what did i learn from napowrimo? 15 guides for life?

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it was an interesting process, launching myself into writing a poem a day for 30 days – yes i know a small amount of cheating was done! – i wrote up my learnings from the process today and i’m now wondering if they are a guide for life i could follow?

i learnt:

  1. even when i’m on an 11 hour shift at work with an hour commute each way, i can usually find the time to write a poem.
  2. to have lowered the standards of what i am willing to put ‘out there’ to others and know that i will survive it.
  3. that if you keep thinking about being creative and metaphor and hang onto that throughout the day, then you get lots more coming through – time thinking and mulling (even when you’re not aware of it) is as important to the process as writing it down. even essential to it. my pattern became to read the prompt then let it settle, i.e. ‘do’ nothing but see where my mind might take it throughout the day, then write something in the evening or the following morning.
  4. you get lots of stuff you’re sure is not your ‘best work’, but you also get more ‘best work’. some of this is just logical, more writing = more words on the page/screen, but it also feels like writing is a practice. it feels like a muscle that settles into itself the more you use it. it relaxes. there is a flow relating to creativity that happens.
  5. that you can ‘create’ the conditions for being creative/creating – there is this myth that we just need to hang around, just sit there, and inspiration will strike you like a lightening bolt out of nowhere, but it doesn’t seem to work like that at all. there is a quote from W. Somerset Maugham on this that is illuminating, he wrote, ‘I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’ So, yes, inspiration can hit us but if you put in the work of climbing to the high place and putting conductors in place, you have a lot better chance of it doing so. 
  6. it felt very revealing of my ‘self’ to put more work out there, especially when it was written quickly and mostly remains a little, or a lot, unfinished.
  7. i had to follow through on the promise i made to do this. i had to make my commitment work. which was sometimes a little scary, sometimes a little boring, but this kept me on track.
  8. the mood i approached the work in seemed to make no difference to getting an outcome and to the resulting poem. some days i felt playful and completely exhilarated by the ride. other days i felt annoyed by the whole undertaking or couldn’t be bothered. sometimes the prompt felt inspiring, other days not. i went with my moods anyway, they became part of the process, part of me.
  9. you can write lots and get good stuff, but the great stuff is that which ‘blows your head off’, as emily dickinson wrote, and is more rare. you know this because it feels like it is not ‘yours’ (if it ever was) or from you. you are the typist and something else is coming through. this is where writing it down becomes a doorway into another world, even if we just brush up against it, even if we have no idea where it leads or what it means.
  10. i learnt new techniques for ‘seeing’ poetically – i especially liked the writing a poem backwards, so that the first line you write will be the last once it is finished – this is definitely one to use again.
  11. i have much to say, and that’s ok.
  12. it started my learning which could zip off into other things, i especially found the landays wonderful and fascinating, as poems, oral tradition, to the point radicalism and women’s words.
  13. i learnt that using form and structure can be useful. i know about some of this, having been an english student a long time ago (i know, who’d a thunk it?!) but have always shied away from using it myself. i think i saw it as just not something i can do, a little scary and also refer to number 13 below. to approach it, court it and mess around with it has (mostly) been a joy. i still have a terzanelle in progress, which i wonder whether it would also work as song with the repetition aspect of it.
  14. i gave myself the task of following the prompt each day as i usually hate all the rules to do with anything and find subtle and not so subtle ways to undermine them. so, i wound my neck in and saw the prompts for what they were – a starting point. this seemd to help my focus. i realise that sometimes i mistake focus for rules and it has been helpful to consider the difference.
  15. i have a huge amount of raw material to work up, if i wish, or i can just leave it as the cluttered glorious mess that is life…
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napowrimo day 30

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the last day – i started the poem on the morning of may day – then didn’t finish it till today (5th may)… it’s funny that without the deadline i have really left this one the longest of all the poems to put up and finish… the luxury of no deadlines, perhaps… in the meantime, i wrote another one this morning – in a meeting, i find poems can be a way of surfing the conversation and yet creating in between those moments, i’m not a natural multi-tasker but this seems to work well – you look like you are taking notes but really you are off on other trails, the scent of earth on your tongue… but i left that one in my work file – downside of writing said poetry at work! so i have written another just now… the task was to write backwards, you start your poem at the bottom of the page and write upwards. now i a really enjoying this, it gives a lovely little twist to the work… this is definitely one method i’ll use again…

i also wanted my last napowrimo to honour the time of year (beltane) and international workers day (may day).. a tall order you might think, but maybe not… may day derives from tuesday may 4th 1886, at haymarket square in chicago, there was a demonstration for an 8 hour day, the concept being that our 24 hours should be an equal balance of work, recreation and sleep. in the aftermath of the demonstration and violence, 8 anarchists were convicted of conspiracy on very little/no evidence related to a bombing and 7 of them sentenced to death (4 were hung, 1 committed suicide and the rest imprisoned, to be later pardoned)… one of them, albert spies, gave a fantastic address to the court, in which there are plenty of references to natural phenomena, for example, “Revolutions are no more made than earthquakes and cyclones. Revolutions are the effect of certain causes and conditions.”. i have used some of his words and images in the poem, oh yes, and stolen “green fuse” from a certain welsh poet! the title is taken directly from the speech…

“everything breathes the revolutionary spirit”

for albert spies

now is our time, we rise, we grow,

those voices strangled on mayday,

silent resolve most powerful

of bright green emancipation.

we force through, we a tidal wave,

come summer, come the early spring

that we may swell to our full height

to die, hunker over winter,

we the green fuse that refuses.