The rye diary

Ever since my daughter planted cover crops in the fall of 2016, I’ve been fascinated by winter rye. How tall and glorious it grows. The subtle colors of its ears. The Catcher in the Rye, and the delicious homophone with wry.

Although it’s almost February, I finally ordered the seeds, and this morning went out to plant.

packet of rye seed

First, I had some clearing out to do:

back yard

The dead tomato plants still tied to their stakes, some Swiss chard, kale from two years ago, and a canticle of Canterbury Bells.

Next came the raking. The instructions said flat. I said flat-ish. Then it was time to broadcast the seeds. I wasn’t prepared for how wonderful it felt to stick my hand inside a one-pound bag of grain, and then strew the seeds over the ground. Liberally. The last step was to rake them in. Whatever. I hurried, certain that at any moment a flock of birds would descend to dine on my crop.

Here’s the final picture. Honestly, not nearly as interesting as the first.

bare dirt patch

And while I’m out in the dirt, I have time to think about writing, think about how messiness gives the eye and the mind nooks and crannies to explore. How it feels to dig in and turn over, to break the blockages apart, to weed through the words. How the rake finds new roots and clumps get rid of. Sometimes I get an idea for a poem.

This morning, I thought about how I’ve been working on a poem that complains about those people who say home-baked bread can’t be “from scratch” if you don’t grow your own wheat–and here I was planting rye! And I thought about how it’s better to experiment–and risk failure–in a poem, just as this rye patch may fail. This might be the shortest diary ever. We’ll see.

For now, all the magic is yet to happen, if it isn’t devoured by a thousand house sparrows first.

How do you let your mind loose? How do you experiment? How do you fail?

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?

Loving the old, loving the new

It’s been a while since I ventured into this blog space—and halfway through my thesis year might seem like an odd time to start. But it’s the beginning of another year, and beginnings encourage beginnings.

Looking back, I just completed a December poetry challenge, and wrote 30 drafts of new poems (taking Christmas Day off). It was fun and nourishing to be a part of that writing community for the month. Looking forward, one of my wishes for you, and for me, is for community throughout this year.

Writing a poem a day gave me ample opportunity to work on assignments for school, and one of those was to write a duplex, a form invented by Jericho Brown. The first line of his poem is “I believe in love, hoping to end there.” I repeated that line over and over—it was both my anchor and my engine through the holiday season. And it seems perfect when thinking of beginnings–how we start a year, and what we hope to experience and accomplish before the year’s end.

Read the whole poem, Duplex (I Begin with Love). And best wishes, with green and light, for this new year.

Constructed, mostly

I’m trying out this new theme, with a few updates (for example, adding my new poetry collection to the Books & Anthologies page).

For now, I’ve removed the email subscription widget because I’d heard that it didn’t work and I’m not sure it’s compliant with GDPR.

If you want the email subscription, let me know. (I like to subscribe to things, but I don’t know whether anyone else does.) And if you have an email subscription widget to recommend, let me know!

Possibly, more changes will be in the works. It’s going to be iterative.

—Joannie

Big Poetry Giveaway 2018!

poetry giveaway image of books

Update! The names have been drawn and the books, finally, have been sent. My thanks to everyone who participated, and I hope everyone had a wonderful Poetry month and that you’re still writing!

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Yes, it’s National Poetry Month!

And yes, there’s another Big Poetry Giveaway! Many thanks to Andrea Blythe for hosting the giveaway this year.

It’s easy: Add your name by commenting on this post, and you’ll be entered to win one of two poetry books:

The Book of Endings, National Book Award finalist, by Leslie Harrison

The Scene You See, hot off the presses, by me

In the meantime–write, revise, celebrate!