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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?

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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.

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Yesterday, my son, daughter, and daughter-in-law took me for our second annual cross-country ski trip, driving up to Snoqualmie Pass and over to Hyak on the east side of the summit. (This is important, because it was raining on the west side.) A gray day, sometimes snowing, a little misty drizzle, and a whole lot of quiet. Plus fun—laughter and a few tumbles. Last year, we’d heard about some picnic tables just around the bend from where we’d stopped, and this year I was determined to find them—so determined that we skied at least half again as far. I felt good, although in the back of my mind I wondered about the trip back.

As I was working on the rhythm of the kick and glide and the poles, I started to think about that perfect moment rowing crew, when the boat is set, and everyone is in sync, every oar entering the water at the same time, everyone moving as one organism, how it is a blessed moment. I felt the same way while I was skiing—often awkwardly, but every once in a while, I would really feel the glide, feel the right muscles kicking in, my arms helping instead of flailing. For a moment. A blessing. And then another long stretch of trying to get it again—meanwhile, enjoying the snow and the trees, the general emptiness of the trail, the long ice-covered lake, stumps sticking up from the snow.

Then I thought about writing, how the flow—or getting into the zone—is the sweet spot, and one I don’t get to often, maybe less than when I’m on cross-country skis. But maybe if I keep writing, the 12-mile equivalent, I’ll have moments of flow, moments where I’m writing outside of time, outside of everything else, and it’s just the pen and me moving forward across the page. And I don’t have to worry about making it back to the car.

When do you feel flow in your writing and in your living?

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I confess that these days I’ve been thinking about Christian Wiman’s poem “We Lived,” especially the stanza

I mean
to be mean

because that’s how I’ve been feeling—angry and afraid. In between phone calls to congressional offices I was writing snarky prose poems—with a jackal, a badger, a wolverine. It was therapeutic, cathartic—but it was all on the negative side of the equation.

Anger, as a kind of energy, has its place. It can do good things. But I’ve also been thinking about something Chad Sweeney said during a class at LiTFUSE—that just the act of working on a poem puts good energy into the world.

Walking along the creek near where I work, I realized that while I was putting good energy into the world while I was also whittling it away.

I had read Jamaica Baldwin’s fierce, powerful poem “Call Me By My Name.” To me, this poem is anger in a good way.

I had read about Kaveh Akbar tweeting poems by poets who come from the seven countries listed in the ban. To me, that is putting positive energy into the world.

I was thinking about another kind of mean, the arithmetic mean, where it’s between the extreme.

For now, I’ve abandoned those prose poems, and I’m trying to balance the bad with the good. This isn’t to say that it’s going to be all sweetness and light. It isn’t. Just an absence of snark.

And last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Ross Gay read poems and essayettes (or delights!) and talk about joy as a practice and poetry as an act of radical joy, or was it a radical act of joy? I’ll take either and both.

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In a week like this–in this week–it’s hard to think about writing, and then the news of Leonard Cohen’s passing.

This morning, Advice to Writers sent out this quote:

“I can’t discard anything unless I finish it. So I have to finish the verses that I discard. So it takes a long time. I have to finish it to know whether it deserves to survive in the song. So in that sense, all the songs take a long time. And although the good lines come unbidden, they’re anticipated. And the anticipation involves a patient application to the enterprise.”

LEONARD COHEN

One of the most formative songs of my youth was Suzanne.

Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for your music and for the reminder–in writing and in so much more.

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