Just like drinking enough water, immersing myself in words for some time each
day makes me happier and healthier. Image © Lori Gravley.
I met with a poet I much admire this summer, and when I told him I aimed to write a poem every day his response was that he wasn’t sure that was a good idea.
But he was over ten years younger than I am with four published, award-winning books. He has young children still at home. He has papers to grade and lessons to plan. Perhaps for him writing a poem a day or aiming to would be stifling, impossible, narcissistic.
My children are grown. I don’t have to grade or make lesson plans. I don’t expect that every poem I write will sparkle with wit and genius. Sometimes I know that what I’ve written as a poem is merely a journal entry with right hand line breaks. But I have I don't have the patience or time to just sit and think about writing anymore. I hate to think about all the lines that have flown back into the universe because I was sitting and thinking but not writing.
I’ll admit, I played with the idea last year that writing a poem a day might not be good for my writing (I even went days without writing a new poem), and, well, I did not find that to be true..
My best days were made better by thinking poetically, trying to find the beauty, the nugget, the word to catch that day or moment. My worst days were made better or at least made visible by my willingness to sit with what was and try to find the words to describe my suffering or ennui. My everyday was made better by my attention to the world and to my own interior life on a daily basis. When my children were younger and I had papers to grade, I could go months without giving myself that attention.
If what the poet I spoke with meant was that writing a wonderful or even good poem everyday might be too high a thing to aspire to, I can fully agree with that. There is much dross in what I create each day.
Sharon Olds mentioned during a talk on her recent (and wonderful) book Odes that she could never tell if a poem she was writing would be good or bad, so she just wrote a lot and let her judging self determine value after the generative work was complete. She estimated that fewer than ten percent of the poems she wrote were publishable, but that more might be brought to that point with some careful revision. That seems about right to me.
Very few of the poems I write and rewrite each day (I do work on the poems until they are as close to what they seem to want to express as I can make them) are publishable just as they are. Most likely, that number for me is much fewer than ten percent. More poems have a nugget or spark that seem worth working with. The others (the larger percent of them) are just practice, free throw shots that hit the rim or glance off the backboard.
I guess I’m an artist who requires a lot of practice. I’m so thankful that I have space in my life now and the yearning to learn as much as I can about this craft I’ve devoted most of my life to. Perhaps like Pablo Casals in his late sixties, after so many years of work, I’m happy to come to my craft each day. I, too, feel I’m making daily progress. Most importantly, I continue to take joy in my ability to do the work and in the time I have to do it.