Reading today’s NaPoWriMo prompt came with a wave of nostalgia because it uses an exercise taken from The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. This book collects writing exercises different poets have used with their students, and I had to buy it for my first undergraduate writing course at George Mason University. My teacher was Mark Craver, whom I loved. He did not throw me out of his (crowded adjunct) office when I demanded he tell me “if I am even any good at poetry before it’s too late to drop this class,” and he cured me of my habit of inserting random French words into my poems to demonstrate my sophistication.
We never used the “20 Little Poetry Projects” exercise in Mark’s class, but I used it to write (a bad draft of) a poem during the first semester of my MFA program, when we had to turn in a new poem every Thursday like writing a poem is easy. I always felt very anxious in my grad school poetry workshops, because Jeffrey Pethybridge was always in my workshop, even though he was an undergraduate student, and he would critique everyone’s poem very thoroughly and seriously — as if we had any idea what we were doing! As if I had formed all the best bits of my poems on purpose instead of entirely by accident when I wasn’t even paying attention to the process! Later, after we became friends, Jeff would call me on the phone at odd hours of the day to read me something he had just written as if my opinion mattered. Graduate school was weird, though I often miss those long conversations (debates? arguments? hallucinations?) with Jeff and Paul and Jamii and Mark and Melissa and Scott and Janet and Tim et al.
Anyway, this time I used the “20 Little Poetry Projects” to better effect, and I put French in it for an actual reason! You can read my poem below, but also if you have children or teens quarantined in your house, challenge them to write a poem following these instructions. Tell them it doesn’t matter if their poem doesn’t make any sense! Poetry is largely nonsense.