Two friends and alumni read at Prairie Lights


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One day after recently moving to Santa Cruz, Calif., Shane Book wandered through Trader Joe's grocery store and was pleasantly surprised to see David Lau, a familiar face from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

"I see this guy up in the line, and I thought, 'That looks like Dave Lau; what the hell is he doing here?' " Book said.

That chance encounter was the beginning of a friendship between the two graduates of the Writers' Workshop — both earned M.F.A.s in poetry. Book and Lau will read at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Each poet plans to share work from his books of poetry. Lau will read from his collection Virgil and the Mountain Cat, and Book will discuss excerpts from his first book, Ceiling of Sticks.

The two work on another project together as well.

Lau and Book are also screenwriters and filmmakers. Their current project, Laborland, combines the characteristics of documentary and drama to illustrate changes in the economic situation for people in California over the past 30 years.

The film examines how globalization and immigration affect the lives of working people in various areas of California, such as Los Angeles and Long Beach. Scholars, political activists, and union organizers are among the sources in the documentary portion of the film.

Both writers identify differences between the process of filmmaking and that of writing poetry.

"Poetry is a little different from filmmaking because [in poetry] you are really stuck with language," Lau said.

Book sees a more personal difference between the two media.

"[Film] is so different from writing poetry, which is very solitary," he said. "I find sometimes that writing poetry can be lonely, and I just like people a lot."

The authors started the film project because it was something neither of them had done before. Book noted it has been a learning process, and creating Laborland has taken longer than they expected. The film is in its third or fourth year of production. Not to mention, the writers work on other projects simultaneously.

Lau also teaches writing at Cabrillo College and the University of California-Santa Cruz and works on poetry for new collections. He focuses on political material as a theme for his poems. Other work of his includes research about poetry's historical stance in culture.

"He has a very peculiar and musical sense of the English language, so his work is linked by sound, and it is also extremely smart," Book said. "He is very well-read, and he reads widely and draws on a lot of intellectual history and political thought."

While Ceiling of Sticks is Book's first collection of work, it is not the début release of the poems. He is the recipient of many awards, including a New York Times Fellowship in Poetry, the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and a National Magazine Award for poems included in Ceiling of Sticks.

It is clear that these two writers are strong poets in practice and merit. They feel the work they create is successful.

"We work well together," Book said. "People would think [Lau] would be very unstructured, but actually, he is very classical and very traditional in his structure. I tend to work without rules, and I improvise a lot."

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