Although it's been happening since 2017, I hadn't heard of the Sealey Challenge until this year. Much earlier, poet Dave Bonta read one volume of poetry each day of April, which is National Poetry Month. I couldn't imagine being able to do that.
I'm still not sure why I thought I could do it this year. It was August 1 when I decided. If the first day of August hadn't been on a Saturday, I might not have tried. If my spouse hadn't been taking a long nap that day, I might not have decided to make the leap. If I didn't have a few books of poetry in my book stacks (as opposed to my packed up book boxes), I might have lost the opportunity.
Some people spent months planning their Sealey Challenge--in fact, that's how I found out about it, by people posting photos of their stacks of books that were ready for August. I did worry that I wouldn't have enough to read, since many of my books are still packed away. Happily, I can still get books from the public library, although the process is much more laborious.
I did a short post each day, giving a micro review of each book. Here's an example: "The Sealey Challenge, Day 29: Richard Blanco's "How to Love a Country." We are all exiles now, longing for a country that may never love us back. Or will it? Blanco says, "to know a country takes all we know of love" (p. 70), and sometimes we're rewarded. Moving poems exploring the terrain of exile and immigration and love of all sorts."
I also posted a photo of each book, a photo which said something about the book. This process took on a life of its own--I'll write a separate blog post about that process later on this week.
So what did I learn? The most important thing: I have more time than I think that I do. It's not a new lesson for me, but it's important to revisit it periodically. I realized how much time I usually spend in somewhat mindless scrolling and internet zipping. Why is it so hard for me to avoid those traps?
I also learned that my poetry stands up against the poetry I've been reading. I've got some manuscripts which are publishable. I didn't really have doubts, but it's interesting to read a lot of recently published work and to see how my manuscript would fit in.
I chose to read only female writers and the male writers that I included were people of color. I've spent plenty of time reading white male writers. Most of the authors I chose were familiar to me, in part because I didn't spend the month of July planning to explore new authors. But I was happy with my choices. Even when I read books I had already read, it was a treat to revisit them.
For the most part, I read each book in one fell swoop. Most of them took me about an hour of concentrated reading. I often planned to pick up the book when I wasn't likely to be interrupted. It wasn't the kind of deep reading I might ordinarily do, but it was rewarding in itself.
I learned that the perfect page # for a book of poems is 65-80 pages. I read a few volumes that were over 120 pages--that's a bit too much for most readers to sustain the focus.
I had hoped that I might emerge from the month of August with all sorts of poems of my own to write. Perhaps that will happen. I've felt a bit more fluid in that way in the last 2 weeks.
All in all, it was a great experience--but I am ready to slow down from the breakneck pace of August.