Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What National Poetry Month Teaches Us

Last night, Dave Bonta and I interviewed William Trowbridge, author of the last of the 4 books that we read together for National Poetry Month (look for that podcast next week).  Our conversation with Ren Powell can be heard here, as well as links to the other responses to her book.  For those of you who haven't heard enough of my voice, on Voice Alpha this week, we're presenting our readings of the same poem, Elisa Albo's "How to Make a Raft," and I'm the first reader here.

Each April holds a different lesson for us.  In past years, when I've attempted to write a poem a day, I learned that I didn't need to wait for inspiration, that I just needed to sit down long enough to sink into the writing.  I also learned that I needed to be thinking about the next day's poem, observing and pondering and getting ready. 

What has this April taught me?  It is good to read a book of poems a month, and it's good to know that someone else is doing it too.  It's good to know that a phone interview is coming, and the book should be read by then.  It is good to have those deadlines.

I am not sure I could continue at this pace, although I'm sure that I'll miss this weekly engagement with a single volume.

I am still working at achieving balance:  what is the work that needs to be done this month, this week, this day?  Often the writing of individual poems has been the sacrifice as I've read the volume of poetry, blogged about it, and participated in the interview.  I've also been trying to promote my forthcoming book.  If you haven't bought your copy yet, time is running out!  Go here to order (scroll down until you get to me; buy some others while you're there).

I've spent years yearning to have  my very own book with a spine, and I still want that to happen.  I have several manuscripts that would make very good books.  But the reading of full-length volumes has reminded me of the beauty of the chapbook.  I like the smaller length.  I've been reading lots of full-length volumes in the past 2 months, both with Dave Bonta's project, and as I prepared for my CEA presentation.  There have been times when I've wished for shorter volumes.

As I've prepared manuscripts, I've approached them in a certain way, the consumer's way:  how many poems can I pack into a manuscript so that buyers get the most poems for their dollars?  As a reader, perhaps I'll approach poetry manuscripts differently:  do I really need 90 or 100 pages of poems?  Is that just too exhausting for a reader?  What's the difference in the quality of reading experience between a 55 page manuscript and a 95 page one?  I might very well decide that 55 pages is too short.  But as book publishing becomes ever cheaper, I must remember to resist the temptation to stuff every poem I've ever written on a subject into the volume.

Let me hasten to add that I'm not accusing any author of doing that.  The books that I've been reading hold together very well and show evidence of careful thought.  I'm just aware of my own tendency to want every poem that I consider finished to have its moment on the manuscript stage, and I want to remember that the book might suffer if I give in to that tendency.

Once again, National Poetry Month reminds me that there's only so much time in a day, a week a month.  This month always reminds me of how much time I waste, even though I've gotten fairly good at jettisoning the tasks that aren't important to me, the ones my culture would have me doing (like dusting or washing windows or ironing).  But I'm amazed at how many pointless tasks remain.  Take, for example, the sorting of e-mail.  I keep a lot of older e-mails.  I don't delete them right away, because what if they're important later?  And then, later, I have to read them again, to determine if they're important.  And if I think they might be, I have to sort them into electronic file folders.  And how often are they really important anyway?  What would happen if I just deleted them all?  Hmm.  Something to ponder.

I've felt fed in all kinds of ways this month.  I've seen poets read.  I've prepared a poetry event at school (today, noon-1, HarborWalk 213--bring a poem to share!).  I've plotted my own readings with other poets.  I've had the opportunity to discuss books of poetry with the poets who wrote them.  I've had the joy of talking about books and creative processes with all sorts of people.  What a fabulous month!

Some might say that we wouldn't want every month to be this way.  It reminds me of when I've had a good week-end with friends, and I feel sad at the end of it.  I try to console myself by saying that I couldn't continue at that pace--but what if I'm wrong?  What if every month could be like this one?  What if I really made poetry a priority, not just this month, but every month?

1 comment:

DJ Vorreyer said...

Great post, Kristin. I've thought a lot about what you've mentioned in the last paragraph. And although I don't think I could keep pace with writing a poem a day, I agree that April has reminded me that I can certainly spend my time being more mindfully engaged with words, as I have this month.