a notebook to fill with free writes. This trip, we went to Maui to see our daughter, to spend time with her and meet her friends.

joannie and claire We went on a hike in the Iao Valley. We went up to Haiku, where her friend handed me a ukulele and I spent about an hour jamming–or trying to keep up (I haven’t played ukulele before). After that, it was lau laus for lunch and then a quick slack-key guitar lesson (by this time, my fingers were hurting). The next day, my first yoga class ever. The day after that, we went paddling in a double-hulled canoe in Kahalui Harbor.

Instead of worrying about the writing that I wasn’t doing, I enjoyed all the firsts and then decided to privilege things that I could do only in Hawaii, even if it was just taking a dip in the ocean or walking on the beach–including trips to the bakery. I still read a lot (This Time, by Gerald Stern) and noodled around with some poems, but I didn’t feel pressured to complete something, to make progress.

(Okay, true confession: I did have a momentary freak-out when I was supposed to meet my daughter on the beach and, when she didn’t answer my calls about the fact that I had run out of beach, I thought that maybe she had been swept out to sea and started to half-run back to the condo to see whether Tom had heard anything. I kept telling myself that this was not the Aloha spirit and to visualize good things. Finally she called, and then I half-ran back to help with dinner. But everyone made it alive and we ate mahimahi and drank sparkling pineapple wine.)

As the plane lifted away from the island and I tried not to cry, a poem started to introduce itself.

Back on the mainland, I’m looking for that balance (always) between writing and the rest of my life, between working and playing, between process and product–how to make space for that vacation calm in the everyday journeys. And I’m getting ready to take my second yoga class ever.

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This morning, we did the Big Poetry Giveaway drawing.

Congratulations go to Renee, who won a copy of Reading Novalis in Montana, by Melissa Kwasny, and to Linda E.H., who won a copy of In Both Hands.

I hope everyone had a terrific Poetry Month. Last night, Kelli Russell Agodon and I closed it down in fine form at Queen Anne Book Company. Many thanks to QABC and to all the folks who came out to hear poems.

Happy May Day!

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Happy last day of poetry month!

Many of this month’s exercises have focused on either music, image, or narrative. Today, let’s add layers to our poem by working with all three.

Pick a poem that’s been giving you problems, and then do one exercise from each category. You can either start from the original draft each time, or you can build on each previous exercise.

For example, you could start with Day 8 (image), then do Day 21 (story), and then Day 25 (music).

If you get a chance, let me know what you’ve been up to this month, whether you’ve used any of these exercises or whether you’ve been writing from some of the fine prompts that other people have posted. I’d love to hear from you.

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Yesterday’s exercise was based on Ada Limón’s “The Echo: Same-Language Translation” in Wingbeats II. The idea was to take a poem that you love, and translate it into your poem.

Today, let’s do the same thing–except find a poem that is written in a style that is as different from your own poem as possible.

For example, if you like to write in very short lines, choose an excerpt by Whitman. If you prefer long lines, try Emily Dickinson or H.D. If you like to write in a narrative voice, look for a post-modern lyric. You get the idea.

Again, spend some time with it–read it closely, listen to its sounds and the way it moves. Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Where?

Now, translate that poem into your own poem.

What new images arise? What new language?

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about listening, about inviting conversation–as opposed to talking at.

This next exercise is a two-parter, today and tomorrow. It comes from Ada Limón’s “The Echo: Same-Language Translation” in Wingbeats II. And it’s inspired by stories of writers who do not read–or do not read in their own genre–because they’re concerned about being influenced by others’ works. I don’t know whether these reports are true, or whether they’re a kind of literary urban legend.

I think of poems as being in conversation with other poems, and for me reading is the best way to expand my perceptions and get me into the zone.

Okay, enough with the diatribe.

Take a poem you’ve been having trouble with. Read it, and then set it aside.

Now, find a poem by someone else–a poem that you love. Spend some time with it–read closely. Absorb the title, the first line, the way each line carries to the next, the movement of the poem as a whole. Listen to the sounds and the way the sounds emphasize or play against the words’ meanings.

Translate that poem into your own poem–trying to forget, as much as possible, your original poem.

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