National Poetry Month, and the challenge of writing one poem per day for 30 days were both fun, intimidating and exhausting.
I’m quite surprised that I managed to do it, actually. At the beginning of the month-long challenge, I felt excited and energized. I had that same adrenalized feeling that you get at the starting line of race, as if you have rockets strapped to you, ready to propel you to the finish before you can blink or breathe.
Well, not only would that be cheating, but the energy seems to burn out well before the finish line too, and it’s up to your own power from there. That was my experience with writing the poems. In a similar way that a runner “hits the wall” at some point in a long distance run and feels she can’t go on any further, around day 13 I thought there was no way I could finish 17 more days.
Also like a runner, the trick is not just to hit the wall, but to go through it. Through the wall is the equilibrium, the balance between the energy used and the energy left in reserve. It’s the only way to keep going, to finish.
The sounds of silence
One issue may have been that in that middle stage of my 30 days, I was at the beach. I was on vacation, man. I remember feeling quite excited about the idea at first, thinking that the beauty of the sand and sun, the sound of the waves and the hours and hours of unstructured time would be fertile ground for creativity to grow. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, I found that I wanted so badly to do anything but work or be creative. I just wanted silence in my head. I needed the whip of the wind and the rush of the tide to drown all other sounds in my mind, and writing became incredibly difficult. I’ll admit, those 4 days when I was at the beach, my poems were quite phoned in, I think. I wrote very early in the morning, and I practically sprinted through them, so that I would not be stuck all day, writing instead of resting. I recall those few days of poems being my least favorite, but I pushed through them and made it to the end stretch, where I think I found that balance and wrote some really interesting and musical poetry.
There were a few days that I was completely uninspired by the prompts or too tired or too pressed for time to write anything new, so I did post a few previously written poems, making sure to edit them or spin them more toward the prompt by updating words, re-crafting lines, altering line breaks and tempo, adding or subtracting syllables, etc. If I couldn’t find the creative energy to create something new, I put a new shine on something old. I think this was still great practice and resulted in a few poems that I now love more than my original drafts.
What’s the theme?
A few interesting threads wove throughout the writing I did last month. I wrote a couple of poems about growing up in Atlanta, Georgia in the pre-internet age. One of those poems included a true account of my most memorable experience of racism in the south, in which a man was deriding our black friend and kindly spelled out a curse word in sensitivity to my young presence. I then used that same curse word in two other poems, once as a quotation and three other times for emphasis. Some people may think of those as inappropriate word choices. I understand that. There was probably a time when I would have felt the same way. My language and literature education, however, taught me just how significant, important and powerful words are, and that there is a place and use for all of them. It seems that particular word has been a significant and memorable presence throughout my life, so I’m happy to recognize it in my writing, where appropriate.
Some other themes of the 30 days included poems about art or art-making, metaphors and reflections on drawing and a handful of poems which examined gender in some way or another. That subject was only partially a surprise to me, but I’m looking forward to see how my thoughts and expressions on that develop.
Perhaps predictably, I also wrote several poems about death and the events surrounding the suicide of younger friend when I was 18. These poems always catch me slightly off guard. That event in my life is actually very near the surface of my consciousness, but it’s sometimes startling how easily I can move into and explore that part of myself.
Some of my favorite lines from the month were these:
“…a day-glo veneer of snap-to admonition…” – PAD #1
The paper maps the cracks and damage
traced in graphite language and fluid black,
memorized ephemerally in pulp and pigment. – PAD #6
Three of us were boys, and Amy, who may as well have been
for how she relished summer dust and bloody elbows,
racing speed and foolishness enough to win. – PAD #7
“…and breaking beneath the weight of antithesis.” – PAD 22
All things considered, I wrote some really good stuff this month. Not all of it, but enough to be able to step back and appreciate the hits and make me think I can do better than the misses. That’s a great place to be, isn’t it? I’d love it if you’d read through the poems to see if any stand out to you or have an effect on you. Please leave a comment if you do. How was your experience with National Poetry Month? Leave a comment below!