Sunday, February 1, 2015

Using the Archipelagos

            It’s a new month, and a short one—a perfect time to embark on a poetry project.
            I’ve mentioned before that I like working in projects, as doing so eliminates the need to spend time pondering over a subject or messing around with a false start.
            This month, I’m sort of feeling my age—not my physical age, which seems to range from twelve to about eighty, but my poetry age. I’m late getting a full-length book published, and it sometimes feels as though time is passing me by. I’m twenty-one years older than John Keats when he died, and, come to think of it, thirteen years past Jesus. It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that anyone will ever name a city after me, or even, for that matter, a dog.
            So no fiddle-farting around for me—I am feeling an urgent need to make my writing count, and a poetry project results in poems of greater depth, or at least greater breadth (a good fake for depth). Good poetry requires good thinking, and I find it mighty hard to think on most days. If I set the alarm to get up early so I can stare off into space, chances are good that a kid will get up, too, and thinking time becomes breakfast time. If I stay up late (not my best time for functioning, as a morning person), chances are good that someone, somewhere, will barf—probably on me.
            A few times a year I take a writing retreat—I have one coming up in a few weeks, in fact—and those long weekends out of town—and alone—have proven to be critically important to my progress as a poet. Keats didn’t have kids. Neither, for that matter, did Jesus, although he was more a storyteller than a writer.
            On my writing retreats, I write poems, but I do other things, too, like shuffle the manuscript around and spend long, fuzzy moments over a cup of tea. It’s all part of the work of poetry.
            But in the mean time, I have to make my spots of time work—the minutes that open up between feeding and playing and cleaning and paper-grading. There are actually a lot of free minutes in the day, if we’re being honest about it (thank you, Xbox); they’re just not contiguous. A poetry project makes it easier to get down to business in those archipelagos of time we do have.
            Throughout February, I’ll be operating from a word bank that I’m still finalizing. This means that each poem will contain words from a list—not all of the words, but some. The trick is to pick interesting words—words that aren’t obvious, but that still evoke some kind of response when I look at them. One of my February words is “litter.” I like how it suggests things—anything—strewn across my path, and I like the sound of it, like dried leaves skittering across the bricks. I don’t know where “litter” is going to take me, but I’m eager to find out.
            My word bank, ultimately, will have twelve to twenty words that anchor my thinking. I have no other plans in mind; it is my hope (and my experience) that the words I choose will want to play together, and that each day they will suggest a subject for rumination.

            I’ll let you know how it goes.