April, once uncomfortably known as National Poetry Month, has been re-branded, much more comfortably, as National Poetry Writing Month. This makes us feel less passive in our minority. The challenge is to write 30 poems in 30 days.
For the past two years I have attempted to write 30 poems in 30 days without “success” (“as such”). I don’t remember how many I wrote the first year. I suspect none. Last year I wrote 11. I was particularly inspired and these poems are short and narrative, the kind of poems I write when inspired (generally 1pg with a narrative arc, left-aligned with some use of tabs but no textboxes (textboxes are how I get the “half-line drop”)). Writing 11 poems in a month is a lot for me because I don’t write narrative, inspired, left-aligned poetry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: some people do it very well. But I think it is easier to write those poems than to make poems like the ones in Organic Furniture Cellar. It is easier for me, at least, and I do not value ease. Growing up in a world of handmade clothes and now living, for many years, in a world adjacent to the Roycrofters and heavily marked by the Arts and Crafts movement has made me value “craft.” I want things to take time. I want the maker to consider his or her work more closely than any magazine editor ever could. (Quality, not quantity, of publication should be the goal.)
This year, instead of trying to write 30 poems in 30 days and ending up with 11 that don’t accurately reflect my poetics, I’m planning to write something every day, which is more than the nothing I usually write (I journal a lot, but rarely get over the intimidating hump of turning ideas into poems), and which is more in keeping with my poetic process.
I see poetry as a “craft” rather than a “flow,” and I differentiate these in terms of control and construction. Although like almost all poets I tend to be more productive when “inspired,” I have long gestation periods where elements come together– more like writing a novel from the pickings of every day life that suddenly reach a critical mass. When I do put pen to paper (literally — sketchbooks, not computers, are still the birthplace of my poems), I rarely erase. However, I do superimpose. For instance, I’ll write two or three fragments that are not enough in themselves to substantiate the content or visual bulk of the poem on the page, and then I’ll combine them, keeping their original placement largely intact except where words would overlap (I dislike illegibility — I am still writing to be understood). Thus my editing process is more about generation, placement, and superimposition than about generation, erasure and rephrasing (except on the rare occasion that I am writing a narrative poem, in which case rephrasing to decrease ambiguity is my major editorial hurdle; in visual poetry, I use placement to increase or decrease ambiguity).
I can’t think of a good example of this in other arts. Maybe it is most like music (often mythologized as a “flow” but so often, in the process of writing, more of a “construction”) or sculpture or even quilting/appliqué. “Superimposition” is a term from film, but it’s rare that a filmmaker would superimpose discrete elements in this way (superimposition is usually planned in advance).
“Moving stuff around” — poetic phrases like transparent building blocks — doesn’t jive with the “30 poems in 30 days” marathon of getting “a whole poem” down on paper each day, as what this collage method requires is time and familiarity: I see only in retrospect, after they have sat around for awhile, how the pieces come together. I imagine this is similar to how poets who primarily write “inspired narrative poetry” work, too, although it might not look the same on the page, as the process might happen mentally instead (“how do I use this story about x”).