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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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.

 

N.Y.E. (new year’s essay)

Like any year, I suppose, 2019 was hard and awful in some ways and completely uplifting in others. Maybe any year in which I fall in love is a good year? Maybe any year I lose a job and question my path is a bad year?

It’s tempting to throw a whole year out in the trash and move on to a shiny new one. And I don’t intend to judge anyone who needs that hard reset. I’ve been there in the past, too. There are some stretches of time where it feels like everything went wrong every way it could. Like we keep taking 1 step up and 2 steps back. Like our self-care isn’t enough in the face of a climate crisis, our Constitution being manhandled by a sadistic narcissist, our economic dreams receding in the distance.

We are adept at chunking our lives into discrete portions of sorrow and striving. In order to make narratives our of lives, we have to do this temporal sashimi slicing. We hear people talk about their 20s or 30s as a uniform mode — a sonata in the key of A major E minor. Millenials, I posit, are particularly adept at naming and defining these eras, perhaps because we are still writing our coming-of-age stories. We are the most cognizant of change, and we’re grown-ups now, not living in the Gen Z haze of eternal youth.

We’re able to pinpoint the span of months when we were happy and everything was rosy — maybe it was the spring we studied abroad in Italy or the duration of a healthy relationship, or our junior year of high school. And then everything falls apart, or we move away from our friends, or we get depressed, or fall into a slump, and we try to measure that, too, certain that we can mark the first of the month as a day we’re suddenly okay again.

So if 2019 was kind of bad for you, too, I get it. It is exhilirating to scream, ‘Thank you, Next” at the receding decade and stay up till dawn just to see if it’s more pink, like we hoped it would be.

But I think sometimes we make those divisions too sharp. We write the key signature in permanent marker and use accidentals to show deviation so we don’t have to call it a modulation. I think time is a little more mixolydian than we want it to be. There are notes that don’t sound right, and major stirred up with minor. I think dismissing 2019 as a wash would be a disservice to what I’ve learned this year.

  • I learned that being employed by a school is not what defines me as an educator.
  • I learned about how our schools are failing as workplaces, and how teachers aren’t given their due as professionals. I resolved that I’m not willing to put myself in a bad workplace, and I have an inkling that this problem is going to be central to what I eventually challenge and change about the profession.
  • I learned that I can be a published writer. This was my first year getting published! I learned about deadlines and editing and believing in myself.
  • I learned about my loneliness and how it has changed me. Loneliness has become the subject of my novel. Fighting it is a centerpiece of my mental health practices. If I could cure anyone of loneliness in this world it would be an honor.
  • I learned about love by falling into it with the most wonderful person. I am learning about how to be an “us” and not just me on my own. I’m still learning to love deeper and longer.

Among all these lessons, and all the joyful times I had with friends and in community this year, the thing that really sustained me was writing. I think the time I took for writing this year and the attention I showed to myself as a writer allowed me to take some big steps forward. Writing fills my soul with strength.

Here are some goals I have for my writing practice in 2020. I tried not to make any of these dependent on external forces, because as we know it’s an unpredictable landscape out there.

1.  Write every day for a month (do this 6x)

2. Have a chapbook ready to submit or possibly self-publish.

3. Read at an open mic.

4. Send out 150 submissions of poetry.

5. Finish my novel

6. Read more poetry, especially in journals.

7. Take a class, go to a conference, or join a group — find community.

 

I don’t know what 2020 will hold for me, what the particular medley of joys and sorrows will be. I look forward to writing it.