I am reading one poem a day

. . . and really, that’s not enough.

My life should be bursting with poetry at all times, I think. I should always have something quotable on my mind or on my dashboard for red lights. I should have poems ready to hand out to friends when the blender top isn’t on or people are getting sicker or the lights go out or the hospital beds are taken.

But sometimes, poetry feels like too much concentration and too much notice to pay to a page when there are so many things that demand my attention. Sometimes songs are easier, or watching Parks and Rec again is easier (why do so many characters on that show wear stripes so often?). I give myself permission to skip reading poetry, or to go to bed, or to get the work done and then stop thinking for a little bit. It’s really important, with so much happening around us, to give ourselves permission and forgiveness to not do everything and to set aside the things that we should be doing to be productive or intellectually moving forward.

I need something, though. I think I need still moments. I need the quiet to have purpose. I think that I have been neglecting my soul a little bit, and the temple gardens need tending. I think poetry will help me with that.

If you would like to read along with me, I’ll post a poem every day for a while in this post, with the newest ones on top. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

April 9

“The Fish Hums to the Night and the Night Hums to the Fish” by Amanda Turner

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Found in Waxwings, Issue 20 

April 8

“Programmed” by Carlina Duan

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Found in Pleiades’s featured poem section

April 7

“Tall Grass” by Jessica Thompson

grass

From Kansas City Voices

April 6

“Fort / Da” by Brittany Smart

Fort Da

From Kansas City Voices 

April 5

“Vixen” by Francis Daulerio

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Found in Barren Magazine, Issue 13

April 4

“Mutual Defenders” by Adrian Slonaker

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Found in Nightingale and Sparrow, Issue II (renaissance)

April 3

“What I’m left with” by Christopher Citro

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Found in The Iowa Review

April 2

“Song” by Adrienne Rich

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April 1

“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith

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Being Alone

The second half of this piece began as a writing prompt in my adult class: “Write about something that can be good and bad at the same time.” I wrote the rest of it a little while ago, but thought it might be relevant to some folks right now. I hope you all enjoy your alone time and also reach out to others. Both make us human. 

 

I tell my students that I like going to movies alone. The joys are simple to encapsulate: no one to take the popcorn from me, the air conditioning in summer, the ease of arriving on time instead of rushing, the freedom to sit where I want without negotiating the Treaty of Versailles.

palace theatre signage
Photo by Ross on Pexels.com

It’s more than that, however; it is keeping my eyes trained on the screen the whole time, without scanning my boyfriend’s face for enjoyment after each joke. After all, I probably picked the movie and I am a loud laugher, and I don’t want to be embarrassed if he’s not having a good time. I’ll flick my head from The Rock to my boyfriend and back a few times before I think maybe I am being anoying, and then I start thinking about that.

When I am alone, I get to be engrossed in story — and that’s what this is all really about. Stories are made for our minds to embrace internally. We gather stories into our arms, bring them in from the cold, check for bruises. We cry with them. Yes, I have cried alone in a movie theater. It’s dark, and with a few seats between me and anyone else, it feels safe. And at the end of it, when the lights come up, I don’t have to be alone. So it feels easier to stop crying.

Stories are meant to be shared, but they’re also meant to be felt and lived alone.

Maybe that is the difference between when I like being alone and when I don’t. What story am I experiencing? Am I in a narrative, or just in my own whirling thoughts?

The band Joseph has a song called “In My Head.” It tells the story of a first date through the lens of an anxious woman’s internal monologue. Before the date even starts, she is playing out how it will go, everything her date will say, how she will mess it all up. And the imaginary future in her head gets in the way of enjoying the actual story happening around her. It’s a #relatable song, and it’s poignant for the impossibility it presents: we can’t get out of our heads. We have to be in our feelings, in our futures, and in the moment at the same time.

Listen to “In My Head” here

That’s why being alone can be magical. I get to experience all my feelings and think all my thoughts without ever having to say them out loud. I can decide as the wind blows to follow it; I can drive side streets without explaining what I’m curious about.

But being alone means I don’t hear my voice as much. Being alone makes me want to hear someone else answering my questions, even if it’s just to say “no.” When I’m alone it’s too quiet sometimes, like nothing is moving, like everything is stuck in its place, cemented in its spot.

I love quiet sometimes. I like to be almost alone in a library or a bookstore, not completely abandoned but rather, being in a place that was built for silence. A place that leaves space for breathing. When I’m on my own with books or a piano or the lavender scent in my shower, I don’t have to move fast or work hard or prove myself. I get the space to spread myself out a little bit.

Being alone doesn’t always make me relaxed. Sometimes it makes me feel like time is moving too fast and leaving me behind. Like how I’ve felt for the past few years, that I am behind the times, not having a house or a partner or a baby. I get all swirled up in my head instead of just living along the timeline as it happens.

Of course, sometimes when I’m on my own I can convince myself that I don’t need to be on anyone’s timeline but my own. But I can also convince myself never to leave the house and never to pursue those goals that I do want. Without anyone telling me what I am supposed to want, you’d think I could listen to myself more, but it turns out I’m a little intimidating too, even on my own.

Then more time passes, and more silence, and I am not sure where to go.

Maybe the best alone time is when I’m writing (although I also like being with other people when I write). I think when I sit with myself and write, I listen to my own voice, and create a space for story. It’s like opening the door and inviting myself in.

 

Thanks for reading. Check out my recent and upcoming publications on my about page, connect with me on twitter @MsPaceWrites, or consider supporting my writing on Ko-Fi.

Letters to My Inner Writer

In one of my favorite books about writing, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron recommends writing letters to your inner writer. It’s a way of understanding yourself and what you want. I do it every once in a while just to check in — here are a selection of my letters. 

Dear Inner Writer,

I wonder if it matters whether I classify this practice as care for my mental health or as work or as art? Maybe it’s great that it can serve as so many things at once and that it has function in my life. But you’re not about function, are you? You’re about a way to express all the things that are so marvelous and confusing about this world. And you’re a little rebellious. You don’t want to just be journalling like everyone else. You want art. I get mad at you sometimes – why haven’t you made progress on your novel? — but you need space and time to do your thing. I will try to give you that.

Love,

Nora

~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Inner Writer,

I am not sure what to write; I’ll write about wanting. Mary Chapin Carpenter says, “When you spend your whole life wishing, wanting and wondering why — it’s a long enough life to be living” — and I am trying not to spend all my time wanting. I do need to do some living in the moment, some driving home along a different route and seeing different trees.

But I also want a baby, and a house under the redwoods like Anne Lamott, and I want my guy to be reading my poems when he retires to putter and tinker and rest, when I am still working forever. I want a little boy whose eyes look like mine. I want a book deal and a group of friends to celebrate. I want extra blankets so people can crash on my couch and I want to make big salads and put them in the middle of the table.

Sometimes I want my long hair back. Sometimes I want to quit my job and get a puppy and spend all day walking him. He could meet Lizard the cat and pee when he got too excited.

I want a life that is shimmery in monlight, that feels warm in the afternoons when the sun is going down.

I want to be happy living with myself for a long time forward. I want to feel good about who I am and what I’m going out to get. I want to love myself more and better.

Love,

Nora

~ ~ ~ ~

blank paper with pen and coffee cup on wood table
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Dear Inner Writer,

Here is some advice for myself:

  1. Do the writing first. If I pursue more ways to make money through writing, I really do need to limit how much it affects my actual practice. This is the real stuff — sitting here with my hnd moving across the page of a notebook. I have to do that first — before I submit, or pitch, or look into opportunities. I don’t want to lose the fact that writing is a communication with myself.
  2. Write thoughts, not just feelings. Mingle the two together. Reflect.
  3. Write in different forms, in different places, different modes. I’m dying to make essays happen, but I also miss poetry. It just doesn’t seem to be happening, like my head is a little too crowded to let poems have the space they need. Maybe I’m not lonely enough.
  4. Share more. Put out more writing for free. Write more letters + notes + emails + texts. Write more tweets, and longer messages. I can write to my students and my friends and send more care.
  5. Write a larger volume. Writing every day is good. But I need more substance, more material to comb through and work with. I need to make fabric sometimes and sew it up later.

Love,

Nora

~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Inner Writer,

“Writing is both the boat and the wind in the sails.”

~ Julia Cameron

 

Love,

Nora

~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Inner Writer,

You like it when I go for walks outside. You like it when I get busy living life out through the doors of my house, when my joy is big enough to be audible from down below my windows. You like Italian bread sliced into cubes and roasted; you like garlic and eyes watering over a svory pan of onions and peppers.

Yet you seem often enough to be the force that draws me inwards, that makes me say: “Don’t come over, I am working some stuff out!” You make me groggy with grief sometimes. And then I think somehow you bring me back.

You say I have to write every day and you are definitely not as insistent about living. I don’t mean being alive. I mean doing the things of living that aren’t working or teaching or sitting here with this notebook.

It was spring today and yesterday, and you wanted me to go outside to look at the buds with false hope. You wanted to walk the whole time until it was winter again. I wanted to indulge you, but I had things to do. Bsides, you don’t usually write odes to sunny days. You’re far more comfortable with the gloomy and the grim. But I appreciate that you want me to work on my tan, and get some fresh air.

I wonder, sometimes, if I am doing enough to challenge you, to engage you, to support your learning needs. I wonder if we are friends — I wish we were friends You should know that you matter to me.

I’d like to buy you some chocolates, but you see, you’re not making me any money.