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Habitual Poet: Jeff Oaks, What I Do On My Summer Vacation

This post is part of a series exploring where we are writing from this summer. Click to learn more.


I have a regular routine for my summers. I walk my dog in the morning from about 7 am to about 10 am, go to a coffeehouse and write until about 2, do some work around the house until 5, walk the dog between five pm and seven, then eat, read/watch tv/or be social until around 9, then I'm usually in bed by 10, where I usually read myself to sleep. Since I live by myself, I more or less have a writer's retreat.

I like to write in coffeehouses for a couple of reasons. At home, my "practical" mind is too loud. It wants me to clean the whole house before it thinks I deserve to write poems. So, I have to take it elsewhere, out into coffeehouses, where all its anxious nature get quieted. In coffeehouses, practical minds don't have much to do. Mine stops yelling at me and spends all its time silently judging strangers and commenting on their lives. It also can't tell me to clean anything, because it's not our house! So I'm relieved of many duties and can access other parts of my mind, parts that want to pay attention, that love metaphor and sound, that want to remember textures, experiences, names. I should add that parts of my mind also love to eavesdrop on other patrons and steal their language too.

 Plus there's good tea to drink and usually sweet things to eat, which encourages the child-mind to appear.

This summer I'm trying to work on four main projects: 1) sending around a manuscript of poems, "Little What"; 2) writing new poems for a new manuscript that's going by the working title of "The Black Dog in the Middle of the Night"; 3) writing toward a larger prose piece that deals with my mother's diagnosis of terminal cancer and my experience of trying to prepare for what that means, as well as simply articulate the process as she prepares for it; 4) re-draft an essay about men's rooms that I hope will be at least a little bit funny.

And of course I'm trying to keep up with the torrent of books my friends are publishing and recommending!

So I'm sending pictures of my three places: 1) an outside table at Tazza D'oro, my favorite coffeehouse; 2) my own backyard patio table, where I do manage to write sometimes, and where I'm writing this; and 3) a little table at a Dallas Whole Foods, where I sneak off for two hours everyday when I'm in Dallas visiting my mother, which this summer is quite a bit. In one of the pictures, you'll see my dog Andy, who acts as the title character in my new manuscript.



Jeff Oaks is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Shift (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010). He has published poems in Court Green, Bloom, Ploughshares, Seneca Review, 5 a.m., and other literary magazines. A recipient of three Pennsylvania Council of the Arts fellowships, he teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.



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