Where do the poems go?

Trail in a forest; image from Office.com

What’s the next project? The next direction? Where can I go–with poems?
I like to work on larger projects or series. I take comfort in knowing what I’m exploring. It gives me a starting point. But when one of those projects feels finished, I need to find another one.
Finding the next project shouldn’t be hard, because I make lists and more lists. Subjects that suit my fancy at any given moment. Currently on the list: Chagall, Nijinsky.
But does an idea have the power, the pull to go the distance for an entire book or even an entire chapbook?
Even with my series tricks, lately I’ve been stalling out, spinning my wheels on the September poems–and then questioning everything I’m working on. Where is that spark?
For me, my best poems are the poems I have to write.
Into the Rumored Spring was that way–poems saying, “Hey, hey, write me.” Poems waking me up.
I’ve been reading Breach, by Nicole Cooley, and I get the feeling that maybe she had to write those poems. They have that kind of urgency.
But not every path I start down pulls me that fiercely. Or maybe I’m practicing, trying to learn something new. Even deliberate practice is still practice. Exercises. And can exercises be poems? Sometimes, but they still become isolated as one-offs, not fitting into any bigger picture. (Yes, even though I’m a messy person, I like all my poems to fit in somewhere.)
I know writing consistently is important–the practice, the habit. Learning all the time helps me to be ready when I do trip into that next compelling trail to follow. And late this afternoon I realized that I could maybe find that next project by exploring those one-off poems. Maybe one of them is the key to the door to the next adventure.

But for now, I’m going back to the three (!) projects I thought I’d finished–a combination of much self-doubt and wanting poems to work on. I’m writing new poems for those used-to-be-old projects or I’m diving into deep revision on existing poems–trying to keep my voice limber and my skills sharpening. It gives me the comfort of a project and some open space to explore. Which means I never finish anything. And my mom could have told you that.
Do you like to work on long projects? How do you discover your projects?
Or do like your poems one at a time?
Have you worked on a book-length poem? (That might be the best of both worlds, but I haven’t tried to light that fire yet.)
And how do you exercise your writing?

Hearing as practice

Last night, I heard Nicole Cooley, Beth Ann Fennelly, and Erika Meitner read at Open Books. A riveting evening. Vibrant. The images, the structure, the story/not-story, the pull-no-punches telling–even the introductions to each poem.


And I confess that at one point, one quick point, surrounded by such splendor, I thought, “My new manuscript is crap, it’s all crap, it isn’t ready to send out, it won’t ever be ready to send out, I need to write much better poems.”

But the poetry was coming again, so I let that moment pass (really!) and was whisked away by more poems.

I came back to those doubts on the way home–doubts surrounded by inspiration. And by the time I reached the freeway onramp, I realized that this is exactly what I need. Seeing and hearing how it can be done (this way and this way and this way and this), another understanding.

Another door opens.

What about craft?

Wine barrels

Copyblogger posted a list of top 10 creative writing blogs.

This looked like my payoff for reading about copywriting–and translating some of that craft advice to the creative side. A list of blogs for me!

I love craft and reading about craft because I feel like I’ll learn things that can improve my craft and help me write better poems.

I was especially excited to see a blog about writing and deliberate practice. Jackpot!

But the site looks like its less about deliberate practice and more about practice–the kind with daily prompts and instructions. That’s fine–but I was looking for tips on how to use deliberate practice, which means figuring out the practice I specifically need to be doing to improve my craft. (In a perfect world, I’d have a mentor. In this imperfect and yet delirious world, I have me.) Plus, it does seem more geared toward prose.

I looked at a few more blogs, clicking through the posts and not yet smitten.

Then I found this post about fragmentation and stories, which ties into my deliberate practice, my current quest to tell better stories and stories without narrative. It’s reflective–and more of an opening to something new to the writer than a plunge into what works or when it doesn’t. (The answer could easily be that everything has the potential to work and you just need to open yourself up to it. I don’t disagree, but I’m looking for a more substantial inquiry–although I should follow some of the links).

At my first glance, none of these blogs provide the conversation I’m looking for–not enough for the commitment of keeping up with any blog. I’ll keep looking.

What are you looking for in a conversation about craft? Or is it even something you want to talk about?