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