Pick your practice

My piano teacher used to say that perfect practice makes perfect. No pressure. When my daughter speaks of yoga practice or meditation practice, I think of showing up, arriving with your full self. And isn’t that what we want to do when we write? Show up to the page with our whole selves and create something that we’ll be able to believe is worth sharing?

Speaking for myself, it ain’t easy.

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Today is day fifty. Only fifteen more poems in the book, and then it will be time for a new practice. I don’t think it needs to be grand or burdensome. It could be writing one sentence or one list of words. It could take ten minutes, or five. It could be reading one poem—and over at The Poetry Department, you can find an impressive list of daily and weekly reading resources.

What is your practice? Or what would it be, and how can you make that happen?

Some resistance is futile

On his blog, Steven Pressfield has been talking about artistic resistance—those times when we get some feedback and, feeling crushed, discard all comments and suggestions. He compares that resistance to the stages of grief (shock, denial, etc., through acceptance). He also discusses how harmful it can be to resist and reject the feedback.

Read the whole post, but briefly he talks about how important it is to work through our reaction so that we can truly take in that feedback—step back and hear it objectively, look at our manuscripts and see how those comments might affect it.

This works well if you have a trusted reader (he does). But what if you’re receiving those comments from an editor or teacher you don’t know well? What if they rewrite your poem to illustrate what they mean? For me, the rewrite is an especially tricky issue—the result might be brilliant, but what do I do with this, now that it doesn’t even feel like mine anymore?

My strategy: After I step back, take a break and get a little distance, I look for the underlying intent–what is the impulse behind the edits, how can I use it in my own voice? If I know what’s driving the suggestion, I can keep the conversation open, keep working on the poem, and learn new things in the process.

What are your strategies for hearing and using comments and suggestions?

By the water, on the page

It was time for our annual trip to Lummi Island. This year, celebrating our 20th anniversary! Because of various schedule changes, we were a few weeks early, and so we stayed down the road from our usual cottage, but we still could see the Sound and islands and, in the hazy distance, Canada.

puget sound and islands

I don’t know what it is about wide water and sky that feeds me, rejuvenates me, but I’m grateful for that feeling—and for it lasting even through the drive down I-5 back home.

Deer and bunnies visited the yard. Eagles circled the snag to the north. We spent time with our friends from the Artisan Wine Gallery on the island, and we enjoyed a phenomenal meal—a meal as a dream—at the Willows. We both kept stopping to say, “Wow, we are lucky to get to come here every year.”

Today, I’m not linking to a poem, but I do have a poem in the upcoming issue of Carve Magazine. In just about every way, the poem is the opposite of the post above, and I wondered about trying to fit both things in—but that’s life, right? Things don’t fit. Our pasts and presents collide. And that’s who we are. If you get a chance, check out the quick Q & A on their blog.

Back after 100 days

words all over the pageWhen a friend suggested writing a poem a day for 100 days, starting on inauguration day, I signed on. By day 30, I thought, “How am I ever going to do this?” Just after the 50-day mark, I missed four days. But I ended up with 96 poems and I use the term loosely–sometimes the poems were just a few lines. One was only one line.

Usually I spent about an hour. (Let’s call them all drafts of poems.) Sometimes much less. A couple of times, just an exercise. Once, I hauled out the art supplies. For me, it wasn’t about making great art, but about showing up. My practice. Now I wish I had been more rigorous about showing up at the same time every day–to get the initial writing down so it could sit, rise, rest until later in the day when I would attempt to shape it into something. Even as I write this, I know that some days I was waiting until later, hoping for some inspiration, some about for the writing. I think of William Stafford sitting down each morning, confident that a poem would arrive. He was open and ready for it, and he waited. I, on the other hand, met most mornings saying “I’m so tired,” or dashing off to work.

I haven’t written since, which is kind of scary. But I will, maybe today. (Get back on the horse!)

Anyway, all that writing gave me poems to work on for school, and I just sent off my final packet for this first year. Other poems I just sent out into the world to see what would happen. And I thought I’d share a few of them here. I mentioned the one-sentence poem, and here it is:

To the Rain

Stop, and watch the green glisten.

 

How do you get the practice of poetry, or any art, into your life every day?

100 days & NaPoWriMo

It’s (almost) here! Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo! And the good folks at The Daily Poet 2 have linked to my prompts from last year (many of which were from the first edition of The Daily Poet), and so I’m going to use those too.

Can you write a poem a day for 30 days? Sure you can!

Back on January 20th, I joined some other friends in an effort to write a poem a day for the first 100 days of the current administration. I made it to Day 50, and then I missed four days. But I started back up, and just passed day 70 yesterday. At the beginning, this seemed impossible—and exciting (as well as therapeutic; as I’ve mentioned before, some of those poems were not nice). At about day 40, my inner needle was tilting more toward impossible. But here are some things I’ve learned about endurance:

You don’t have to think of it as Great Art. Instead, try thinking of your daily poem as a practice. You show up. You write. Some days you might feel brilliant, in the zone, have lots of time to review and revise. Some days you don’t. Lower your standards. (Thank you, William Stafford!)

You don’t have to start with The Poem. If any of the prompts you’ve found aren’t inspiring you, start with a list. If that doesn’t get you started, take a look at the words in that list. What words can you put with them?

A poem doesn’t have to be long. A couplet works. Two lines. You can do this.

Take a walk. Look around. Be sure to bring a notebook and a pencil or pen.

What are you feeling? Recently, Bethany Reid wrote a wise and helpful post about feelings. Often, I turn away from mine. And although I’m happy to chat about craft anytime, and I think that craft can play a big role in revising, I’m more and more convinced that feelings are what fuel my best poems. It starts there and then moves into a word, into an image.

Most important, have fun! Be generous with yourself. Even if April is the cruelest month, we can revel in words and breathe deeply this new spring.