What I Learned Writing A Poem A Day for a Year

Before I kick off the Sunday Weekly Poem, I felt it behooves me (such a lovely word behoove, and one rarely gets an opportunity to use it!) to have a bit of reflection and de-briefing on the experience of writing and posting a poem a day everyday for a year.

It began on 15th September 2018, with https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/09/15/some-poetry-making-etudes/. My childhood piano teacher, Miss Mildred Herring, gave me a book of five finger exercises to build my piano playing muscles. I was an indifferent piano scholar, but the idea of regular poetry practice appealed. I wanted to write better poems. I knew I could write a poem a day for a month, since I had been able for two NaPoWriMo’s.

I never set out with the intention of writing a poem a day for a full year. But around Month 3 it began to occur to me that I might be able to do it. I loved the regular poetry practice. If I was late writing in the day, my day just did not have the same quality.

So this is what I gleaned from my experience of writing and posting a poem a day for a year.

Poetry Writing is Grounding and Centring

Let’s face it, no matter where you live on the planet, we live in uncertain times. I began the project and found that the daily writing practice helped me channel my anger and anxiety. It became a place for my mellower musings, too. I got it out and put it ‘there’ on the blank page. And there it remained, transformed and tamed. Poetry writing was the ballast that kept my internal boat from capsizing. Over time, poetry and the boat all became one thing.

Vulnerability Has Transformative Power

I love my fellow poets and writers, but to be brutally honest, as a genus we can be a bit precious over our product. We are sensitive plants and probably need to be to do the work. But if one is ever going to share the work you need to grow a thicker skin. By posting daily I did not have the luxury of a lot of time to edit and refine. So some of the poems are raw and others just plain lame. I had to get past my inner critic’s perfectionism, which can sometimes be the great destroyer of creativity and its creations. (Remember Kali, the mother destroyer goddess. We all have our inner Kali. But we don’t need to kill all our babies in the re-write and editting phase.) By working fast I had no time to be precious. I woke. I wrote. I posted. I got on with the rest of my life’s day. In that very vulnerability of putting it out there I found creative power. I learned not to be cast up or cast down by blog statistics. I just did the work.

Routines Create Neural Pathways

By writing daily I had the ability to try out new poetry forms. When I started I was technically proficient in assonance, dissonance, syllabics. I was a bit allergic to end rhyme. I had written maybe one sonnet in my life. I was not against formalism in poetry. I have written haiku and know all the variations on that form (NB: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/05/22/when-a-haiku-is-not-haiku/). But trying out sestina, pantoum, and sonnet stretched me technically. Admittedly, last autumn I had more time to research and learn. But it was great preparation time spent when things got really hectic come January 2019. The neural pathways had been pioneered. The habit of daily writing was well bedded in by the time my schedule got tighter. The routine was carved into my brain’s neural pathways and things were sparking nicely there. My brain was humming happily.

Nonetheless She Persisted

Yes, there were times when it was very hard to do the practice. But by then I realised the writing was not just a writing practice. It was a form of spiritual discipline. It was my morning meditation practice. Houseguests, who are people who love me, understood that morning was sacrosanct and the hush needed to be maintained. (For this I am profoundly grateful. Most hostesses do not leave their guests to fend for themselves first thing in the morning and demand radio silence upon the house. But they respected the writing practice.) A migraine delayed writing and posting, but did not deter. Nor did deathbed vigils, bereavement and funerals. But by that time, I realised that the writing practice was holding everything together for me.

But I will admit that at Month 10, I really began to flag. I was generally tired from juggling several teaching projects, as well as getting up early to write each morning. I am more pit pony than racehorse and the first six months of the year felt like I was at full gallop. But I kept at it because I was so damn close! ( I have got a competitive streak, which usually only gets outed during Scrabble matches.) I could see the finish line in sight. A 30 day course of daily writing prompts rescued me for four out of the last six weeks before finish line.

What’s On My Mind

Up until this year I would probably have characterised myself as mostly a nature or environmental poet. I knew that there was a storytelling voice in there too, which some critics would cast askance. Writing a poem a day challenged me to explore new subject matter. It loosened me up. But I didn’t have the time to actually look back and see if there was a thematic thread running through the poetry posts. In the past two weeks as I have reviewed the archive I can now discern a few different categories of my pre-occupations. And this will help me go forward to create a manuscript of the best of the 365 Poems A Day.

What’s Next

I do have very kind and faithful readers who have indicated that the Poetry Daily will be missed. But they seem to understand that I need the time for editting and pulling together a manuscript to create my first solo collection. Previously, I have have collaborated with my sister, Pamela A. Smith, on a transatlantic haiku ‘conversation’ and with Helen Shay in our co-collection Binary Star. Helen and I have another co-collection in the works.

But first I need to whip the solo collection into shape. So watch this space.

In the meantime, I will post a Weekly Poem each Sunday. I will point you to some previous ones in the archive at times. And in the first week there are a few scheduled little poems to help wean you from the Poetry Daily.

But now…start the Weekly Poem routine! I did not realise that I had written a poem on a similar theme last year. (Poets have their obsessions and recurring themes that are as regular as the full moon. To see what last year’s version looked like see this post. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/09/25/harvest-moon/

Harvest Moon (II)

Moon to illuminate
all that's been dreamed
all that's now done

The starry firmament
shines a woman
holding some sheaves

Not a bull or a ram
not a half-horse
that's half a man

Not fish or scorpian,
crab or lion,
not even goat

Not the adrogynous
water bearer
or inert scales

She who bears the seed to
ultimate fruit
holds the harvest

A woman holds the sky
as she always
does on this earth

Everything she dreamed
is now all done
so she can dream

yet another turn round
the sun, the moon,
the seed, its bloom.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Until next Sunday! Read a poem a day while I am away!

Featured image Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

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Day 365 of Poetry Daily

The Finish Line is crossed. I woke in full moonlight coming through the curtain cracks. The final day has dawned. Except it is not dawn yet. As so many days over the past 365 days I have been up early doing my poetry practice. A year ago I began what I thought of as etudes, like those five finger warm ups my long ago piano teacher had me do. Except I was doing them in poetry. I knew I could write a poem a day for a month because I had done NaPoWriMo for two years during April. But somewhere around month three my friend in Maine, Sherri, began to refer to the posts as my Poetry Daily.

And for those faithful readers who have been good enough to stick with me for the year, fear not! I will be posting a Weekly Poem every Sunday. So there will be a poem tomorrow. Because the poetry writing will continue, just not the daily posts. I need to allocate that time to editting and manuscript development. But for the first few days there is a scheduled little poem to help soften the change in your daily routine, too.

By serendipity, in the clearing up and out yesterday I came upon a commonplace book I started with quotations that beguile me. Here is part of one from Ben Okri from While the World Sleeps.

The poet needs to be up at night, when the world sleeps; needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes; needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside; needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs of silence; near the gutters, where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others don’t care to look, and they need to do this because if they don’t they can’t sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives. They need to be the multiple witnesses around the central masquerades of reality in order to convey fully all the unimaginable dimensions of the deity’s terrible and enchanting dance.

Ben Okri, While the World Sleeps

I always think of Ben Okri as ‘the incomparable Ben Okri.’ You read a paragraph of his writing and you feel like you have attended a master class in writing and living. I am in awe of his wisdom and facility of his writing.

So here I am again in the dark. Using the illuminato pen which a faithful reader and friend Siobhán gave me last Christmas to facilitate writing in the amrit vela, these ambrosial hours before the world wakes

Thank you to the readers who have followed me on this writing a poem a day journey these past twelve months. I hope you will continue to check into the blog each Sunday. Some of you are known to me, through Facebook and real life. But others live on anonymously in cyber space. But I see you! And thank you for seeing me here, writing from an betwixt and between corner in rural Ireland.

Unmooring from the Margins

To go into the woods.
To watch as they chop
the last tree down.
To sometimes stick with the path.
To then lift your feet from their margins
to adventure in the dark.
To learn to navigate by moonlight.
To master the fear of your own starkness.

Woods. And trees.
Paths. And journeys.
What else is poetry?

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Poetry Daily Joy

Another very late edition of the Poetry Daily. This week my writing routine has been severely taxed. And inside I am not so much Mrs. Cranky as Mrs. Discombulated. I love have early morning writing time. With the expected Second Coming of the Septic Tank Man I set my alarm. But apparently not early enough! I had some very desultory writing practice done when his truck roared up in front of the house. From then on there was no peace until I met my lift into the new Weaving/Textile Art class run by my creative colleague Morag in Dowra Courthouse this morning. Two hours of getting to grips with warp, weft, hard and handy chased all thoughts literary out of my head. (Which I do reckon to Be A Good Thing for me. Get out of my head. Do something that does not come easily so I really focus. Which is effected with much muttering to self. Sorry, fellow weavers!)

But it did make me realise how wedded I have become to this routine. It has not always panned out that I could post early, but a good solid chunk of time first thing in the morning was devoted to becoming awake (always a very tender time for me) and then writing. I need a very gentle entry time to the day to remain centred. Or so it has become abundantly apparent. And what will happen in a little over a week’s time when I will have completed the 365 days of the Poetry Daily? I experienced…not quite panic. But certainly a wobble. Which then became more real when a friend messaged with a query as to how I plan to celebrate the completion of the 365 days of Poem a Day? Not a clue…Which is denial of the real winds of change.

Not the least of which is that my husband has been on a concerted campaign of clean up, sort out and get rid of. He has been orbitting the Flat Pack universe these past two weeks constructing new wardrobes, chest of drawers and storage schemes. Like many old Irish homes there are no closets. Storage is always an issue. Our home was constructed in times when people had a lot less stuff. And that was probably a really good thing. A faithful reader, Sherri, has a very good Four Point Plan for ‘stuff.’ Can I eat it? Can I wear it? Can I read it? Can I make art from it? If not, please do not give it to me!

And even with those categories we can have too much of a good thing. These are rather narrow wardrobes to fit the dimensions of the bedrooms. The extra tall bookcase has filled up fast despite two big bags of give aways to the charity shop. So I reverted to Marie Kendo’s ‘does it spark joy?’ query for should anything stay. Has to be done to make room for more book joy and art joy. We have already had one trip to the recycling centre and charity shop. It will probably be the first of many as we methodically tidy up our act.

And as another friend observed today, when they chopped down the second half of the spruce plantation in front of our house last winter, a lot more light flooded into our living space. That certainly inspired Tony to do major reconfiguring in the garden in the spring and summer. Now with the autumn and winter he has unleashed that focus onto the house interior.

And I have not been idle either as Her Indoors has re-read the poems written over the past twelve months and more. I have put together a longlist of poems in a document for second reading and some tweaking, spell checking (blush!) and editting. There is a working title for a solo collection. The next step is to hand it over to a mentor and editor for their housekeeping on the project to pull it together for submitting to publishers.

So after lunch I had another bash at the poetry practice with results that were a bit more satisfying. (I have had enough caffeine by now. I realise that writers have a reputation – mostly fostered by Hemingway and Co. – of being hard drinkers, but the truth of the matter is that we are more probably caffeine junkies.)

Poetry Sparks Joy

Sweeping debris that is overburdensome
we slimline house and home and our routines.
We have too much stuff and too little space
to live our out lives with some simple grace.
The letting go is never easy doing,
nor the establishment of a New Regime
when burrowing up and out from beneath
my heaps and piles. Never very Zen.
What routines to keep? What ones to renew?
What sparks joy? Writing poetry. That's true.
Better go give Marie Kendo her due.
Let go with thanks. Time to feng shui it, too.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Two More Weeks of Poetry Daily

Late comers to the party, back on 15th September 2018 I began to write a poem a day. That wasn’t the initial intention. I knew I could do a month. I was a two year NaPoWriMo veteran. But I decided to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Because the news last September was making me feel really uncomfortable. The poetry making stabilised me. So I kept at it. And sometimes people would tell me that reading the poems helped them with whatever was happening in their own life. By putting the drama on the page, I somehow diluted it and took charge of part of it. In what many consider quite a passive art form, I became an actor. I persevered. Month upon month I amazed myself as the poems piled up.

Until now. I am two weeks off the the anniversary of what one friend titled ‘The Poetry Daily.” I will have completed a 365 day round of poetry practice as of 14th September, 2019. I don’t have a massive following, but I will say that they have been incredibly faithful over the past year. While I was not surprised to see readers from the USA, UK, Ireland, and Canada, I have been grateful for the handful of readers on the Indian subcontinent who have persisted in returning to the blog again and again. This has helped on days when I didn’t really feel it, or felt kind of unwell, or was busy, or had any number of potential excuses not to write. I thank you all most sincerely.

Keeping at it has been helped by prompts from NaPoWriMo.net’s 30 days of poetry inspiration last April. This August I participated in Angela T. Carr’s 30 Days of Summer Writing Challenge which I found on her blog ‘A Dreaming Skin’ on WordPress. Today’s Poetry Daily is the final one from that challenge. Then it is up to me to finish off the final two weeks.

The final prompt from the 30 Days of Summer Writing Challenge is ‘Back to School.’ And, just by the by, I did open a new ‘jotter’ in the past couple days. And placed another volume of first drafts of the poetry daily onto my bookcase shelf. So there will be new poems, just not posted daily, but weekly. I have a lot of editting to do over the next three months!

 Back to School

A new moon. New jotter. New pencil case.
New pencils, all tall, sharpened to fine point.
New pens, brimful of ink. New book bag
for new texts, their secrets and spines uncracked.
Their new book smell, sewn slick pages, book paste.

Corridors spit polished echo anew.
Thunder of footfall, the rush of 'Don't Run!'
The loneliest of crowds, cornered, corralled,
faces blank pages before magic boards.
The shock of the new, the fear of the blank.
The empty to be filled, credit that's banked.
Terror to be faced and bullies outflanked.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Banter Snaps on Unsplash

Exploring

Sunday’s theme of journey is still rattling around my head. But I won’t be offering a nice visual poetry graphic today. It’s not that I have gone off quotation poems. But, maybe I am anticipating the shift as of the beginning of next month. As of the first of August I will be receiving a daily prompt in my email inbox from Angela T. Carr’s Dreaming Skin blog here on WordPress for a freewrite free for all for thirty days. As of the first of August I will be closing in on a full 365 days of writing a poem a day and posting it here, which began back on 15th September 2018. I have explored in what my friend Sheri dubbed “The Poetry Daily” many kinds of poetry form, many themes. I have responded to current events, had a bit of a vent at times, deflected grief and dipped down into it. Much of the time I may be trying to connect all the dots just for myself. But I have also had individuals tell me that some speak to their condition, and that some days they may even help. Those kind words have kept me at it.

While I was exploring technique and form, writing a poem a day and posting it to make sure I was really sticking at it became a form of spiritual practice, a way of interrogating my soul at times. The creative process is sometimes mysterious. But it is also as mundane as just showing up and picking up the notebook and pen and trusting that something will appear. And it does. I have confidence in this process. I also know that it is good for me. It literally has pushed me out of my comfort zone. The morning sloth of six decades may not be a chirpy morning lark, but she is up. And in the quiet of a snoozing house she is writing. I also allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to put out my less than spit polished babies on show in public. I let go of ideals of perfection for simply the act of doing the work. Perfectionism can be death to risking all for art making. I just called it practice. And it is a practice. But it is also, on days when everything aligns, making poetry.

I commend this practice to you.

As for the daily poem for the Poetry Daily this Monday I found myself musing about explorers encountering something new or unexpected. Journeying out, migrating is just part of the human experience. We are more journey makers than settlers. Trying to make people stay put is futile. They hungered for new worlds and wealth from before the fifteenth century. They put a man on the moon in the twentieth century. But what do we do when we go from here to there? Do we go in peace and friendship?

Conquerer

It is in our blood, the urge to explore.
How did it feel, conquistador
to pitch up in the southern hemisphere,
find the seasons all upside down?
Did your wide smile turn into frown
when you foun no Eternal Summerland
in Brazil, no Fountain of Youth
in Florida? No stepping off
The Wheel. Did you decide then to conquer
Mother Nature? To rape and take,
to exert your will, to punish
Fortuna for making you feel a fool?


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

One Place of Belonging

Keeping the poetry practice visual today. Partly because my sinus cavities are stuffed with what feels like wire wool. Partly because I want to play with creating words with images. I am torn between wanting to go back to sleep to recoup the lost hours spent feeling not particularly wonderful and wanting to get on with the tasks that have been left undone while I have been feeling frail, pale and uninteresting this past week. Or I could just stay in bed and read. There are options to be weighed for the day.

So here it is! A micropoem in an infographic format.

May you know your one place that is the every place of belonging.

There Are Years

The weekend, with its delights, is beginning early. This afternoon there will be a meet up of the summer migrants, my friend and another (we share an alma mater) who make an annual summer migration to the West Cavan/Leitrim environs. It feels like vacation for the year round residents, too. Poetry practice may be sacrosanct, but I am rushing it a bit in anticipation of future treats!

This evening I am looking forward to attending a lecture on Sheela na gigs over at Teach Ban, a cottage beside the Drumcliffe Graveyard where W. B. Yeats’ bones were finally interred in Irish soil (or maybe not, because they may have exhumed the wrong body.) Although this visit will be tinged with a certain sadness. Something is missing from the churchyard. It’s the first time I have visited since the sculpture by local artist Jackie McKenna was stolen. Another friend was the model.

Jackie McKenna, Cloth of Dreams
Cloth of Dreams by Jackie McKenna, stolenfrom Drumcliffe Churchyard

I am still wanting to explore the breadth and limitations of this quotation poem form. To reprise, it is a five line poem: Line 1 being the quotation, the second line is something about or from the past, the third line is an action, the fourth line is the the theme and the final line is something about the future.

When I woke up this morning I was thinking “I wonder what Zora Neale Hurston has to say?” Apart from being a writer and a fellow lover of the djembe drum, Zora rocked a hat worn with a very authoritative and jaunty angle. (Envy!) In her life, there were hard rows to hoe, but in her writing there is something not just so resilient, but ebullient. Go seek her out in the library. Here is the quotation:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Zora Neale Hurston
There are Years

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here?
The who and where and what could get problematic.
The core of the apple is the seed of this 'I.'
Harvest is the response to the universe's call.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.



zora neale hurston djembe
Zora NealeHurston and djembe