Rekindling

“I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals, and I try to ignore the rest.”

This quote, attributed to Venus Williams, is a good summary of my writing mantra for this year. I spent a lot of time last year mired in doubt about my writing. Why was I bothering? So many talented people out there (many of them SO much younger than me) writing pieces that absolutely take my breath away. Like this one by John Murillo. The more I read, the more discouraged I became. I decided to take a step back and see if taking a break from writing poems would help. It did. For a while.

I did other things – wrote reviews, pecked away at an outline for a YA novel, and read SO many books. And when I sat down and tried to write again, one of two things occurred–I was surprised that something of quality showed up on the page, or I nearly wept over the drivel that found its way there. And then I attended the Poetry Carnival at Butler University in mid-August (organized by Kaveh Akbar) and some kind of spark was rekindled. A whole day of readings and workshops and people who love poems. And caramel apples and popcorn and conversation and photo booths. An exercise in a workshop with Ron Villanueva that yielded what is not yet a working poem but something that made me FEEL like a writer. And since then, the poems have started to arrive again –more slowly, perhaps, and with more difficulty. But they are there.

This sense of community, that feeling that I am a part of a larger literary conversation, is something that I seem to need from time to time. Something I hope to rekindle through this blog as well as through making time for these types of events in my life. So, in two days, I will be off to the east coast to start my writing year at The Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway. Its company of writers, amazing setting, and focus on generating new work have been a jump start for me the many years that I have attended in the past, and I’m certain this year will not disappoint.

Emari DiGiorgio, in a workshop there two years ago, discussed the idea of making writing plans, setting goals (short or long-term) that made your writing life a priority. I tried it for a while and, like so many other things, it fell by the wayside. But, starting January 1st, I began again. In a blank journal (I love paper journals and only type after things are drafted in pen first…), I listed the dates January 1-8 and three goals:

  1. Write three-four drafts. (I was traveling & knew I would have significant down time.)
  2. Read and write a post about Rocket Fantastic by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
  3. Read & take notes on two poetry books I am reviewing.

That’s it. Brief. Practical. As I achieved each goal, I checked it off (very satisfying). At the end of the week, I commented on each draft (lousy & weird, keeper, questionable, something there), and listed any other writing-related news for the week. For me, that was a long list for the new year:

  • My review of Avery M. Guess’s The Patient Admits from dancing girl press went live at Crab Fat Magazine.
  • Issue Five of Ovenbird Poetry, which I guest-edited with Darren Demaree, also went live.
  • I had a poem (one that came from that initial rekindling in August) accepted by a journal I admire.
  • I updated the Blog Revival list, which has turned into a full-time job. As of today, the list of poet bloggers returning to the medium numbers over 90, and the post containing the list has been viewed over 1000 times!

Focusing on small goals in this way, I hope to keep a more consistent writing practice this year, one that celebrates the words that ring with possibility and one that recognizes & lets go the words that only sing dirges.

11 thoughts on “Rekindling

  1. Thanks Donna for this post and your community work.

    This:
    “So many talented people out there (many of them SO much younger than me) writing pieces that absolutely take my breath away. Like this one by John Murillo. The more I read, the more discouraged I became.”

    I battle with constantly.

    I eventually have to shut the internal conversation down though and tell myself that I can only write like me and that wishing to write as well as others, while understandable doesn’t make me a better poet. It works some of the time 🙂

    I greatly enjoyed Calvocoressi’s interview on Commonplace, have you listened to it?

  2. I need both community & goals & am quite a nerd about both LOL I’ve had that same conversation with myself about being older now than everyone whose poetry seems to be skyrocketing. I feel bad for a while & the poems stop coming & it seems to stop mattering. But then when I have a chance to remind myself it isn’t about the skyrocketing, it’s about making things, I calm down. So glad there are people like you here as I teach myself every day (or as much as I can) to love where I am & what I’m doing. xo

  3. You’ve inspired me to try a few weekly goals. I love the poetry carnival description! Who doesn’t love photo booths and popcorn? I’m so glad to have met you online. Your energy is a true boost!

  4. I have to admit that I’m tired of goal setting. Maybe it’s my age (gotta blame something!!). But energizing and motivation are still useful, and how do you get yourself kickstarted toward energy if you don’t set goals? That’s kind of my conundrum at present. Thanks for this post, though, as I now have something to mull over: handling the paradox, keeping the energy going.

  5. I can relate about feeling so much older than so many poets producing amazing work but I am as old as I am and there’s nothing I can do about it so I try to chill. But it’s hard sometimes.

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