Saturday, April 30, 2016

National Poetry Life

            We’ve arrived at the last day of National Poetry Month (happy NaPoMo, belatedly!), and another 30/30 project has come and gone.
The 2016 edition was no different than any other year for me. I took on too many projects, both writing poems and reviewing poetry releases. All across the Internet, poetry publishers offered fascinating daily features and prompts, but there were so many that I had a hard time keeping up with them. Add in an urgent family medical crisis, some unexpected travel, and a bout of depression, and the picture comes clear. I didn’t quite manage to do all that I set out to accomplish.
            Each year, I make grand plans to honor and promote poetry during the month of April. Among those plans is the writing of a daily poem, and that is a personal commitment I really enjoy. When I’m living life the way I want to, rather than working too hard in order to make ends meet, I do have a daily writing habit, and if I’m not working on a larger project, it’s not unusual for a small poem to result from each day’s efforts.
            A 30/30 project—that is, dedicating oneself to writing a poem per day for thirty straight days—can be invigorating for an artist, and it’s definitely fun to look back on a successful effort and mark the accomplishment. In recent years, I completed two 30/30 projects for Tupelo Press as part of their ongoing fundraising series, and work from those two very productive months is included in both of my soon-to-be-published poetry collections. Creatively, this small, pleasurable source of pressure is good for me.
            But as a way of celebrating National Poetry Month, I wonder if we would be better served to turn our attention outward, instead of inward, and to celebrate other poets’ work, rather than generating more of our own.
            This is the twentieth year for National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. On its website, the Academy offers a list of goals for the month-long celebration, and I notice that all of them seem to focus on reading, instead of writing, poetry.
Lord knows poetry needs a little help. Even I find myself reaching more often for the comparative ease of fiction, and most readers avoid poetry altogether, and perhaps never even encounter verse at all, whether online or on a shelf.
            In recent days, I’ve heard a few 30/30 participants seek clarification about whether their poems from the project should be regarded as published if they’ve been posted on a website or in social media. It’s a tricky question, and the answer has a lot to do with scope.
            If you post your poem on your Facebook page for your five hundred friends to see, you could probably regard the work as unpublished. If you have five thousand friends (the maximum number allowed), and you’re trying to be published in a print journal with a print run of eight hundred or a thousand, it is awfully hard to make the case that you have not already had your work made public for an audience—a larger audience than most print journals could hope to provide.
            When a literary organization posts your work on a website, as some do, that work is published. Sometimes the organization removes the posts after a period of time—maybe after the month is through—and the evidence disappears. But if you are asked later by a journal to sign a contract declaring the work to be unpublished, you face a bit of a conundrum. The work was indeed published—from the Latin publicare, “made public”—even if it later disappeared.
            My philosophy? We should write more poems and not fret about the status of a month’s work. We have more months.
            A lot of people throw their heart and soul into daily poetry projects during National Poetry Month. I love reading each day’s poem, and I enjoy sharing mine. Sometimes I look back at poems I’ve produced and I wonder what I was thinking, writing or sharing such a mess. This, though, is what makes every April crackle and buzz with energy. It can be fun to put ego aside and just share in the creative process for a bit.
            To reach this goal of building a readership for poetry, though, I’ll bet we can do better. We can share those poems we love and that move us so that perhaps other readers will catch the bug and begin to look for meaning in poems, too. There is nothing more stunning than that poem that speaks directly to us and reminds us we’re all connected.
It’s so strange to offer up a single month to something that is the driving force in my life every single day. I love the communal nature of National Poetry Month, and I will always jump in with both feet. But I am living a National Poetry Life, and I cherish the work and company of fellow poets every day of the year.
Are you with me? If so, here is our challenge for NaPoLife: Let’s continue to be dedicated to, or even obsessed by, poetry. Perhaps we might write something longer—apply days or even weeks of concentration to a single poem and see where it takes us. And we can read poetry, and share poems, and promote the work of poets we admire.

We can build audiences for poetry every day of the year, and in doing so, we can transform the lives and spirits of people we love. It’s a profoundly worthy lifelong mission.

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