NaNoWriMo: Progress Report 2

The experiment ended, and it continues. I creep along.

4348270425_8e76a67d96In November, I wrote prose poems on 25 out of the 30 days. These are drafts, and, among them, maybe 5 are ones to work on. Whether you count 25 experiments or 5 potential poems, those are significantly more than I would have written without the special event.

My favorite writing days were when I had no more than an image to go on. Something caught my eye, I wrote it down with no anticipation of a poem I would generate, and I followed one sentence with the next. For example, one day online I saw the tagline for a crochet book: “figure-flattering crochet fashions.” It was absurd, and it stayed with me. Later that night I followed the line and wrote a character-driven prose poem.

Crocheted Sweater Vest

She dressed in figure-flattering crochet fashions of her own making. The looped stitches
were turned into squares, and squares into clothing. She imagined her vests and hats as
having an intrinsic duality: curves and edges. She was mocked at the office. Other women,
lavish in their mimicry of concern, critiqued the craftiness of crochet. It’s just not sexy.
When had sweaters become erotic objects? To Phoebe, named after the bird by her mother who had died young, a sweater was akin to grass growing on a hill or a beard
on a chin. A light coating, spongy, something that could be trampled on or gripped. It did
not ask to be taken off. But Phoebe left her sweater — rose wool, with some acrylic —
on her swivel chair overnight. She had dared herself. In the morning, it was there, the
victim of no mischief. So she balled it into the metal file drawer, locked it, and left.


Toward the end of the month, I realized that, although I preferred ending a poem on an image or action, a poem might need to go further into a question or idea. Therefore, some of the later ones (not published here) did that. I now wonder how the poem above could get beyond sweaters and self insulation. How would I change it? What  line or two would I add at the end?

I liked the daily pause and productivity so much that I will keep going but change the rules. In December, I will continue to write daily, but with no required form. The topic will be this: ANGER. I will take a crack at it — in prose, poetry, or reflection — every day.

Image credit: Tortuga con jersey de ganchillo (2010), by Alícia Roselló Gené on Flickr via a Creative Commons license.

Dead turkey inspires poem

6721770717_518cc40136_mGrace had the idea we would brine the Thanksgiving turkey, which sounded simple: put turkey in giant ziploc bag, add water to cover, and put in one cup of kosher salt for every gallon of water. The task was arduous, considering that the turkey weighed 20 pounds and the water an additional 25 pounds (three gallons x 8.34 lb. per). Getting it into the refrigerator was handled by Jimmy, aided by a sturdy dishpan.

I interacted with that turkey a lot in the 24 hours leading up to the time that cooking began. By 8am Thursday it was in the oven. Throughout NaNoWriMo , I’ve been doing my prose poem writing at night. But after my encounter with the turkey, I couldn’t wait all day. Inspiration was right there. I sat down. I went with it.

Headless Bird

The neck, broken, is inserted into the place its beating heart once went. That’s there
too, packaged in plastic, a gift from the slaughterer to the cook. The cold skin like
an old person’s, loose on the bone, yet like a baby’s, inviting touch. Empty and patted
dry, the body gets filled with white onion, branches of thyme and rosemary, and two
rubbery carrots. A long loose flap of skin I stretch over the spinal stem and under
the back, which rests on a rack. The pliant flap, like a bandage, hides a cross-section of
connectors that once signaled a head — no longer here — to turn, to look, to peck.

Image credit: Turkey (2009), wattpublishing on Flickr via a Creative Commons license.

NaNoWriMo: Progress Report 1

The first 10 days of my first-ever participation in NaNoWriMo are done! What have I learned from my daily attempts to write a prose poem? (I am following the spirit of the month-long event by writing more, although not following it to the letter, by writing poems instead of novel pages.)

draft of prose poem, “Thrift Shop Sweater,” from Day One

1. I can write creatively even on days when I have lots to write analytically. Constant analytical demands do not ‘kill’ the occasional creative ones.

2. Paper is a nice change of pace. On Day One, sick of my laptop, I grabbed a new pad of paper and a pen and wrote my lines on lines. It worked. I’ve stayed with the handwritten medium for the whole 10 days so far, and I find the blank notebook page to be more inviting and the whole experience to be more pleasingly tactile.

3. A new ritual heightens the experience. At around 9pm, I stop the chores or take a break from paper-grading and set my paper and pen on the kitchen table. Jimmy, who is writing short stories during NaNoWriMo, joins me with his laptop. I take out a juice glass and pour some wine for myself. (If you know me, you know this is typically not me.) I do not fret; I write.

4. I’m using this as an opportunity to discover what is prose, and what is prose poetry. I like introductions and I like context, and I have found that this is my customary gesture: to begin by situating the reader. A few sentences in, I realize I am explaining too much, setting a scene too much, and I pull back and try to turn off that part of my brain. (A teaching part, maybe.) Poems may not have story logic, I remind myself. I try to follow images that may not make sense. I leave gaps.

5. The constraints of a page remind me that a poem has to conclude. When I’m within about three inches of the bottom, I start to wonder how I’m going to see it through. That awareness causes what feels like a downshift or upshift, as though my imagination were a motor. The poem turns.

6. Knowing that writing is on the evening agenda, during the day I keep my eyes and ears open for inspiration. One day, driving to the rink for a skating lessons, I heard an ad for No Doz. The tag line, unbelievably, is “a trusted leader in mental alertness.” At the next stop light, I wrote down what I planned to make as a first line: “He is a trusted leader in mental alertness.” At 9pm that night, I wrote a poem about him.

7. I cannot start after 10pm at night. My brain cannot generate anything new. (Funny, I can grade papers after 10pm at night.) I thought that fatigue would help strike down mental barriers to creativity, but it only strikes down enthusiasm and vocabulary.

8. Only a percentage of my output delights me and may lead to something. I see that this exercise might yield only a couple of poems, and those will need revision. So far, my favorite thing is a title I came up with for a poem: “The Dead-Cold Peace of Saying No.” The poem is so-so, but that’s okay. The daily writing is bringing something to life.

draft prose poem, "Self Portrait," for Day Six

draft prose poem, “Self Portrait,” for Day Six