Three years ago, I wrote a thing that wasn’t a story and wasn’t a poem. It is about a person sitting at a party watching a couple dance and thinking of someone else, which isn’t really anything. I reworked it every six months but could never get it to cohere. It’s also transparently autobiographical but I never said so when I submitted it to my writing workshop group for feedback — I think about myself and past a lot, which is always embarrassing to me, especially with a memory as slight as this. When readers asked what the piece is about, I said it’s a madeleine moment; language as mood; time as a circle. “It’s done,” a regular reader said after another redraft. It wasn’t done but I was sick of it too. I submitted it to 15 journals and was rejected 15 times.
Always on the verge of giving up, I kept rewriting and found it was about something new each time: it was about party magic — that moment when a party becomes perfect; it was about my own ambivalence toward bodies, sex, intimacy. “Because dancing is intimate but strangers do it,” I told someone desperately, while the piece remained formless. Right before I really quit, I came across an ambiguous description of a genre I didn’t know: the postcard prose poem. Oh, I thought, and picked up The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry to find out what that was. I found 34 jewel box essays describing prose poetry as sleights of language, mood, time, stupid memories that don’t let go, parties where nobody gets hurt, and realized I was also writing a prose poem about learning to write prose poetry. This blog post is longer than the piece, which you can read in Issue 17 of Unbroken Journal here: “We Know the World with Our Bodies”.