The two poems below, Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita and Aubade, emerged near the end of the fellowship. It was only after sitting and “brooding”(Meena’s workshop word which I have come to love) for the past month over diaries and scraps of paper written on at 5AM (in several attempts to watch the sunrise, only one of which was a success) were these able to emerge.

These days, I feel the urge to brood over everything. This morning it was a quote by Stanley Kunitz which I stumbled upon in one of my old notebooks. “Poetry is the conversion of life into legend”. Then, on the way to Starbuck’s with my iPod on shuffle, lyrics from The Roots. “In the beginning there was me. I was rhythm, life, two turntables one mic.” I can’t resist the urge to brood on them. After this month, I’m convinced that brooding leads to good writing; sometimes, and idea or line hatches perfectly only because it spent so much time being brooded upon. Incubated, if you will.


If you do come to Provincetown for a fellowship or workshop, please don’t miss the sunrise, or the Fine Art’s Work Center’s nightly readings, or the Poet’s Corner at the public library, or the dune shacks where Eugene O’Neill supposedly wrote Anna Christie. Oh, and whatever you do don’t miss the amazing South African bobotie wrap at Karoo Café, Bliss’s pomegranate fro-yo, or Stanley Kunitz’s perennial garden.

And above all, spend as much time as you can on the Mailer Porch. It is by far, the best place to brood.


(After writing this, I watched BBC’s Blue Planet. I am now fascinated by polar bears. Five months without a meal. Usually only 1 in 20 hunts is successful. As I packed, I started thinking of the parallels between hunting for seals and getting published. In the end, the half-starved momma bear caught and devoured an entire beluga whale. That should keep us writers motivated.)

Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita

Near the rose-hips, we undream our faces,
our hypothalami like sprung birds:
lips ready, our bones growing long teeth.
When he puts a palm between my scapulae,
each wing opens & a cell inside me screams
you will remember this.
But who can be sure of such a thing.
Nagarjuna would say, there are no teeth,
no bones, no lips pressed there are no lips
but there are lips. I know all this,
but I also know that we are born again & again
to lie down & count each other’s ribs,
to search for the pulse’s kick,
& the soul standing at attention.


All night on the sea cliffs,
& on the low rocks we crawl drunk among barnacles,
Bringing our heads down to their operculums
So our ears fill with their hissing.
We inhabit the sound which is warm, portal-like—
An umbilical to some other world.
Minutes go by.
Then migrating back to our bodies.


You ask me if I know the albatross dance:
The head shimmy beak -kissing of courtship,
& then running out to the nearest shoal
Perform it, the sky yawning turquoise around you.


Walking back to our rocks—
The way you never stop whistling.
But I imagine you perfectly silent,
When your voice was still magma & salt—
Streaming through the belly of the earth.

Vanessa is a Mailer Poetry Fellow. She used the time to work on her first collection of poems on the subject of grief and transformation; her writing incorporates science and mythology. Vanessa currently teaches English in South Korea, where she also co-facilitates Seoul Writer’s Poetry Workshop. She holds a BA in Religion and Asian Studies from Mount Holyoke College (MHC), and a Five College Buddhist Studies certificate from MHC, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and UMass. You can reach her by email at


It’s stunning here. Ptown is a gift and a distraction. Meena, the staff, the fellows – a gift! This poem is from our first assignment that went something like this: find an object to sketch, touch/feel/sketch it, write an associative response to the sketch, then write a poem based on the response that also incorporates childhood.


I Can’t Tell You Childhood.

Etch a field that needs me.
Touch the center,

the partial, the parental.
The predictable loneliness

of a child is the migration
of a flounder’s clockwise eye,

an adaptation, the way a herd
pummels landscape,

the dust cloud, its drift.


Flounders, like other fish, hatch with one eye on each side of their head. Movement of the right eye to the left side occurs during the metamorphosis from larvae to juvenile. Amanda Lichtenberg is not a fish. She lives in Jackson Heights, NY.

UNFURL: a zuihitsu

From home: is it fabulous?  Amazing?

I realize I am evasive, resistant in my answer.  Oh, ebbing and flowing, like the sea.

Arriving in the city of summer, a suitcase of books in tow, expectant of sea, expectant of myself filled up with boxed-up wintertime project.

I’ve been all month to Meena’s weekly assignments.
Tiny diaries and sketches of our wanderings.
Letter to yourself.
Aubade, poem written at dawn, after parting with lover.

In the night, 3:15am experiment.  The first night, notebook pried open, cell phone alarm clock by the bed, expectant.  Don’t bother turning on the light, scratching heavy lines from dreams.  In the morning, the page empty, still waiting.  T tags me in a Facebook note: I did it! I liked thinking of you doing, it too

But I am not doing it.  Where is the raw story in my throat stubborn.

The truth is: to live across from ocean, the furious waters, what is left behind by receding tide.  Walking to Norman Mailer’s house through warm and seaweed waters.  Wading in the tidewater flat.  Watching for whales.  On a bike, remembering how it feels to fly after ten years.  All beautiful distractions.

Sitting with myself, the practice of it, and nowhere to hide.  Even after sitting through the sunrise, what are you putting down of yourself.  The truth is: guilty, guilty and more so, when the day departs.

Watch a Youtube video of Norman Mailer nasty with Gore Vidal.  Research.  And then a book about a woman murdered years ago in Truro.  A journalist names this Cape Cod confessional.  Talk to an artist about a recent newspaper article about Asians overfishing squid and why do Asians need to be named.  Research.  Will I write about the Asians and the squids.

In the midst of settling into the self, Sikh temple shooting, Wisconsin weeps, and I wish I wish I could be with, amidst, amongst community.  Sending a note out and away.

The truth is: distraction rises to the surface, away from my regular life.  What stops me from writing there, except by coercion and community, is what keeps me from writing here.

Contending with my own creatures.  When I have the space to unfurl, what arrives old friends.  The same writing question: how am I going to love my mutant/monster self.  And the daily process, practice of answer.

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press) and a co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press). They are a Kundiman and Lambda Fellow and a member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation and Macondo writing communities. A community organizer, they have worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston. In Milwaukee, they are Cream City Review’s editor-in-chief and involved in their union and the radical marching band, Milwaukee Molotov Marchers.  Ching-In is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow, using the month of residency to work on Dialektik Skool, a book re-writing the global history of coolies.