Whoa! I Wrote 25 Freaking Poems in a Month? (or 2010 NaPoWriMo Wrap-Up)

5 May

Hello, online worldies!  I’ve been out of touch for a few weeks, kicking back in the O.C. (I know, it’s probably passé to call it that now, but oh well, I’m not terribly cool) during a visit to family and friends.  I go back to New York City tonight (the red-eye, baby!) and it’s not without a sense of wistfulness. 

My nieces are growing up so weirdly cute and gloriously entertaining, my mom’s cooking is still as fabulous as ever, and my friends are still kicking ass and taking names in their own unique ways. 

But Manhattan awaits, and in it, CityBoy, who’s had 13 days of uninterrupted baseball-watching, bean-stew-eating, iPhone-surfing, and god only knows what.  All hail, Jho, the returning conqueror!  (Oh, sorry.  Must have been channelling my inner Julius Caesar.)

So…anyways, yes, I wrote 25 poems in a freaking month (really three weeks, as my writing in the O.C. has been sporadic at best).  Twenty-five!  Can you believe it?  Most of them are quite crappy, I’ll happily admit.  But a select few are pretty friggin’ awesome.  Here’s the run-down:

NaPoWriMo Poems

  1.  Dune, about my adolescent obsession with the movie “Dune”
  2. Turning, about how men and women respond to signs of aging
  3. Sparklers, in the voice of a woman who doesn’t recall the exact details of an important death
  4. In Praise of Joan Holloway, for Joanie of “Mad Men”
  5. Night Out at Banjo Jim’s, about a fantastic night out
  6. The Feast of Memory, about what subway engineers find while digging for a new line
  7. The Deer, about deer crossing onto a highway
  8. Drowning, in the voice of a mother who’s drowned her children
  9. Fathers and Children, about a father and son on the subway
  10. July, about a low-income family in summer
  11. The Lake, about camping with an old boyfriend
  12. Funeral, about a woman’s family at her funeral
  13. Equivalent Tongues, about John “J.B.” Murray’s visionary paintings
  14. Poem for James Tate, about donkeys
  15. Closing of Taunton State, about the closing of a mental institution
  16. Dressing the Dead, about Filipino funerary customs
  17. Tourists in New York, about tourists in NYC
  18. Injured, about a woman lying on the sidewalk
  19. Christmas Seal, about Henry Darger’s framing technique
  20. Family Secret, about a father and son fighting
  21. Pruning, about a father’s bad pruning jobs
  22. Lunchtime, South Coast Plaza, about a woman in the parking lot of a suburban mall
  23. Relapse, about a woman’s struggles with mental illness
  24. Frogs, about frogs in a market
  25. Rough Machine, in the voice of a woman who loves a physically scarred man

Most of these were written back-to-back, day after day, until I hit Days 20+, when I was packing and then flying to Orange County.  Most days, I fired up the old netbook while making breakfast and coffee (cereal, oatmeal or toast – nothing too complicated), and then sat my ass down to write.  Other than potty breaks and random wandering around the apartment, I kept my butt in that chair until something, anything came to me. 

Some of the lessons I learned: 

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself.  It’s a daily assignment, like going to the gym (if you’re that kind of weirdo) or going to work or eating your vitamins.  Hammer something out and move on.  If that something makes you excited and has the trappings of a “real” poem, great.  If not, you have another day.
  2. Scheduling writing time actually translates into actual writing.  I know tons of people who say they can’t write on a schedule, who scoff at any attempt to apply structure to such a creative endeavor.  Here’s the thing though:  if you do it on a consistent basis, your body (and thus, your mind) will comply.  I found writing first thing was the most productive for me.  The later I left my day’s poem, the more likely I would be hurried, harrassed or just plain tired when sitting down.
  3. Surround yourself with what inspires you.  For some, this may be old photos, artwork, your favorite books.  I keep a stack of my newest poetry purchases next to my writing desk, so that I can read someone else’s finished work.  I never know what’s going to hit me:  odd phrasing, a particular memory, the sound or rhythm of that writer’s poetry.  I especially like pulling lines out of another poem and using it as my “starter title.”  This line goes in place of a title on my new poem and I write with that line in mind, until I have written my own poem.  Then I erase that “starter title” and come up with my own.  Poem #7, “The Deer,” came from the line “What you want will come, swallow you whole” (sorry, my notes on poet/poem aren’t with me right now – I’ll update later).  How’d I get to deer?  I have no idea.  The subconscious does what the subconscious does.  I don’t mess with it too much.
  4. Use your notes.  I used to carry around a wire notebook for jotting down poem scraps or people/places/things that catch my eye.  I kept burying my notebook under other books, rarely opening it, so I’ve migrated to 4×6 cards (much easier to tote around), which I keep propped up by my desk.  I shuffle through these when I’m feeling stuck, thinking about what I’ve written down and letting my mind meander around that idea/fragment/oddity.
  5. Celebrate the good poem.  I give myself a moment to appreciate when poems are working, usually in the form of doing a little dance, which inevitably leads to snacking in the kitchen.  That’s okay.  I’m a kickass poet and I can have a handful of celebratory potato chips. 

But the most important thing I learned was…don’t let it get to you.  Yes, you’re trying to write every day.  Yes, you want each poem to be the most amazing one yet to burst, staccato-like, from your typing fingers.  And yes, you will write crappy poems.  It’s okay.  This is only a test, physical exercise to limber up your brain, that most revolutionary, fantasmagorical organ.  The point is to get you back in the habit.  To free your over-analytical mind (you’re a writer, for Christ’s sake) from over-thinking and thus, stifling your creativity.  I guess those bastards at Nike were right.  The point is to Just Do It.

Rock on, people.

– Jho

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