Reader, my alarm went off this morning but apparently I didn’t hear it. There was a mad scramble of lunch packing and sunscreen application instead of my usual dark and quiet writing time. So I’m a bit later than usual with the roundup. Here we go:
NaPoRevMo update Those who’ve been reading along know that instead of writing a poem a day for poetry month, I’ve decided to revise a poem each day. So far, I’ve kept to my goal, which feels good. I arranged the poems by subject, and this week tackled three in the Mail Order Bride series (including my fave title right now: “Fifteen Years Later the Mail Order Bride Finds Her Answer to His Ad in the Sock Drawer”), and two long-ish prose poems about my experience of chronic illness. Some of the revision was a simple spit-and-polish; others were full re-drafts. Stay tuned next week for some posts on particular revision strategies that have been useful for me. How is poetry month going for you?
finding the time Many times when I tell people that I’m a poet with three children, they ask me: “How do you find the time to write?” Well, there are many ways. Mostly I find it by getting up really early. Other times I skip housework, let laundry pile up, or serve scrambled eggs for dinner. I’ve been known to draft and/or revise poems on the way to the zoo, on the sidelines of a soccer game, and even while driving — by having my kids repeat and remember a particular phrase until we’re home and I can write it down. For many years I kept my hair long so I wouldn’t have to spend much time having it cut, styled, or otherwise fussed with (in fact, I’m considering doing that again). And then there have been the times when I’ve just accepted that life itself was going to have to be my poem for a particular week.
But the thing that has helped me most in finding time to write is this mantra: do your own work first. Before your blog post, before checking in on Facebook, before working on the review you said you’d write, before critiquing your po-friend’s latest draft, before all that — do your own reading and writing. You’ll find ways to get the other stuff done, but it’s much too easy to put off your own work and let it go undone. Don’t.
Read more on this topic this from Anne Lamott in Sunset Magazine. And please note: this is not to get all rigid and shaming and inflexible. There are times when life really does (and really must) interfere with writing time. Be gentle with yourself during those times, and during the rest of the time, get ‘er done. **Updated to add: the poet Molly Fisk sent me the link to this article, for which I am grateful.
parallelism Some of my favorite poems in all of literature come from the Hebrew scriptures and wisdom literature. Regardless of whether you read this particular literature as part of your spiritual practice, there are things to learn from the ancient texts. As a poet and pilgrim, I’m particularly fond of the Psalms. If you read the Psalms as a writer, you start to notice the conventions they use to express praise, lamentation, love, desperation, etc. In particular, the Psalms are known for their use of parallelism, in which an idea or image is presented in one line, and then expressed again, sometimes more specifically, in the next line.
My favorite translation of the Psalms is by Robert Alter who teaches at UC Berkeley. On this Good Friday, I share with you and excerpt from his translation of Psalm 137, which scholars believe was created at the time of the Babylonian Captivity.
“By Babylon’s streams,
there we sat, oh we wept,
when we recalled Zion.
On the poplars there
we hung up our lyres
For there our captors had asked of us
words of song,
and our plunderers — rejoicing:
“Sing us from Zion’s songs.”
How can we sing a song of the Lord
on foreign soil?
Should I forget you, Jerusalem
may my right hand wither.
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not recall you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my chief joy.”
If you are running out of ideas for NaPoWriMo, try a poem that employs parallelism and see what happens. (P.S. Please forgive me for not using Alter’s form of cascading indents — I could not get WordPress to let me do it!).
That’s all for today, Reader. Blessed Good Friday, happy first week of poetry month, and have a wonderful weekend.