Friday, January 30, 2015

Write a Poem a Day

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.



  1. I think that your next book of poems should be called something like “The Dedicated Poet” being that you are so committed to your craft. Time is what you make of it, and you've found that place in time in which to write every day. I will try to follow your lead to be as committed to my writing as you do yours.

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  4. Dr. Rich,
    You seem so dedicated to writing and I love it! I think that's what makes you so interesting to listen to, because you have so much inspiration from all this writing and reading practice you exercise daily. I really loved the advice to write the inspiration down as soon as it comes to you. I can't tell you how many times over these past few weeks I have thought of something so great to write about and thought to myself "alright I'm going to write that in my journal AS SOON as I get home!" and completely forgot. The idea of keeping a little mini notebook with me, something like what you carry around to organize what you're doing/did that day, would be helpful to write down a quick idea. I think the act of physically writing it down would keep me in that moment of 'thought' and wouldn't create any distraction as it would pulling out my cell phone to type out my idea. I really truly feel that putting more commitment to my writing this year will help me become the writer I always dreamt of being. I need to start exercising or 'working out' my right brain!

    -Alessandra Finis

  5. Dr. Rich,

    Your insight into writing a poem a day has been extremely helpful for me. For one, I am a poet. Yes, "even though I am an amateur," as Julia told me, the amateurs love what they do, so I am a poet! Second, you told me to start writing poetry once a day for an entire month during our meeting time outside of the classroom. This has helped me tremendously. I was getting to a point where I thought I was running out of ideas. Can you imagine that? Running out of ideas when I have 23 years of 24 hours a day that I can write about, not to mention writing about the future. This helped me realize a poem is a MOMENT. I can write endlessly about a few seconds in my life, and writing a poem a day has helped me with this. Maybe consider adding that to this blog :)

    I also particularly enjoy how you compare setting up to write as getting ready to spend time with a love. I had a hard time with setting myself up, but on a date I always get nice and nervous, anticipating what's to come on my date (even if it is my fiance and we spend every day together.) I like feeling nervous. My heart starts to race and it feels GOOD! I think I'm going to start setting myself up for writing like this. Then I can allow my nervous fingers to paint pictures on the page with words.

    I also found it nice to write with a lover. Martin and I have made the decision to write poems back and forth to each other. This helps me a lot when it comes to my writing. I know I want to commit and have it finished so I don't leave him hanging, or myself.

    - Paige Bollman

  6. Dr Rich,

    For a while I tried doing this. I have tried getting into the whole "journaling thing." Sometimes I would be more succesful than others. Sometimes it would only last one night and the next night I found myself too tired. But reading over your blog post and reading these steps are definitely eye openers for me. I want to be able to keep writing and to keep pushing myself to not close off all the inspiration that is around me. You really inspire me as a writer. Your enthusiasim and passion for writing is inspiring and it is helping me to not be too "tired" and to spare those extra few minutes for myself to reflect and write.

  7. Dr. Rich,
    All my life, I have been obsessed with writing. It started when I just learned how to read and write. I have shelves and hundreds of notebooks full of short stories, poems, even quotes that I find inspiring. I find that it is a way for me to escape reality, and enter my own world of creativity. These steps are something I will take under consideration if I ever lose inspiration, and need these steps to help me map out what I want to write. You are amazing with taking the time to write all of these blogs. They are truly inspiring, and can help someone if he or she is having a bad day, and is just looking for a positive post to read to brighten their day. I hope to read more of your blogs in the future. Keep them coming! They are great, and you should really consider printing them out, and having them posted all over campus for everyone to read.
    -Valentina Quesada

  8. Dr. Rich,

    This post was very helpful and got me thinking about ways I can make writing a much more conscious part of my daily life. I have participated in many writing projects before, and just recently committed myself to one in November. I think that if I had looked over this advice then, it could have definitely been an easier process to go through. I loved the notebook advice because I actually have thought it over before. Inspiration strikes suddenly and many times we aren’t in front of a computer or at our desks to jot those ideas down. I have begun to keep the ever note app on my phone so that when I feel inspired, I can keep record of my ideas. I want to get a small notebook and backpack specifically for when I am out and about. I also think reading is also another great advice that I want to incorporate in my life. I used to read every single day when I was younger, and I want to get back to that habit. Reading helps you become a better writer. As a creative writing major, isn’t the goal to always continue to grow with your craft? Thank you for the advice and I plan to use it in my own life.

  9. Because of my final project being poetry, I took the challenge to write a poem a day for a week not too long ago. That along with writing in my daily journal have really changed the game for me and my writing. Though I know I still have a lot of work I need to do, I have seen so much improvement in myself over the course of the semester. Especially since I have never really written poetry before this, aside from a creative writing class or two. But even for those few classes that had a section that required me to write or even read poetry, I absolutely dreaded it. Poetry was always my least favorite form of writing, and reading, and I never really knew why. I just didn’t like it. But honestly, after this class I realize I just didn’t appreciate it before. The best decision I’ve made this semester, and one of the best of the year, was to make my final project on poetry. Not only do I have a new-found appreciation for the art, but it’s also helped express my own emotions, which in turn helps me vent and process how I’m feeling. I absolutely plan on continuing to write in my daily journal, and write poems. It’s become to cathartic for me.

  10. SHIT SHIT SHIT! Poems scare the SHIT out of me! I did not write poems this semester because when I started I didn’t think I could write. Little did I know what professor Rich along with Julia would teach me. I learned I AM A WRITER because I write. Therefore, I CAN BE A POET if I really want it. My goal for this upcoming semester is to continue to write in my little purple notebook every single day. Within the everyday writing I want to do some poems. Whenever I am in a situation that I want to savor I start describing in my head in (what I believe) is the form of a poem. I never write it down but if I did, there would be a lot of emotions in those poems, I know that.
    The shared insights into keeping the commitment written about on the blog post will be things I will look at when I decide to dive into the scary waters of poetry. Like creative writing was a bucket of cold water for me this semester, I am hoping that poetry is a bucket of ice next semester. Saying this, I will I would have take a poetry class with professor Rich.

  11. Dr. Rich, you do love your craft, rightfully so. I have inspirations come to me when it comes to writing poetry. However, I believe that my biggest challenge was the "Preparation", because I wouldn't know where or how to start. As I am reading your blog posts, I found myself being more relaxed and having the drive to explore improve writing and poetry. I'm Not too big on poetry but writing on either random thoughts or controversial issues are my domain. It wouldn't to explore outside my prison box, and I thank you for the inspiration.

  12. Dr. Rich, I give you so much credit for writing poetry, let alone committing to it like we have committed to our journals this semester. I’ve always wanted to write poetry but, personally I feel that I haven’t gone through anything deep enough where I could write poetry. Now I know that you don’t have to write things that are painful for it to be good poetry, but I feel poetry really needs to come from a deep within. I just don’t feel I have mastered that. My goal is to take that new red Journal that you have given me, and try and write things that are meaningful to me, maybe even just words and see if I can make poetry out of it. Maybe if it’s not poetry, maybe it will be a new form of writing I didn’t even know I was capable of. You have taught me that you can write anything and to write something outside of what you’re comfortable win. Well, I’m going to do my best to do so. I hope to continue this commitment of writing, throughout the rest of my life. Whether it’s poetry, or writing a story, or even writing my own children’s book. I know I can do it and own it.

  13. Hi Dr. Rich,

    It is interesting to see how your habits from 2015 have trickled into your life today. I guess the saying "If it isn't broken, you don't need to fix it." fits well in this instance. Like you, I have found the writing when inspiration hits is crucial. If I am not "in the mood" to write, it won't happen and I'll just waist my time agonizing about getting-it-over-with rather than completing a product I am happy with a proud of. I have also found that reading does help, even if the reading isn't of the same topic/genre. Reading makes me feel productive and smart, leading me to feel inspired to start a new piece of writing.