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.

  14. Dr. Rich,

    I always wrote when I was younger, specifically from 10-12 years old I wrote just because I wanted to and could. I had freedom to write and it was so much fun to do. I still have all the notebooks in my room filled with short stories, poems, etc. As I got older a strange thing happened and I found it much more difficult to write. I was losing interest and I believe it was because in school they wanted us to write specific prompts in my English classes not something from the heart. Which took a tole on me because I did not want to write what they were giving me to write about.

    There was also a time where I wasn't writing at all. My first year, second semester of college I was a biology major and that was when I realized I did not want to be a bio major anymore and that I should go back to English. Finally, I was given the creative freedom and was writing from inspiration, experiences, and appreciation of the struggle i went through to realize that I needed to go back to majoring in English because I loved it so much when I was younger.

    A funny story, the other day at work I was serving a customer and an idea popped in my head that I actually stopped taking his order and I wrote down the idea that came to me. I felt terrible having to ask what he wanted to eat twice when he told me specifically what I wanted. But as a writer, the idea came to me and I knew I just had to write the idea down right then and there.

    Kristen Calderoni

  15. This post made me realize how important writing can be and ties into another post you’ve written about showing up for yourself. When I first started writing, I used poetry as an outlet for my sadness and anxiety. I’d watched my peers dabble in drugs and self harm, but I chose writing. So in high school I wrote almost every day. I showed up for myself in that way every day. When I write it calms me. However, since I started college , I’ve had almost no time to sit down and release my emotions until your mandate to write a poem a day in this class. Like most things in my life that involve commitment, I struggled at first, but when I finally did it consistently for a week, I remembered why I loved poetry in the first place. I loved the notebook advice because I’d come to that realization previously. Though we are often told that the idle mind is the devil’s playground, it is often times the garden where inspiration grows. So sitting down at at a computer in front of a screen isn’t always the ideal place for me to write. I prefer a quiet room or secluded space outside.I believe that reading helps you become a better writer. Nowadays, most of my reading is compiled of captions on Instagram. So I am going to try to take this advice and apply it.

  16. Dr. Rich,
    I commend you for being able to write all the poems that you have. I've tried to write one before but struggled in doing so. It takes a creative mind to be able to write poetry. When I was younger, I used to write short stories when I wasn't busy at school or playing sports. It's crazy to see how far I've come since then and how many old habits I've left in the past. After reading this post, you've encouraged me to try and start writing again. Even if it's just throwing a few ideas down on paper.
    I appreciate that you take Sunday's off for yourself. Everyone needs a mental health day but all too often people forget or neglect this. Everyone feels the need to pile things on their plate but never take a step back to realize what they're doing to themself.

  17. Dr. Rich,

    It certainly takes a lot of dedication and commitment to be able to do the same thing every single day, whether it is exercising, writing a poem, or writing three pages in a journal. I like being committed to doing certain tasks every day because it helps me to prove to myself that I have dedication and resilience. Without a doubt, having dailiness is important to living a satisfying life. However, I find that sometimes I grow bored of routine; I grow tired of waking up every day and doing the same thing. I like having variety in my life, but I also like being committed to routines. So to get the best of both worlds, I encourage myself to complete those tasks in different ways. I find new ways to motivate myself so that I keep going and finish everything I have to do, just as you, Dr. Rich, have done to encourage yourself to write poems again.

    When I become tired of writing three pages every day in my journal, I start drawing. I draw and doodle because I find that this activity helps to foster creativity. Once I am in this creative mood, I find it easy to do other creative tasks, such as writing in my journal. Other times, I find that multitasking also helps to encourage me to write. As I write, I find it relaxing to squeeze a stress ball; in one hand, I have my pen that allows me to release my creative energy, and in the other, I have my stress ball, which helps to release my stress. I find that this simple form of multitasking really helps me to commit to my daily writing. It is important as writers that we find whatever creative techniques that work to help us continue this form of dailiness.

    Nada Amer

  18. Dr. Rich,
    I love the dedication that you instill within yourself. It is truly inspiring! It was interesting to see that some of the methods you have used to seize the moment mirror some of mine. For example, I to have driven myself to pick up my pencil or pen and write the very moment an idea or a form of inspiration surrounds me. Over the years that has allowed me to acquire a complete journal full of original poems. I have found that music is the key to my creativity and it always allows me to focus on any task at hand. It is vital for writers of any kind to have that sort of support and inspiration as they create their masterpieces. Like you, I always aim to create new and fresh ways to stimulate my brain and conjure up different ideas. I currently have a set discipline of writing at least one poem a week because I really like to take my time with everything that I create. I even have found that drawing is a hidden skill of mine and have begun to dabble in that ever so often. These acts have allowed me to find the true joys in life and an ultimate peace within myself.

  19. Dear Dr. Rich,
    I thought this was a fun and interesting idea. I remember when I learned about poetry back in high school, we would have to make our own based on anything we wanted and I loved it. I never had much creative freedom when it came to homework assignments for most classes. They were often standard tings, write about this or that, follow this guideline, but poetry was different. It allowed me to choose anything, I had full control over what I chose as my topic and I loved it. I had so much freedom writing and I miss being able to write poems. I never thought to do it just for fun, I often feel so overwhelmed with writing papers for classes that writing for my own pleasure seems like a pointless task. But if it is writing something I enjoy then I shouldn’t feel too tired to try it. A poem a day sounds like a fun project, and perhaps one day when I have enough time for it I could try that challenge. I think I could make many interesting poems, some bad perhaps, but maybe a few would be really well written.
    Stephen Corrales

  20. I feel like once I entered the college world, specifically your class, everything I learned in high school was forgotten. I had to put everything in the back of my mind to make space for a new way of thinking. And this is exactly what happened with this bost. Poetry used to be so rigid and strict growing up; you made to make things work a certain way. But now, I see that poetry is whatever I make it! It's no longer dreaded, rather exciting. Instead of groaning about poetry, I am now excited to see what I can come up with!

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  25. Dr. Rich,

    I used to write every day. In elekmentary school, I actually published a children's book. It's called "Muffins' New Beginning" if you are so inclined and it made it to Barnes and Noble. I continued writing when I got to middle and high school. Being a student-athlete, everyone wanted me to stop doing that. My high school one out of a '90s movie. Students had to fit into one of the many categories. Never could they belong to more than one. There were the stereotypes of dumb jocks, super nerds, musical geniuses, those who seemed to be nonexistent, and the punks. I played 3 varsity sports from my freshman year and was named captain in all of them by junior year. People would see me writing a poetry book and would laugh at it. Little did they know I was in all AP and honors courses.

    Anyways, I did write every day until I had to fit in somewhere. When push came to sh9ove, I was an athlete. I knew that in college I would go right back to being the me I was rather than the girl who wanted to just maker it to high school graduation. But the remainder of my high school years, I didn't feel myself. I felt that something was missing, that I was living a lie. I didn't know how much writing impacted me until I stopped. Even moreso, until I began again. I went back to writing this year, my junior year of college. I found I did not have the time my first two years.

    It was by choice at first, for myself. But after my boyfriend left for military basic training, I would write to him. I would tell him about the news, who won the big games, how my day was, how his family was doing, and eventually I ran out of everyday smalltalk. I was in a routine- go to school and work, tend to my family, write about my day, then sleep and repeat it the next day. I realized that I was tired of my routine of surviving rather than living and experiencing. I was also becoming wary of possibly boring him with the same old stories. So I started to write, I mean really write. I would find something in my day that interested my and I started to write stories. I write poems. Yes, the occasional love letter slips through every now and then despite my disliking clichés. But I found that my writing gave me a voice again. It cleared my mind from the every day hustle and bustle. It makes me feel like I'm living and like I have ideas rather than just thoughts. I feel more important, more heard by writing, even if nobody else gets to read it.

  26. After reading this post I have decided that I want to challenge myself using poetry. The reason I want to do this is because I am not a huge fan of poetry and I tend to become blocked off when I need to deal with poetry. In a way poetry honestly scares me because of the deeper meanings that are found within different poems. I know everything has its own deeper meaning but its the way that poetry is displayed that changes the meaning for me. I have decided that I will try to write a poem everyday that relates to prompts that I find online if I have trouble creating one through free write. I know this will be for me but I am going to try to pull through. These poems will be for my privacy so I have complete freedom and no reason to hold back with the deeper meanings of my poems.