Monday, April 18, 2011

NaPoWriMo, Day 18: The Long and Short of It

Here we are, day 18 of the April poem-a-day marathon: 18 poems behind me and—well, I don’t want to think about how many ahead. The going has officially gotten tough.

What I’m finding now is that I miss writing long. It’s hard for me to write long poems when I’m cranking out one every day. Most of the time, I’m up against some deadline—I’ve got to go back to work, or I’m on the way out the door to a poetry reading, or the clock is ticking and bloody hell, it’s bedtime and I can’t think of anything to write about and maybe I could recycle some Coleridge and nobody will notice.

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of hearing Rick Barot read at Southern Oregon University. Rick’s poems are exquisitely crafted, unfailingly poignant, and…well, long. Not too long, but long enough for the reader to really inhabit the story for a few minutes. That accounted for much of the satisfaction in his reading—that entering and staying and absorbing his measured, finely wrought lines and story arcs. He read for 20 minutes and, to my amazement, read only 4 poems. If I were doing a 20-minute reading, I’d have about 12.

And like the listener, the writer of a long poem has to stay and inhabit the story. You have to go down all of its blind alleys and find your way through to the end. Of course that’s also true with a short poem, but the alleys and roads of a long poem are simply longer. The process is longer; there’s a certain thoroughness about it. To me, it’s the antithesis of NaPoWriMo, or at least the way I do NaPoWriMo: The poem-a-day business has to be shoehorned in among a full-time job and freelance work and the month-long party that is National Poetry Month here in Ashland and the jillion other things I like to do. And as a result, I tend to write short for it. Or if I write longer, the lines are short and it’s some sort of stream-of-consciousness meander, anything but a finely tuned arc. And of course nothing can be edited much yet, or expanded upon; that will come later, if I decide it’s worth working on. Right now, there’s just no time because tomorrow it’s another poem.

Another reason I tend to write short for NaPoWriMo is simple fatigue. The tiredness creeps up, and now, past the halfway point, I’m running out of carbs. And as it gets harder to sit and write a serious poem every day, I tend to resort to joke poems. As it turns out, damn, they’re hard to write too. So they all count. But now I have to make a conscious effort to squirrel away ideas for future days; my notebook has little lines jotted at the tops of pages to remind me of things to write about later: “I am looking for a house that’s like my first boyfriend.” “This is not the motion that hurts.” “Sorry angel.”

But today is a good day in the NaPoWriMo marathon, because I was up at 3:00 a.m., writing today’s poem. Part of it came from a dream, so apparently my subconscious is also jotting down ideas. Keep ’em coming, subconscious. 

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