To the limit!

Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S.; image from Office.comCongress looks polarized, stuck at two extremes. Our elected officials don’t appear to make any tangible, measurable progress past disagreement into some action.

People want a change, and they talk about creating a third party, supporting a third candidate. It’s appealing–just as the idea of a “coalition government” sounds appealing, but for a meaningful coalition, we’d need more than two parties. It’s dreamy, but I’m not buying it–because not even Ross Perot, who was wildly popular (for an independent candidate) thought he could win in the end.

Are you wondering what this has to do with writing? I’ll get there.

Instead of trying to change the number of parties, let’s change the format of government.

How about a one six-year term limit for everyone? Including the president? Entrances and exits would be staggered, so you’d still vote for new people every year or two–but each elected representative would have one term to serve the people.

From day one, it would all be about legacy. It would not be about being re-elected or gathering a war chest. It would be about building your resume. (If you’re feeling cynical, you might say it would be about lining up your post-term lobbying position or cushy corporation job, but I’m choosing to eschew cynicism for this moment.)

Suddenly, our elected leaders might have more incentive to work together and serve–because they’ve got just this one chance to be brilliant or fail utterly.

Are you wondering how I’m going to tie this to poetry?

The idea is that having a limit gives you something to work inside. In this scenario, the limit is time–only so much to get something done.

But in writing, we can use limits all the time. We have exercises with rules–that’s a kind of limits.

We have limits for helping us face the blank page. A time limit: free write for just five minutes. Now that we have a limit, we can start and we know that even if we have a hard time getting into it, those five minutes will end. (And, as writers, we get to start again if we want to.)

Weathered fenceAnd going back to rules, we have formal verse with its own sets of metrical limits. Or add rhyming or repetition. We also have the opportunity to break those limits, draw outside the lines. But the rules give us a starting point–some fencing to help us corral our efforts and get something done.

What kind of limits help you when you’re writing? Which limits do you like to break. How would you in your wildest dreams fix Congress?