then head over to my main website that has links to my creative work (poetry, photography, and miscellaneous projects). I’ll be blogging there more often, and gradually moving most of the posts on this blog over there. The address is travispoling.com
I know excuses aren’t helpful, but the past few months have been rough, and I’m not even talking about my writing practice. I was feeling good about writing every day throughout most of February, and then life showed up. Sometimes there are events that are beyond our control. I didn’t stop writing entirely, but I haven’t yet developed a robust daily practice so I can’t just swing back into it when it gets away from me. Now that life is starting to get back to normal, I’ve been thinking about publication. I have a backlog of poems that have yet to be published. It takes no less work; it’s just different work. When I’m writing a poem for the first time, I revise it over and over for awhile, then put it away till the next new poem comes. But when I want to publish that older poem, I usually don’t feel like it can go out as is. Publication gives me deadlines to get a poem as close to perfect as I can. I work it a hundred times harder when it could potentially be out in the world to be judged by people who know more about poetry than I do. So now I’m compiling three poems to send out to a contest. I want to do more contests, since that’s how to get income directly from your work. I’m also applying to a conference scholarship, so I put together ten pages of poems for the application. That was a good exercise to see which of my poems are the strongest, and how they relate to each other on the page. Writing is the original thing I love to do. But I also love reworking and discussing my work with others. I might be one of the rare poets who enjoy the workshop model of critique. (I’m in two writing groups at this time, one that I joined voluntarily, and one that I organized and invited others to join voluntarily!) It’s been said that workshopping makes people write to meet standards of the group, but if I’m allowing others to dictate my poems, then I’m not a very good poet. William Stafford said “an artist is a person who decides.” It’s up to me how I write. And just as (or more) importantly, it’s up to me how I revise. I’ve been revising a lot in the past week, and that can only make me a stronger poet.
My first piece of advice for writers: Write daily. Or develop a regular practice where you write as often as is right for you.
My second: when you can’t write, revise.
3 would be: Publish publish publish. Always have something out. When one piece is rejected, send it back out to somewhere else. My sense is that poets who have hundreds or thousands of poems published always have something under consideration at a journal, contest, or book publisher. Always be publishing.
I am revisiting Terry Tempest Williams’ memoir When Women Were Birds about finding her voice as a writer as she discovers her recently deceased mother’s blank journals. In her grief, Williams begins to write her own words in these inherited journals. The book feels as if we are reading her journal entries, not just personal essays about the journals. That got me wondering about Williams’ writing process. I wondered if she wrote in journals or notebooks, as I prefer. I didn’t find the answers to my question, but I came across this quote from her:
“I live in a very, very quiet place. I have a sequence to my creative life. In spring and fall, I am above ground and commit to community. In the summer, I’m outside. It is a time for family. And in the winter, I am underground. Home. This is when I do my work as a writer — in hibernation. I write with the bears.”
I’ve been developing my daily writing practice in February, and I’d like to think Williams is also writing daily on the other side of the continent. I hope I can carry my writing habit into the sunlight as I emerge from hibernation. In fact, I feel as if I’m coming out of a years-long hibernation through my daily writing practice in my journals.
Or maybe I am writing with the bobcat and cougar, who don’t hibernate at all, but remain active year round. In When Women Were Birds and other works, Terry Tempest Williams identities herself as a member of Coyote Clan. Perhaps I’m a member of Cougar Clan.
Nye says write three lines in a notebook everyday.
Goldberg says write three lines in three minutes.
Stafford would say that’s three more lines than you had before.
When I graduated college, a professor gave me a copy of Letters to a Young Poet and I’ve been reading through it lately. Here’s a thought from my journal dated February 4, 2018:
Rilke says in his first letter to go deep within and find what bids you to be a writer. For me, the act itself calls out. My thoughts, unwritten, will blow away. My memories, my emotions, and how I make sense of them. Poetry is how I order the world. Without poetry, without even the simple action of writing, life is chaos, or seems that way. In writing, I can find the thread that goes through it all.
I woke up early and saw I had enough time to write. But write what? I was barely awake. The room was dark and the heat hadn’t come on yet. It’s cold out and there’s too much snow from last night. I don’t want to get up. But my bladder made me get up. I turned on the light and the heat, pissed, looked in the mirror at my crazy hair. I’m gonna need a shower. But first, coffee and a poem. I remember Stafford made instant coffee every morning before he wrote. Sometimes he jogged too. So poetry wasn’t his first thing. His body came first. Not like Bly, who tried an experiment inspired by Stafford. For a year he didn’t get out of bed until he had written a poem. He got a whole book of poems out of it. I don’t know if Bly continued the practice. Stafford did it for most of his life—was it fifty years he wrote every morning? I doubt he got a poem every morning. Certainly most of them weren’t any good. He published a few thousand. Fifty years of mornings is eleven thousand, if my morning math is right.
If you knew most poems you wrote were going to be worthless, would you write more? Somehow this is encouraging.
A Bad Poem
I just wrote for ten minutes in bed
before my morning class.
I was nervous about class when
I first opened my eyes.
But now the important work
of the day is done.
I’ve put a few lines down
in my journal.
Or maybe this form?…
I just wrote for ten minutes in bed before my morning class.
I was nervous about class when I first opened my eyes.
But now the important work of the day is done.
I’ve put a few lines down in my journal.