Saturday, April 2, 2011

NaPoWriMo: The Case for Every Day

A few years ago at a local open mike, my friends Carol Brockfield and Dave Harvey announced that for April, Poetry Month, they were planning to write a poem every day. Not only that, they would post their new poems each day online where others could see them. It was all part of NaPoWriMo, they said—National Poetry Writing Month, a project where people all around the country sit down and write (and, what’s more, finish) a poem every day, and then thrust it out into the public eye.

I’ll be honest: I thought the idea was nuts. I am not a writing-on-the-fly kind of gal, and I am not prolific. My poems come to me at a maddeningly slow pace, and I don’t like them sashaying outdoors until I’m sure their shirts are buttoned and their faces are clean. And the other thing is, I hate routine. Having to do anything every day, no matter how fun, turns that thing into work—something I have plenty of already, thanks.

But in March of 2009, I was in a bad writing rut. Again, Carol and Dave mentioned this crazy NaPoWriMo thing coming up in April, and I thought, what the hey, I haven’t written diddly in months. Maybe this will at least make me write something. So I screwed up my courage, signed up for their Yahoo group, and embarked on a month of—well, I wasn’t sure what.

At first, it was weird. Every day, I got e-mails with poems—a lot of them from people I didn’t know. Our local group had maybe a dozen poets in it, and the whole thing seemed like a weird mixture of anonymity and publicness—who were these people flashing their poems at me, and where did I fit in? I scribbled down my poems each day and fired them off to the rest of the group. At first, it felt a bit competitive. Was I good? Was I bad? Did it matter? We were like a pack of marathon runners who’d just started a race, jostling each other as we sorted ourselves out and tried to find a rhythm that would take us through the long haul. Before long, that feeling of competitiveness morphed into camaraderie as we began to trade compliments back and forth and started little mini-discussions on the side. By the end of the month, I’d gotten to know and like these people, and I’d read a staggering spectrum of poems—dozens of unexpected topics, takes, styles, and forms.

But perhaps the best thing about NaPoWriMo was that it made me take ideas that had been rattling around in my head and put them to paper. And when I ran out of those ideas, I had to look at everything during the day—work, apple blossoms, frogs, fried eggs, wars, soccer—and think, How will I make this into a poem? Not would, but will—because I had to post a poem that night, good or not, come hell or high water. In the end, I had about 25 new poems (I missed a few days), and seven or eight of them were decent. That’s a very good number for me; normally a month might yield one good poem, maybe none. Bolstered by that first year’s success, I tried it again last year. But the grind of writing a poem every day proved to be too much—it’s an astonishingly hard thing to do, and after a few days it already felt like digging for gold with my fingernails in a deep, spent mine. That time, I flaked out after a week because a deadline at work overwhelmed me. Still, I got maybe five usable poems out of it—again, a good number.

So here I am again, kicking off another NaPoWriMo. This is my third year, and it’s Day 2. Already, two new poems have wandered out of my brain and onto the street, their clothes askew and their hair sticking up. And I see poems incoming from my NaPoWriMo compadres, and our glad conversation has begun. Welcome, spring, with your daffodils braving the rain. Here are some poems to add to all the new.

No comments:

Post a Comment