I’ve set myself a challenge for the coming year: 365 poems in as many days, most of which I aim to post here with a little commentary about how it’s going.
If I’m really doing this I need to make sure all is in readiness before the sun sets on the 31st. I don’t want any obstacles to stand between me and this goal. So what do I need for this?
- Pens and paper
Pens and Paper – my first thought when I came up with this challenge was “Yikes, I need to go notebook shopping.” I thought I needed a book with pages tipped in gold, a ribbon bookmark, an embossed jewel-toned cover – ooh! Maybe one of those mock-pewter clasps as well. Then I took a quick recce of my room and found an almost empty school exercise book, two packs of lined paper still in the plastic, a sketchbook I’ve barely touched, and a tiny notebook I’d deemed too small to be of much use. I had to ask myself – are the fancy notebooks I always insist on necessary? Do they influence the work I produce? Or is it just to satisfy an aesthetic urge? Worse, is it another way to put off facing that empty page, where I potentially won’t have any ideas, or I’ll write something unworthy of reading?
Now there is an irreplaceable joy in purchasing a truly gorgeous notebook, bringing it home, running my fingers over the cover and then bending it open with that delicate crackling sound to the sight of that first blank page. But when I’m considering potential obstacles to my achieving this year-long challenge, I have to make sure I’m not going to be a poetry diva here. I have to confront this desire for flawless presentation for what it is: at least in part, a way of postponing creativity out of fear. I have a thousand poems in my head aching to be written, am I going to keep them at bay with a slew of lame excuses? Keep them waiting till I can make everything impossibly perfect? If what I’ve got is a piece of charcoal from the fireplace and someone else’s receipt from The Love Boutique, then that’s perfect. Just write. Get it out.
Inspiration – How am I going to make sure I don’t spend two hours a day tapping my pen against the page and slowly pulling out my hair? There have been times when I’ve had an idea for a poem come to me, felt my whole body quiver with it and had it pour out of me with very little need for editing. But let’s face it, it’s rare.
So once again, I have to sacrifice my inner diva, who is really just a coward. I can’t just lay on my chaise lounge and wait for inspiration to come a-calling. I have to put my work boots on and go find it.
Don’t know what to write? It’s snowing, write about that. My sweater’s itchy, write about that. Something distressing on the news? Write about that. I don’t get to decide when brilliance strikes. I just have to start working. And like the Sufi poets, I have to learn to see the Beloved in everything.
Time – I’m good at wasting hours. Or perhaps wasting is a harsh word. Let’s say: spending in unproductive ways. Of course it can be completely lovely sometimes to drift into carefree oblivion in front of Friends reruns or to suck on chocolates and biscuits from Christmas while contemplating what I’ll eat for lunch (when I’ve just eaten breakfast), but I also want to make something. To have something to show of my own for the day. And I get to make what I make time for. That’s why I like the goal of one poem a day. A concrete, tangible amount of work and a clear deadline. Easy to keep myself accountable.
Squad – Because I know how easily I can slip into doubt, self-criticism, and other fear-based modes of thinking, I need to make sure I have a wide and solid support system to remind me why I’m doing this. Mine includes:
- Billy Collins
- Don McKay
- Wendy Rose
- rupi kaur
- Ashley LaFramboise
- Sarah Kay
These guys are fabulous resources for me when I start having thoughts like:
“Nobody likes poetry.”
“I don’t feel motivated.”
“What’s the point?”
They remind me of the beauty that can arise from putting your heart and soul into your creative work. They get me moving again.
Fear – Call it out. Push it into the light of day. If it’s holding me back, it’s fear and it can’t survive being looked in the eye.
Reading – I’ve always been a voracious reader and it’s one of the things I love to do most. If I’m not careful I can lose days to it. It’s enjoying words and thoughts without the pressure of producing something “right.” But for a while reading has to take the back seat to writing. With fear out of the shadows, writing can be just as enjoyable as reading.
Fishing – Alright, not really fishing but you never know when family might stumble onto this. When I was at an ashram a couple of months ago, it was said that perhaps one of the reasons everyone there was so creative was because we weren’t allowed to…go fishing. This might be a little out there for some, but it was said that all that energy stayed potential inside us until we found an outlet for it, resulting in a community of writers, artists and performers. Of course, fishing is healthy and enjoyable, as well as good exercise. But at least at the outset of this challenge maybe I can’t afford to lose any creative energy. And while I don’t have a partner to go fishing with, the temptation is always there to whip out a rod and go alone which not only borrows energy but also time from my poetry. So maybe at the beginning I should stay away from fishing altogether, perhaps even for January, so I can focus my efforts more fully on other forms of self-expression. Fishing stands as a symbol here for a number of pursuits that require creative energy. Now that I’ve made a commitment to poetry for 2017, I need to take note of where that energy goes, so I can pull it away and redirect it towards poems when I feel my resolve weakening.
Clutter – I’m also planning to start an Etsy store, which will hopefully be my “main job” for the next few months, making jewelry and donating money to charity. I’ll have charge of my own schedule so I need to get very clear with goals for the day, pare down non-essentials, make my work and my creativity a priority. I’m incredibly grateful for the acres of freedom in my days right now, and I want to put a great deal of them to delightful, creative use.
There. I think I’ve gathered my tools and confronted the most likely setbacks and obstacles to achieving my goal here. Fear comes in many clever disguises and it’s reassuring to prepare for its arrival. My writing has become too important to me not to take out some insurance against the thieves of fear and doubt, who threaten to come into my mind in the dead of night and steal my confidence and joy in poetry. Even the act of writing down my fears takes the steam out of them, stops them being amorphous stormy ideas and turns them into small manageable words. And writing down my supplies reminds me how much I have on my side. Tomorrow I’ve remind myself all the reasons I should take on this challenge in the first place.