January 30, 2015
What I Have Learned in the First Month:
During 1996, I wrote a poem every day—sometimes up to four—without fail. My harvest for the year? Over 450 poems. Too much of the time I strained from having to write lock step: clock-driven, "required." Although there was joy and energy and insight--poems that I love and that were well received--I dropped the commitment at the end of the year.
I recommitted myself this year to write a daily poem or song, and two weeks into the honeymoon, my inner perfectionista reared her Kali head to whip me to the laptop, as my grandmother whipped me to the piano when I was four years old. I froze. That’s no way to sustain a creative life. Encouraged by my poet friend Joan Cacciatore Mazza, who has kept this commitment going for three consecutive years, now, I am developing ways to keep my worthy commitment with compassion and wisdom:
(1) BREATHERS: I’ve been honoring my Sabbath by not using the internet or my computer on Sundays. This commitment has been in place for years, and is life-saving. (See my blog entry for March 24, 2014 Media Freeze). I'm adding: No new writing. I do enjoy puttering with manuscripts and revising on hard-copy, but the heat is off. I'll revisit the idea of writing new work on Sundays, at some point.
(2) PREPARATION: I have come to the keyboard like a stunned deer, not knowing where to start. I am learning, instead, to prepare for writing as I would for a beloved. Would I come late, blow-off a date, disheveled, empty-handed, resentful?
(3) WRITE WHEN INSPIRATION COMES: Anne Sexton said that her only discipline was to write when inspiration comes. Take the gift if it comes. But don’t fall into the trap of limiting myself to that.
(4) BRIDGE: I notice that it’s helpful to start a poem one day, and finish a draft, the next. This gives me a go-to warm-up. Hemingway recommended to end the day mid-sentence, so as to have a launch for the next date. Two half poems—the finish of one and the start of another—count as a whole poem for the day.
(5) NOTEBOOK: Keep a notebook with me, as I would a trusted friend. Be conscious to record, in writing or voice, notes, ideas, lines, poems, and songs as they come.
(6) FALLBACKS: Use prompts from all the rich print and online sources I have, such as Diane Lockward's superb THE CRAFTY POET.
(7) READ: Nothing makes me want to dance more than being with other dancers.
(8) MOVE EASY IN HARNESS: Robert Frost said "Freedom is moving easy in harness." A bit pulled too hard can gags the horse. Since I’m taking off Sundays, I am not going to require a poem for every day of the year.
(9) ARTIST’S DATES: Rilke recommends solitude, Cameron solo dates. It works! My runs often yield poems, as do unmediated drives, forays of various sorts. Poet Peter Murphy has, for years, taken himself, solo, to the Jersey shore for writing weekends. I realize that shopping for clothes has been very generative for my poetry.
(10) REWARDS: Writing, itself, is the reward: the energy, insight, joy in language, the integrity of honoring my gifts. Mark Edmundson rues that today’s students are not challenged to live life with “intensity, focus, and design.” This recommitment challenges me to do just that: live with intensity, focus, and design.
(11) APPRECIATION: I finding it rewarding to list the titles of my poems and songs, print them out, and organize them in beautiful binders. Then, when Kali visits, I have something with which to distract her.
(12) WRITE ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE.