How to Start: April's poem a day
gathering your supplies & getting ready for a month of writing
I’ll start with a secret: I haven’t written a poem in . . . a while. I’ve been writing essays, and beyond that, doing the kind of writing - academic articles, letters of recommendation, my own tenure file - that feels so far from poetry, I’ve wondered sometimes if I would ever make my way back. I sent the final version of my next book, Pocket Universe, off to LSU in January and I’ve been waiting for the particular voice of a poem to speak to me since then. I believe the poems will come back. But I also know I need to stop just waiting for it to happen.
So I’ll write a poem each day in April, and I’ll post the prompts here early each morning so you can write along, too. The prompts will focus on revision and on play, rather than content. I’ll be digging back through old notebooks and poem scraps and rubbing those weird bits together to see what sparks.
If you’d like to join us, here’s what you can do to get ready:
gather your scraps. I’ll be reading through old notebooks and highlighting interesting phrases or images and tabbing pages with post-its. I’m also going through my digital files to find the poems I’ve started and abandoned and see what I can mine from those.
create a deck. On a set of index cards, write down as many of the following as you can think of, one note per card:
old sayings or odd idioms (my grandmother hated whistling and was a stickler for “ladylike” behavior; she frequently warned us that “whistling girls and crowing hens always come to no good end,” so that was on one of my cards for a long time)
images or lines from your notebooks/files
odd memories - things you want to write about but haven’t yet, or haven’t finished writing about
anything else that might strike something as you write through the month; I tend to collect bits of fairy tales and myths, phrases I catch on the radio, etc
(You can think of these as inspiration cards, if you’re feeling fancy. I usually just call mine my index cards.)
plan a time to write. I like to review my scraps and notes the night before and make some notes that I can draw on the next morning, so it doesn’t feel like I’m starting with an entirely blank page.
plan a way to share. When you’re working on a daily practice, it helps to give yourself ways to get credit for your work. I like to mark each poem in the to-do list section of my planner the night before as a way of affirming that intention for myself, then cross it off. I’ve also sometimes tweeted the title and poem # as a way of sharing my work more publicly. I’ll be using the hashtag #writemore for this month’s work. I’ll leave the comments open so you can share your title under each prompt, if you like.
This newsletter takes its title - “Write more, be less careful” - from something my mentor and friend Jesse Lee Kercheval said in my first workshop with her in the second semester of my MFA. I don’t know if she could sense that we were a slightly anxious bunch and needed the encouragement to write without worrying so much, or if that’s just the typical trajectory of the MFA, but I do remember looking over at my classmate and dear friend Jacques, who was also copying Jesse Lee’s words neatly into his notebook, and realizing I wasn’t the only one who needed that message.
The way to get started is to start. I hope you’ll join us.