Every April is National Poetry Month, and those so inclined have myriad opportunities to try their hand at poetry. For the first time, I participated in the Poem-a-day Challenge hosted by Writer’s Digest at Robert Lee Brewer’s blog, Poetic Asides. Challenge is an appropriate word. I wrote one poem a day for 30 days, and here’s what I learned.
Writers write every day.
Just like everyone, I possess multiple roles and titles. The two most at odds with each other seem to be stay-at-home mom and writer. Serious writers proclaim one must write every single day. In other words, one must be disciplined and, well, write. Deep down, I’ve always known that to be true even though I didn’t practice the principle. I’ve lacked the commitment necessary to make the time and space for writing, to make it a priority. Now that I’ve written a poem a day for a month, I see that it is possible. Difficult, yes. Exhausting? You bet. But possible. It’s going to be much more difficult for me to make excuses to not write daily from now on.
Trust the process.
Throughout April, Brewer posted a different prompt for a poem every day. On April 1, for example, participants were expected to post a poem in the comments relating to the topic(s) “Write a beginning or an ending poem”. Every prompt filled me with dread and excitement. Having always waited for inspiration to write before, I’d become anxious. How could I make sure my poem would connect to the prompt in a way that wasn’t cliched or pedestrian? Simultaneously, though, each prompt set the cogs of my creative mind whirring. I found myself reading each prompt first thing in the morning even if I knew I wouldn’t be able to write until late in the evening. I’d contemplate the prompt all day, either thinking I knew what I’d write about or fretting because I had no idea how to connect with it. But ultimately, it didn’t matter. I rarely wrote about what I thought I would, and even when I had no idea what would come, something always did. The very process of writing generated ideas. As is always the case with the creative process, what I needed to express always floated to the surface. The creative act itself opened me up to the part of myself that had something to say.
Writers need space and support.
Virginia Woolf was right, which I never doubted. And I knew that my husband, Nathan, was supportive of my creative endeavors; however, I didn’t realize just how much (maybe he didn’t either) until this year’s PAD Challenge. If Nathan hadn’t willingly taken point with our toddler in the evenings, despite his twelve-hour workdays including commute, there’s no way I could have consistently participated. He quickly learned when to leave me alone. Also, because I would wrangle with line breaks, punctuation choices, and change tenses or point of view until I could barely keep my eyes open enough to post, we rarely went to bed together. So despite seeing each other in the evenings, we still missed each other quite a bit last month. I’m thankful that he expressed how much he missed me but never made me feel bad about why. In fact, he was beyond encouraging. Nathan read every poem I wrote, often multiple drafts, and gave honest feedback, which allowed me to remain dedicated to my goal and to be even more open to the process. In addition to the opportunity Brewer provided, I am grateful for such a loving, supportive partner, and I cannot take such support for granted.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Poets are perfectionists. Every word, syllable, vowel, consonant, space, and punctuation mark matters. As such, the effect of removing all the punctuation from a poem or changing a single word can be equally thrilling or devastating. Unfortunately, I have been known to become frozen with the fear of not getting the poem right or so defeated with self-doubt, that I won’t share my work with the world despite feedback to the contrary from people whose opinions I trust. Countless times, I have sacrificed whatever life a poem initially possessed upon the altar of revision. I continually strive for a balance between being a conduit of creative chaos and skillfully crafting a finished product that can leap off the page (or screen). Because my goal was to post a poem every day no matter what, I eventually had to give up and come to a place where I felt my poem was “good enough” to share with the world. Then, the next day, I had to try all over again. Not every poem was a masterpiece, and I had to be okay with that. Every one was still a poem. As Madeleine L’Engle, author of a Wrinkle in Time, says in Walking on Water: Reflections of Faith and Art:
I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses…
I didn’t refuse, and even if the poem didn’t succeed as I’d hoped, my continued willingness counted for something. As former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser said in his book The Poetry Home Repair Manual:
By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.”
If nothing else, I affirmed and loved every day in April.
Writing is its own reward.
Like Le’Engle, I also believe art to be an act of co-creation. Therefore, the act of trying to create something beautiful, tragic, or powerful to be shared with the world is a reward in itself. Although I frequently dreaded writing many days last month, once I’d sit down to write, I transcended time and space. When I was able to write without interruption, I’d become so engrossed in the act of writing, I’d look up and realize that hours had passed. Even when the emotions of the poem were negative, such as anger or grief, I relished the release and escape of the process. As Kooser also asserts, “there is one less scoundrel in the world” when one writes a poem. And to that I have to say, “Amen.”
Will I participate in the Poem-a-day Challenge again next year? You bet I will. I can’t wait to see what the person I will be in a year has to say. Besides, who knows what I’ll learn the second time around?