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As a precaution to help limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and care for our community, Just Buffalo Literary Center has postponed a number of events, and we will follow the guidance of Buffalo Public Schools in terms of Just Buffalo Writing Center programming.

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The Prose Poem: Q&A with teaching artist Cheryl Quimba

Teaching artist Cheryl Quimba, author of the poetry collection Nobody Dancing and the chapbook Scattered Trees Grow in Some Tundra, leads writers into the liminal spaces of prose poetry (and Zoom!) in her upcoming workshop The Prose Poem on May 2.

Cheryl took the time to chat with us about the workshop, what it means to be exploring the prose poem at this moment, and more.

First off, how are you? What’s helping you feel grounded or connected during this time? Have there been certain books, music, movies, or art that you’ve turned to, either for distraction, balm, or a kind of clarity?

“How are you” is a difficult question to answer right now, as I’m sure it is for many, because the answer changes moment to moment. I can go from calm to anxious to overjoyed very quickly. I will say that every day I wake up and go to bed feeling immense gratitude for the people in my life, for my work, and for the multitude of little things that I have more opportunity to savor now. Books and music have been absolutely crucial pieces of my personal survival kit. Right now I’m listening the hell out of Fiona Apple’s new album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” and I’ve been reading the photographer Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still. They’ve both been showing me how to go inward.

Your workshop is all about exploring the prose poem, which “defies the line” by straddling poetry and verse. What draws you to this form? Is there anything about the prose poem’s liminal quality that makes it especially resonant or ready for exploration right now?

I’m drawn to the prose poem because I first loved the sentence, and then the paragraph, and then was completely overtaken by poetry, and I’m still in the process of trying to understand what happens when all of those elements are joined together. Prose poetry is an arena that allows us to operate in poetic modes—to make use of things like metaphor, symbol, image, sound play, and the surreal—inside a prose-like container. Its liminal quality definitely makes it prime for exploration right now! We’re all occupying a space that is not markedly one thing or the other, and it’s a space of discomfort and possibility. Let’s see where that takes us.

Logistically, we’ll come together in that liminal space via Zoom video conferencing. What might participants expect or prepare for in terms of this new workshop “space,” working together while apart?
We’ll of course miss out on the physicality of being in the same actual room together, but one of the strengths of Zoom and these other live platforms is we will still feel the immediacy of each other’s presence and we’ll still be able to carry on conversations wherever they lead us and explore questions collectively. I’m hoping it will be a space that feels warm and open, and that the energy of our discussion will help bridge the physical distance.

Can you leave us with a prompt or quote inspired by your workshop?
I’ll leave this, from one of the most celebrated prose poets, Russell Edson: “A good prose poem is a statement that seeks sanity whilst its author teeters on the edge of the abyss.”


The Prose Poem with Cheryl Quimba is May 2 from 1-4 PM EST via Zoom. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. Register here.

Just Buffalo Writing Workshops are designed for any level of writer, from beginner to advanced. Taught by established writers, hone your craft in a relaxed, nonjudgmental atmosphere. Space is available for the multi-week Falling Down, Rising Up: Poetry with Sherry Robbins, which begins May 12 via Zoom.