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 (mothers & 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.