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.
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.
I’m participating in a resident reading tonight, and a lot of people asked if I would be projecting images of the visual poetry I’ve been working on here. I immediately thought of pictures I’ve seen of Jessica reading her poems as they’re projected on a big screen behind her. I would like to be like Jessica.
But, since no other readers will be using a projector tonight, I decided to wait until the final Open Studios of the month to try and share some of my visual work. In the meantime, I promised to post some pictures of my daily Tarot card erasures here. (As always, you can click on a picture to enlarge it.)
I am less interested in the fortune telling properties of Tarot cards than I am in their origin. I like the idea that a rich Italian aristocrat might have commissioned a hand-painted set of playing cards that included extra allegorical trump cards on a whim. I like to imagine a world where people play ordinary card games with Tarot decks. I also love seeing depictions/interpretations of Tarot cards in popular culture. For instance, a particular Tarot card plays a major role in the film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. You might not know this, because you are possibly an adult person who does not read large quantities of YA fiction and/or watch a lot of television and films whose target audiences are adolescent girls. But I watched City of Bones while I was knitting the other night, so I know all about it. Those cards were hand-painted, too. Everything comes full circle.
Not the scene with the Tarot card.
Several of the other residents, mostly visual artists and nonfiction writers, had questions about The Deletionist, how it works, and how often I use it to make it poems. (I can answer that last question by saying that I experiment with my deletionist button fairly often but find I only rarely get truly interesting results.)
I promised to share another “successful” erasure created by me and The Deletionist, an erasure of a digitally annotated version of “Eurydice” by H.D. You can read the full erasure here. I’ve also included an image of one of the screenshots below.
My knee looks much, much, much worse today than it did yesterday, so I’m elevating it while I drink coffee and poem. Poem should be a verb as well as a noun.
I am also listening to Taylor Swift. Of course I am.