Reflections on my year of poetry and some advice on the practice of writing every day

On the 30th of June I wrote the 365th poem of my year of poetry, posted it here on my blog, breathed a humungous sigh of relief and promptly collapsed in exhaustion. Now, after a well-earned rest, I have been reflecting on my experiences over the past year and I wanted to share some of these with you.

First of all, it took me a little while to truly comprehend that I was finished and even longer to actually pat myself on the back. For me, I think the mixed emotions of completing a large creative project like this are akin to reading a good book: the feel of satisfaction as you linger on that last page, the sadness as you close the cover and put it down, the feeling of still being immersed in that world, but now less tangible, still lingering in your thoughts and dreams even as you search for the next good book, knowing it will not be the same, but hoping for something just as satisfyingly different and dazzling.

Nonetheless, since the final day (well, after a few days off to be completely honest) I have endeavoured to maintain the practice of writing a little bit each day. Many writers talk about the need to write every day, and from my personal experience I couldn’t agree more. Writing every day makes writing easier, no matter how hard it might be to get those first few words out, or how mediocre some of the more forced writing may be, inspiration visits more often, the writing itself improves, and the most boring mundane experience or object may transform into a beautiful poem or piece of prose. In fact, I found sometimes the only hard thing was tearing myself away from this world of words and imagination and back into the everyday.

That said, writing a poem a day was a challenge, and as elated as I am to have managed it, there were definitely times when I felt overwhelmed and thought about giving up. Of course I didn’t, partly because of that ever-present fear of failure, partly because I committed to the challenge with a friend who was doing a similar project with photography, and even though we weren’t working together there was a sense of not being entirely alone in this commitment, and partly due to sheer stubborn determination. But in the end I think what really got me through was the realisation that as it was my challenge, it was also up to me to set the rules.

This came about as the months went on, and particularly as I saw myself fall behind my desired outcomes; going from my first month of finished sonnets and polished form poems to drafts that went nowhere and formulaic poems with bad rhymes. I soon realised that if I wanted to complete this challenge to my satisfaction, retain my sanity, and do other necessary work, I was going to have to compromise on exactly how I defined a poem, and sometimes even how I defined a day. So, in the end, I have poems ranging from sets of haiku, some jumbled masses of words that I will one day turn into better poems, to a series of epics in iambic pentameter, a score or so of sonnets and various other forms of verse, and even one sestina.

There are many more things I would like to write about this past year of poetry, but I don’t want to go on too much so instead I have composed a short list of some of the things I learnt over the past year:

  • Sometimes you have to make your own rules, regardless of what anyone else says, ie. what constitutes a poem, what constitutes a final draft, what constitutes a day even.
  • If it comes to a choice between being a little late or sacrificing the quality of your writing, never sacrifice your writing, never, ever.
  • The many urgent things that demand your attention when you have a looming deadline lose all sense of urgency as soon as time once more becomes available.
  • Finally, a poem is never finished, every rewrite, every reread, every new person who reads it, all bring with them new layers and depth of meaning and interpretation.

Now I have finished, my friends keep asking me what I will write next. The answer, as yet, eludes me. I have too many words in my head and not enough ink or paper existing with which to write them. For now, my task is to continue the practise of writing every day, regardless of what I write, and see where my words will take me.

 

A farewell, for now

To this meditation,
this writing of a poem a day,
you have been my project for a year,
a year so hard in many ways,
strewn with difficulties in mind, body and soul,
but also fond times, friendships both new and long,
but most of all a year of learning,
of soul searching, meditation and inspiration,
and celebrating my one true love—
my words, my muse, my poetry—
but my time is up, and so for now
I say farewell,
but only for a day or two,
before my heart will bear me back
to continue once more this journey in verse.

 

Day 365: The final poem (for now)

Day 365

Today marks the final day of my poem a day for a year project.  To celebrate i thought I’d share my final poem, a rewrite of Robert Frost’s famous poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  I’ve also included his poem underneath in case you’d like to compare the two.

Stopping on a rainy evening

Which path I’m on I think I know,
this street I don’t recognize though
not in this moment of pause here
while rain blankets the road like snow.

This journey I’m on might seem queer
from where I stand with no one near
while rain-filled streets become a lake
hide footsteps made all this past year.

I stand showered in rain and shake
with cold and the weight of past mistakes;
but the rain falls and with it sweeps
my doubts into naught but snowflakes—

this rainy night is lovely, dark and deep
but I have promises to keep
and miles to go before I sleep
and miles to go before I sleep.

‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’ By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621

Over the next few weeks I will share more poems and my reflections from my experiences of 365 poems, but for now I will leave you to enjoy my last poem (for now) while I bask in my tired glory of completion.  I would also like to say a big thank you for all the likes, inspiration and encouragement from my family, friends, and of course, my readers.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Winter Lights

Yesterday (1st of June) marked the official start of winter, a season that has of late sparked many melancholy feelings, possibly because when bad things happen to me they tend to happen in the colder months.  So this time I decided to start the season on a positive note with a little personal celebration.  At federation square in Melbourne they a running an exhibition/public space installation called the Lights in Winter to encourage us Melbournites to venture out into the dreary cold and smile.

SONY DSC

This is the poem (Day 336 out of 365) that I wrote while watching the lights from afar over my glass of wine.

Winter lights

The first day of winter,
rain smashing against my window,
a constant stream of sleet
from a sky in shades of grey,
the clouds are crying,
plants dropping with gloom,
all is miserable,
except, just this once, I am not.

Winter, again,
sky stark, bereft of sun—
but night,
the lights, the lights,
hovering high into the sky
at their brightest in this dark,
at their lightest,
light like me
when I forget how
winter always makes me hurt.

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

 

A tribute to Maya Angelou: “Still I Rise”

I’m feeling quite sad today, reading all the news of and tributes for Maya Angelou’s passing.  Like Nelson Mandela she was someone who had seen the worst of humankind, although in somewhat different circumstances, but still called for love and hope and forgiveness while always fighting for change.  The poem of hers I’ve chosen is the very first poem of Angelou’s that I read, and it still remains on of my favourites.  You can listen to her read it in the video, which I recommend, or read the words below.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

NaPoWriMo Day 16: I don’t care

Day 16/290: I don’t care

I thought I’d share the prompt from NaPoWriMo for day 16 seeing as it came with a comic.

And now for today’s prompt (optional, as always). After yesterday’s form-based prompt, today’s will hopefully be somewhat easier to get into. This prompt is from Daisy Fried, and the basic idea is to write a ten-line poem in which each line is a lie. Your lies could be silly, complicated, tricky, or obvious. This exercise kind of reminds me of Calvin’s dad:

And here is another somewhat depressing poem:

 

I don’t care,
my body hurts but I don’t care,
my head aches with a pain I can’t contain, but really, I don’t care,
the fluorescent light above me hums in time with the beating in my head, but I don’t care,
I don’t know how to make this stop but that’s ok because I just don’t care,
my thoughts are flitting like fireflies from light to light but I tell you I don’t care,
my heart is thudding so hard my ribs creak with the weight but I don’t care,
I don’t think I can get off the floor, but it’s ok, really, I don’t care,
I think I’ll just lie here in a ball because I don’t care, not at all,
I don’t care at all.

NaPoWriMo Day 15: 20 feet tall

Day 15/289: 20 feet tall

Here is my terza rima, the prompt for day 15, that completely rips on this song by Erykah Badu, 20 feet tall.  who’s concert I was at on the day I was supposed to write this poem because sometimes you need to give yourself a night off to go out and do something fun.  I’ve also included the song so you can see the elements I borrowed.

How did I come to fall
so far from your light
when once I was so tall

I could touch the night,
even though I couldn’t see—
but now the world is bright,

now I’ve gotten off my knees.

 

NaPoWriMo Day 14: Why didn’t he call?

Day 14/288

The prompt for day 14 is to write a poem of twenty questions with a final line in non-question form.  Fairly self-explanatory.  The topic I choose is one I’m sure many of you can relate to.

Why didn’t he call?

Why didn’t he call me?
I thought we had a connection, but surely if we did he would’ve called me, wouldn’t he?
Was it because I came on too strong?
Or did I drink too much?
It was something I did, I know it. Do you think it was something I did?
Was it the sex?
Was I bad?
Or too dirty for him?
Or was it the way I look naked?
He thinks I’m too fat. That’s it isn’t it?
Or too thin?
Why did I eat all that chocolate last night?
Do you think I should go on a diet?
You look great, what’s your secret?
Really?
I don’t think I could do that. Do you think I could?
What if I just ate less?
Maybe I should call him?
That waiter’s cute, do you think he’s single?
Would it be rude to give him my number?
I’ll have the dessert menu, thanks.