Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
Break from writing no cause for penance in Poetry Month
It’s National Poetry Month! A month devoted to celebrating poetry and all it can be and do. A month when creativity abounds, and poets’ pens and keyboards are a blur of wild productivity. Right?
Well, not necessarily. As wonderful as that scenario sounds, the reality is that my last few weeks have been especially busy. I’ve been traveling, taking care of appointments and house repairs, teaching, grading, and, like all of us, weathering bad weather. What I haven’t really been doing is writing poems.
Years ago, I felt guilty when I went through a patch like this. How could I be a writer, I thought, if I wasn’t writing? But getting older has taught me many things, including to let go of that useless guilt.
Life requires flexibility, and I’ve been at this poetry thing long enough to know that a break isn’t an ending. On the contrary, sometimes a break is how we rev up for what’s next. I think of these stretches as “fallow” times, like the agricultural practice of allowing a plot of farmland to go unplanted for a growing period so that it can replenish its natural nutrients.
And even on days when we’re too busy to do much but keep our heads down and check off necessary tasks, we can stay close to poetry. During these fallow times, maintaining a written record of small daily observations can be an excellent way to ensure that we’re staying attuned to the world around us, as well as a wonderful resource from which we can draw when we’re ready.
This Month’s Poetry Break: Building an Observation Archive
First, consider where you want to record your observations. Try to keep them all together—in a notebook, a file, your phone’s Notes app—so that you can easily look through them later. I like writing by hand for this daily record-keeping (preferably using a purple felt tip pen in my yellow journal) but find whatever brings you a spark of happiness.
Your job is simple: to notice. For the next week, or three, or ten, before you go to bed, make a point to write down one concrete image from your day.
This can be anything that strikes you: the lopsided V of geese that honked overhead at dusk, or that one gray squirrel that kept chattering at you as you wheeled the garbage out, or the way the steam from your coffee curled up toward the ceiling this morning. Of course you can write down more than one image if you like, but remind yourself that you only need to jot down one.
And that’s it. You don’t need to comment on the image or explain why you noticed it. You can write a sentence or two, or just a fragment. What matters is the act of observing. In making this a daily practice, we train ourselves to be paying attention always, culling our daily lives for potential poems.
Day 1: This morning the hot pink crepe myrtle blossoms looked almost fake against the gray sky.
Day 2: I carried a box turtle to the other side of the street. Its shell was hot from the sun and slightly cracked on the left side.
Day 3: Rain against my kitchen window like a carwash.
Keep up with this daily practice as best you can, through fallow periods and beyond. You’ll see how quickly the rich images add up. The next time you’re ready to spend some time writing, open up your record of noticing and read through it. Enjoy wandering this rich unsown field of your observations. What will you plant? Take your time. Write your life.
Catherine Pierce is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the author of four books of poems, most recently “Danger Days”. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.