I was reading Gerald Stern while I was on vacation.

I was reading This Time by Gerald Stern because I’d read Kathleen Graber, and she has mentioned him as a mentor.

Early on, Stern’s poems  made me think of Dean Young’s poems. I looked that up and could not find a direct line between the two, although maybe there’s a meandering line through the New York Schools 1 and 2.

Poems that make you think of other poems, other poets—that’s one kind of conversation. I remember hearing in a class that if you put a fly in a poem, the reader will think of Dickinson. Really? Always? That was intimidating, because I wondered what other things I was supposed to be thinking. But I also get to draw my own connections, listen to what I’m reading and hearing.

Then there’s the conversation that poems within a book are having. I especially enjoy the conversation between poems that have similar titles. Think of the titles in Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris or in Oliver de la Paz’s Furious Lullaby.

Music can make a soundtrack for our lives. We hear a song and remember what we were doing the other times when we heard that song. Or the lyrics remind us of a past moment.

Poetry’s sounds, rhythms, and imagery can evoke similar memories. While I was on Maui reading Stern’s poem “Here I Am Walking,” I thought of my friend Laurie and my days living in New Jersey. Then I sent her the poem. I read Melissa Kwasny’s poem “The Sentience of Rocks” in Pictograph and thought of Joshua Tree (many of the poems in Pictograph brought memories to the surface, bucket after bucket pulled up from the well’s depths).

All these conversations, these connections–and we need only to read, to listen.

What are you hearing between poets, between poems, between reading and the rest of living?

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I haven’t looked at my New Year’s resolutions in months–but I’ve kept one. I’m walking at least 70,000 steps a week (for an average of at least 10,000 steps a day). This will make my doctor happy. And because I have a FitBit, it’s easy to track. I can check at any time how I’m doing, I can check back on how I’ve done through the week, and FitBit sends me an email letting me know how I did last week. That provides both accountability and encouragement.

I also had a goal to keep 20 submissions out at a time. I aimed to reach that in January. Instead, I sent my 20th out this past Saturday. At this exact moment, I’ve met my goal. That could change, probably will change.

But what about writing? Whether my goal is 20 or 45 or 5 minutes a day, I haven’t been making it. On some days I manage a few minutes in the parking lot before I go in to work. Other times, I’m running late, and I say, “I’ll do it later.” Often, I don’t. Sure, I’m accountable to myself–but miss a day here and there or even three in a row, and it isn’t as obvious as receiving an email message with hard numbers.

I started to wonder: Is there an app to track writing time? I’m thinking specifically of free-write times. Could I press start on my phone, write in my paper notebook, press stop, and then have a weekly view of my free-writing time? I found one app for my Windows Phone, but it involves writing on the phone. If I had to write on my phone…

Now this is starting to sound ridiculous: Why can’t I just say I’m going to write for x minutes every day and do it? Great question–and if I had an answer, I’d be doing it.

How do you schedule writing time? How well does it work for you? Do you track it?

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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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