pamphletI once heard a manager say that no one ever likes the authoring software that they have to use.

Do you ever get frustrated with the tools that you’re using? Especially if you’re dog-fooding (a tech term that means you’re using the software while it’s being developed; guinea-pigging might be a more accurate image).

In 2009, I was in that situation. At the same time, I learned that prose poetry was tied to the surrealists. As I sat at my desk pressing F5 and Enter again and again, I thought, “This is pretty surreal.”

Influenced mightily by The Master and Margarita, I started to write prose poems with a black cat, a flying pig, bugs playing poker, invalid dependencies, malformed relationships, schools of one and zero fish, servers melting, trains leaving the station, wolves, and vodka.

I’d write them on the bus on my way to work, type them up, and tape them to the relight–that hallway window next to my office door.

Now, Ravenna Press has published a selection of those prose poems in A Piece of Work, part of its Artifakta pamphlet series. A quick read, a little relief from the snarl of stalled productivity, for just $2.50. Enjoy!

(Check out the other fun pamphlets in the series.)

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April was fantastic, but I’m still way behind, trying to catch up. Although I’m a month late for April’s poetry pick, I didn’t want to skip writing about this book. Briefly:

Jennifer K. Sweeney’s newest collection, Little Spells, is a heartbreak, is a solace, is a journey. It is winter moving into spring. It is steel and cloud. It is blood and memory. It is quietly fierce.

Two of my favorite lines, among so many favorites, come from “Winter, Parenthetical”:

I had wished to live in a country of bad weather and nested
inside a winter inside a winter inside a long night.

(I walked around for days repeating that second line in my head, amazed at how it both haunts and satisfies, a completeness without comfort.)

I hope to write more later. In the meantime, for a poem, see “The Embryologist.”

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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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