For the ninth(!) year in a row, I’m participating in NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo if you’re free from these United States). Writing 30 poems in 30 days sounds daunting, but trying to achieve that goal has always been an extremely generative process for me. My first attempt at #NaPoWriMo involved a secret pact — and a secret password-protected blog! — with a poet whose poetry and practice I admire. She taught me a lot about writing within a compressed time frame and suppressing my editorial impulses when creating a first draft of a poem. These lessons capture the core mission of National/Global Poetry Writing Month (or any other 30/30 writing challenge). All too many poets, regardless of their level of experience, get blocked in their writing because they start editing even before they have written anything at all. NaPoWriMo invites me to limit the demands I put on each poem by demanding that I limit the amount of time I spend bringing that poem into the world. I write as many poems as I can each April and then edit them at my leisure.
The poems I write during April often figure into other poetry projects I pursue throughout the year, so I rarely follow the daily prompts although I highly recommend using prompts, especially with writing groups or creative writing students. I am still centering my #writeeveryday efforts on using the predictive text algorithm in my phone’s memo application to write poetry. (I (still) have a Samsung Galaxy S7.) So far, the algorithm and I have produced some solid work. Most people remain skeptical of the poetic potential of their predictive text function, but I encourage you to explore ways to disrupt the algorithm’s rhythm. You’d be surprised at the results.
Today’s #NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem that provides the reader with instructions on how to do something, which is a classic. I have used it myself and with students many, many times. I didn’t even read the prompt until after I wrote my poem for today, but I think I might come back to it later in the month.
I usually keep the majority of my #NaPoWriMo posts private or remove the poem after a few days in case I want to submit it for publication in the future, but I’ve posted a screenshot of my April 1 poem below. Did you know about my obsession with Alexander the Great? And my further obsession with Mary Renault‘s novels about Alexander the Great? Now you do.
To the New Year
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
W. S. Merwin
I didn’t not follow the Day 2 prompt for NaPoWriMo, which encourages participants to write a poem “that plays with voice.” I just didn’t challenge myself to use voice in a different way than I have been using it recently. The poems in my Predictive Text series frequently conflate “you” (second-person point of view) with “I” (first-person point of view), and since the “I” in these poems is a loosely fictionalized version of me (that is, me, Gillian actual), this fluidity between pronouns allows readers to imagine the events in these poems as happening to them. In theory, this shift in point of view that positions readers as the speaker of the poem should make the details of the poem feel more universal (as opposed to highly personal). In theory.
Currently, my Introduction to Creative Writing students at Wheelock College are reading Citizen by Claudia Rankine, a book which uses “you” to challenge the reader’s position in a powerful and evocative way. If you haven’t read Citizen yet, put that book on hold at your local library tout de suite! In the meantime, you can read excerpts here, here, here, and here. Afterwards, try to answer the question I asked my students to reflect on:
In Citizen, Claudia Rankine addresses “you” throughout the book. Where do you recognize yourself in the encounters described in Citizen, if at all? What perspectives or angles of experience were you surprised to inhabit, and why? How does Rankine’s choice to use second person point of view affect your experience as a reader? How does Rankine’s choice to use second person point of view affect your experience as a citizen?
(question courtesy of the National Endowments for the Arts reader’s guide for Citizen)
I’ve posted my 2/30 draft below. It disappointed me right away, and I’ve already revised it multiple times, but here’s the original version:
I’m folding this year’s NaPoWriMo challenge into my #writeeveryday goal, and I will post my drafts, or portions of them, here throughout the month. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with using the memo app on my phone to write poems loosely based on events in my life; it’s a play on the daybook concept Jessica has been exploring (read excerpts here, here, here, and read more about Jessica’s daybooks project here) one in which I also explore the limitations (and possibilities) of the predictive text function on my phone.
Today’s prompt did inspire this poem, although I stuck closer to the prompt’s inspiration (Lauren Russell’s exercise which invites writers to consider the body’s capacity for monstrosity and pleasure, shame and desire) than to the idea of a secret shame or guilty pleasure.