National Poetry Month: Days 2-4

The last time I did a poem a day for National Poetry month, I solicited prompts from people. It was part of Tupelo’s 30/30 project, so folks made donations and I wrote poems. I churned through the prompts that came in, but for probably about half the month, I found myself writing without a prompt.

It’s not that I need prompts. The one thing I’ve yet to have trouble with in my poetry life is finding a subject. Whether or not I write successful or interesting poems about those subjects is something else entirely, but I can usually find something that’s knocking around in my brain.

What I’ve discovered so far this time around (and it is early days yet) is I like writing from prompts. I also like the advice that came with one of the prompts from Two Sylvia’s Press, which is to set a timer. Whatever you have after you timer goes off, that’s the first draft of your poem.

I’m a full time faculty member at a community college where I teach five classes. I’m lucky in the respect that only one of those classes is comp, but I still spend a crazy amount of time reading and commenting on student work (can I get a hell yeah from my fellow teachers?), so finding time to write is always a struggle. It’s true that if I get an idea I might let it roll around in my head for a bit before I try to put it down on paper, but if I can just get a draft down in a 10-15 minutes, at least I have something tangible to work with in revision.

This is all to say that I took a fifteen minute break from grading this afternoon and wrote my poem for today. It’s not a perfect draft by any stretch of the imagination, but as I often tell my students, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to exist.

Subjects covered in my poems for days 2-4: mobile therapists, mental health apps, siblings, lemons, class discrepancies, trapper keepers, shells, cracks in plaster ceilings, dolls and trips to the mall.

 

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National Poetry Month 2017

It’s April 1st. The tulips that I planted last fall are starting to bloom despite being ravaged by squirrels. The flowering trees are out in a full force and we’re in the final month of the spring semester. It’s also the first day of National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day. Again.

This year I’m writing with prompts supplied by the wonderful and excellent Two Sylvia’s Press and I’m going to try to keep updates flowing through my blog.

This morning I woke up to this prompt: “Write a persona poem from the point of view of a historical figure that has time traveled to this year and is shocked by what he/she sees.”

The idea for this one came pretty quickly as I’ve been thinking about a poem that already kind of fits these criteria. I doubt subsequent poems will come as easy.

The content of poem number one involves a college classroom, grass, geese, a magnolia tree, fluorescent lights and a man with one excellent beard.

30/30 Debrief

The month of April was full of excellent poetry projects and I was lucky enough to participate in several of them including Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project. I wrote a poem every day for the month of April and it was a positive and enlightening experience on a number of levels.

First, 30/30 reaffirmed something I already knew: I like prompts. I liked prompts when I was an undergraduate enrolled in my first poetry workshop, I continued to like them through my MA & MFA programs and when I give my students prompts in class, I write with them. The prompt can be fairly specific and structure (write a sonnet about spaghetti) or it can pretty loose (write a poem about your mother) but I find the chance to explore different subjects and forms liberating, so when certain patrons requested poems about certain topics for 30/30, I didn’t feel locked in or limited. It was liberating.

I also discovered that a structured routine can work for me for a short period of time. For example, writing everyday over the course of several months or a year wouldn’t work for me. I’m the type of poet who needs to let things marinate, so I’m more likely to draft or free write a few times a week and then let those ideas sit and return to them in the following weeks. However, in terms of generating drafts to revise, forcing myself to write a poem everyday  and falling into a pattern in order to complete that task was useful. I did most of my writing in the evenings and after I got into a groove, I really looked forward to coming home and spending those hours writing. Regardless of how the poem turned out, the routine was good for me.

Third, I definitely have subjects that I return to again and again. I also find certain subjects “easier.” For example, poems about relationships (mothe11074360_10153129576130791_6587523387526103526_nrs & daughters; fathers & sons; friends; lovers) come a bit more naturally to me as do poems that concern the natural world (birds, butterflies, plants, landscapes, etc). Poems that are more political in nature or a more abstract are much harder for me to enter. What was great about 30/30 was that I was given the opportunity to write all kinds of poems, which forced me to stretch.

Moving outside of my comfort zone also made me realize that I’m not bothered if a poem fails. I don’t see it as a waste of time. This is something I tell my students all the time. The act of writing is never a waste of time, even if you only write one word or line or phrase that you like out of an entire page of scribbling. I wrote drafts for 30/30 that I liked and that I’m looking forward to revising over the coming months. I also wrote drafts where I’ll probably scrap the entire poem save a line or two or I may just abandon it all together. And you know what? It’s all good.

Fifth, there’s a greater audience for poetry than I think a lot of poets realize. Part of the 30/30 process is fundraising and I’ll admit, I was nervous in terms of meeting my goal (even though it was modest) but I was pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of support for poetry and project in general. Co-workers, friends, family and acquaintances all requested poems and/or made donations. Not only did I meet my goal, but I exceeded it. Poetry dead? I think not.

Finally, I’m a big proponent of supporting poets in whatever way I can. I wrote about good literary citizenship in a previous post and I think that 30/30 promotes that idea in spades. Not only did I get to meet and write with the poets that joined me in the month of April, but I was also able to attend the meet and greet in Minneapolis during AWP. There’s a group for 30/30 alumni on Facebook and it’s wonderful to see so many poets supporting one another in a variety of endeavors.

Admittedly, by the time May 1st rolled around I was exhausted. This was partially due to writing a poem a day and the fact that it was the end of the semester and I was staring down five classes worth of grading. I was also pregnant, so some might say I was crazy to even take the project on, but I thought it was perfect timing. I figured I’d have tons of work to revise this summer and get ready to send out for the fall, which is exactly what I had when the month was up.

I’d encourage any poet to try out 30/30 whether it’s through a venue like Tupelo Press’s project or simply something you do with a writing group or on your own.

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project: Poem #30

My thirtieth poem for 30/30, “Elegy” is live. For more information about Tupelo Press, 30/30 & donations and incentives, please see my previous post or visit the project blog. Thank you to everyone who supported my efforts during the month of April. I really enjoyed this project and I’m glad I decided to participate. I’ll be writing a debrief post of sorts in the next few weeks, but for now, enjoy the last round of poems and the last day of National Poetry Month. Don’t forget today is “Poem in Your Pocket” Day.

Cheers!

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Joey Mendoza as featured in the NPR piece “Are Dairy Farmers A Dying Breed?” July 24, 2009

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project: Day #27

My twenty seventh poem for 30/30, “Palo & Francesca” is live. For more information about Tupelo Press, 30/30 & donations and incentives, please see my previous post or visit the project blog. This poem was written for Kathryn Wilbanks who discovered and donated to 30/30 through my good friend Sam Snoek Brown. She’s one of his students, so thanks to you, Kathryn, and to Sam for sharing this project with your students.

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The Kiss by August Rodin, c. 1889

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project: Day #26

My twenty sixth poem for 30/30, “Farewell” is live. For more information about Tupelo Press, 30/30 & donations and incentives, please see my previous post or visit the project blog. This poem is for Sarah Diaz, who requested a poem featuring “marriage.” If you’re not familiar with the story of Orpheus & Eurydice, you can find a link to the story here.

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Orpheus & Eurydice by George Frederic Watts c. 1817-1904