Project 365+1 – writing a poem a day in June

DSC_7496-Pano-2It’s been a while since my last post and I guess this is because I’m writing again, which exposes this blog as a pure strain of procrastination. If the words are flowing, I don’t even think about this blog. When the words won’t come or I’m feeling pressured, suddenly writing a post pops up on my to-do list and lurks there, successfully making me feel inefficient and lazy.

After a year or so of not writing poetry I’m finally back in the groove. I’d been concentrating on finishing the exegetical component of my PhD so I’d really only managed to whip off the odd poem, which to me doesn’t feel like it constitutes really writing poetry. Really writing for me is sitting down for an hour or two each day to read, write, think about, muck around with or research poetry. It had been so long since I’d been in a really writing phase I’d begun to suspect my time as a poet was done. I’d lost it.

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What I’d failed to consider was fear. Last month two things happened in swift succession that scared me back to the desk. The first was being asked by Ken Bolton to do a reading at the Lee Marvin sessions. I had nothing. Zip. No new work at all and the last writing I’d done that I was happy to read in public I’d already used. There was nothing to be done but produce something new.

So I dug out some notes, sat down and sculpted those pages of random thoughts into a set of poems. It felt good. Fantastic, actually. Not that the writing was anything special, in fact I felt incredibly rusty, but the process and how I felt at the end of each day of writing was wonderful. Like muscles the day after you start to exercise again after a break – stiff and a little sore but virtuous as all hell.

Then I received a message from Lizz Murphy, a poet from NSW whom I’d not met in person. She’d seen some of my work online, liked it and invited me to be a guest blogger for Project 365+1. I’d seen Project 365+1 on facebook and was a little in awe of the people involved. They are pretty much all established poets or the kind of emerging poets whose names I’d seen in literary journals and on prize lists. These poets were posting a poem or a piece of creative material on the Project 365+1 blog every day. Every day. All year.

I’ll come clean and admit that I’ve tried to do the poem a day thing in the past. Tried and failed. A NaPoWriMo crash and burn, usually in the first week. So I knew enough about my writing habits, or lack of them, to be scared of a similarly spectacular fail this time around.

Despite my concerns, I decided get a bit Dr Phil and have a stern word with myself about doing something that scares me yada yada. So I said yes to Ken and yes to Lizz.

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On the first day of June I started strong, each day working from a pile of notes for poem ideas that had backed up over the last 12 months. Once I’d used them up I moved to my stash of failed poems, giving them a harsh rework and posting the result as my creative output for the day. That well eventually ran dry too. So I’m delving into undiscovered territory – personal material. Quite frankly, this is terrifying. Writing about my family, my past or just my interior life is not something I’m at all comfortable about. Usually, if I use the first person in a poem it is a fictional self. Yes, I mine my life for material, but it highly disguised by the time it makes it into a poem.

People find this surprising due to the rise and continued popularity of confessional poetry. If readers come across an “I” in a poem they assume it refers to the poet and that the poet is saying something true and authentic about their life. Not me. I lie all the time. A generous layer of fiction usually protects my interior life and personal history. The poet in my poems is someone like me but not actually me. Until now. Poem-a-day desperation has eroded that layer and I’m mining myself for material. It’s not pretty. And it’s uncomfortable. I’m walking around without my skin. I can be seen.

Bridal Gap2 July 15

It has brought many issues to the surface: my fear of exposure, letting people get too close, fear of hurting my family or those close to me. It would be easier if I weren’t so happy with the poems I’m writing on these subjects. They’re not brilliant, but for first drafts I’m pretty satisfied with them.

So, Poem-a-day challenge ticked off the bucket list. Not that it was actually on the list, but the feeling of achievement that I’m now experiencing means it probably should’ve been.

If you want to read the poems I’ve been posting during June, the Project 365+1 blog is here.

 

I may post a few of them on this blog eventually too. I’ve really loved the practice of matching each poem to a photo (all of them taken by my incredibly gifted husband Andrew Noble or me (mostly Andrew) with the exception of a couple from my family photo album and these are such old photos I can’t remember who took them).

Simon Armitage

4 thoughts on “Project 365+1 – writing a poem a day in June

  1. Well done Rachael. Great achievement, not just to do 30 poems in a month, but to achieve the consistent quality that you did. You are the “Poem a Day Queen” as far as I’m concerned.

    • Thanks so much Mike. Since you are the poem-a-day King that makes us a royal couple. We must beware the paparazzi at Mean St. x

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