Monday, April 16, 2012

April Is the Guiltiest Month


Oh boy, it's that time of year again. April. The month when we're all supposed to be cranking out a poem a day. But here I am, workless, poemless, idealess. I'm not even going to pretend that I've tried to get into this poem-a-day thing. I haven't. At least not this year. I did try a few years ago—and failed. I tried harder the next year—and failed better.

Frankly, I've accepted that this just isn't the way I write. No can do. I love William Stafford, but a poem every single day—and before he even got out of bed? That just makes me feel inadequate. So I've thrown in the towel and admitted that my process isn't that process. I can go days at a time—hey! weeks at a time—without writing a poem. But then things begin to happen, stuff comes out of my head, and lands on paper. Poems get revised and finished. Not prolific but that's how I do it. One of the most important developments in my growth as a poet has been coming to an understanding of my own process. (I'm getting sick of the word "process" but can't come up with a better one right now, so it will have to do.)

Still, even armed with this self-knowledge, I see all these other poets around me posting poems and progress reports on their blogs, on their Facebook timelines, and in the various online groups that have sprung up like daffodils. So I can't help feeling a bit like a slug.

What a relief, then, to come across others like me. Donna Vorreyer, for example, freely admits that while she will pay attention to poetry each day, she's not going to insist on a poem a day. She says, "I will count revision work as a day’s work on a poem. I will count preparing a submission as a day’s work. I will count reading a significant amount of a poetry book as a day’s work. I will count attending and / or giving a poetry reading as a day’s work. And, of course, drafting a poem will absolutely count." Great. I'm off the hook. I just wish she didn't sound quite so productive in subsequent blog posts.

Then there's Martha Silano who says, "I have not been writing a poem a day this month, but every day this month I have either started a new poem, worked on editing my manuscript, worked on an essay about Adrienne Rich, or conducted research for as-yet unwritten poems. Yesterday I began this poem below in my car on the way to chaperoning a field trip with my son's class at Tiger Mountain." 

So there's one more poet who is counting poetry-related activities as having met the April goal. Good. I just wish she hadn't mentioned a new manuscript (she's just had a book published) or posted that draft. I wonder if she wrote it while she was driving?

I guess there's no escaping a bit of guilt. But I'm also going to focus on other aspects of poetry. Last Thursday I went to a reading. I was one of only 9 people in the audience. I felt especially bad for the poet who'd driven in from NYC. Where was everyone else? I wonder if they were home writing poems?

Then I'm giving a reading in two weeks. The very next night I'll be taking a friend to a contest reading where she will read her first place poem. I get points for that, don't I?

I've also just finished and submitted a proposal for a poetry presentation for a 2013 festival.

Last week I submitted some poems to a new anthology. One poem accepted. Yay!

And like Donna and Martha, I have revisions underway. Yesterday morning I went through all my yellow legal pads and marked the pieces that seemed like they might have some potential. I bought new legal pads. New pens. It's only mid-April. I may yet get a new poem or two written. To tell the truth, I'd be delighted with one or two.

Maybe I'm not so bad after all.

20 comments :

  1. I've wanted to participate in the poem a day challenge for the last couple years, but I was afraid of failure. I felt/feel guilty as you do and inadequate as a poet. Thank you for writing this post because I realize now that I'm not the only one who doesn't work that way. I can't just bring forth a poem on command. When inspiration strikes is I can write out a few poems, but not until then.

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  2. Hi Dana--Yes, there are others like us. I don't, however, wait for inspiration to strike. If I did, I would get very little done. I go in search of it. But not every day.

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    1. I've figured out what gives me the most inspiration to write a poem (nature) and I do surround myself with that in order to write,but three little boys come first. I hope very soon to be able to go in search of it more often.

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    2. One day those 3 little boys will be big boys and you'll have more time. Then they will very likely provide you with some material for poems about boys.

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  3. I'm with you on the poem a day this year. I was into it for the past two years, but this year, nothing but the prompt written on the page. I'm not going to push it. The poems will come...some day. I needed to read this post today. Congratulations on your good news and all best with your upcoming reading.

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  4. I've done several poem-a-day months (in April and in other months) and some are decidedly more successful than others. It's just the way it goes. I find them extremely helpful if I'm working on a series...or maybe I find having a series helpful if I'm going to make it through NaPoWriMo. Finally, I will say this about William Stafford: If I set myself up to have to write a poem every day before I got out of bed, I suspect I would have a ridiculous number of poems about how much I needed to pee!

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  5. I love workshops, retreats, prompts--find them all stimulating and productive. It's the every day thing for an entire month that I can't get into. Ruth, I'm thinking now that you might do a series of urination poems.

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  6. I'm not doing the poem a day either. I wrote my first new poem of 2012 this month and made notes for a second and I'm absolutely elated!

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  7. This is all so reassuring! Some of us need these gathering periods.

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  8. I haven't done the poem-a-day thing either. April is the busiest month of the year for us. In addition to taxes and other financial things to attend, we plan for our April-born daughter's birthday and for the summer. These are important in their own way. I take time to write and weeks to revise. I sent one short poem to a website for their napkin-poem collection for this month. I'm happy.

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  9. Anna--Something about money matters works at odds with our creative urges. I'm also slow with the revisions--spend far more time there than on the drafting. But I find that that's where my best work gets done. I love revision!

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  10. I recently wrote my own blog post about the exact same topic! Halfway through the month, I'm just happy to have put my pen to paper several times. No draft a month for me this year because that "process" is not appropriate for what I'm working on at the moment.

    BTW -- I love talking about "process", because so many poets think that if they just use the same process as Famous Poet X, that means they'll be able to write like Famous Poet X, or that because that process worked for Poet X, then it will work for Poet Y. We all need to find the process that works for us, and be open to the fact that the process may change from project to project, or even poem to poem.

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  11. So you did--but you sound pretty productive! Re process--one of the best assignments I had in a writing course was an essay analyzing my writing process. While writing that, I realized that I'm a morning writer. That was so essential as I was in the habit of saving writing time until after I'd done all the chores and such. By then, my creative brain was loafing. So I made the change to mornings for drafting. I don't need a lively brain to do the grocery shopping. As you hint--it's also been important to me to know that someone else's process is not mine. I had to shake off the lingering Stafford guilt. I'm collecting several lists of prompts and hope to put them to use soon. Hit the desk this morning with some success.

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  12. I am being really kind to myself and pretty liberal about what I am counting as poetry-related. I am definitely running out of steam, though, and a round of rejections lately has not helped with my spirits. I have a feeling that the rest of April will hold a lot more reading than writing, but that's okay. I have gotten some good drafts out of pushing myself, but I don't feel compelled to "complete" poem a day to feel like I am being productive. There is no wrong way.

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    1. Those rejections are clearing a path for the acceptances that will soon follow. But I know what you mean--it's hard not to get discouraged when the rejections come one after another.

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  13. Someone has been pulling your bedsheets - Stafford didn't write before getting out of bed. He got up every day a couple of hours before his family and went into the living room (he may have kept his pj's on, but I could be making that up) and laid down on the couch by preference and wrote with a pencil. According to the new collection of writings on peace and war (Every War Has Two Losers) in the words of his son Kim: "Most of us read or hear the daily news, beginning each day with a dose of another person's truth. My father had a different way: to create the news of our common life by writing your own." He spoke of himself and the world swimming toward each other, and often that included a poem, but not every day. As deeply as I love so much of his work, I think there are reasons only 3000 of a reputed 22000 poems have been published, and there's now way from what I know of him that he would claim them all as finished work. So, Stafford guilt, begone! On top of everything else I think it would make him sad.

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  14. Next you'll be telling me that Hemingway didn't really write standing up. With Stafford's rate of productivity, I'd expect that the unsuccessful ones far outnumbered the winners. But that's okay. Same thing said of Wordsworth and Whitman. I think Stafford would still approve of all such efforts. He turned me onto writing poetry and for that I am forever grateful.

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  15. I love your version of the Poetry Month poster!

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  16. I didn't even try for one a day this year. I too have come to better understand that the way I work is the way I work and frankly I'm happy that with two little boys in the house (and yes, they're great inspiration for poems) I can work at all.

    You were one of only nine people attending a reading? That's a bit disheartening to hear... at least the nine of you were there.

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