For the past three years I have joined with other local Western Massachusetts poets in writing a poem a day in November. We sign up readers who pledge a certain amount per poem to aid a local literacy charity: the Center for New Americans in Northampton, MA. It was a wonderful scheme invented by the then Northampton poet laureate, Leslea Newman.
After the first November, I realized that -- while I was lucky to get two or three really good (after many revisions) poems, that the exercise gave me much more than that. I had pushed myself to think as a poet for thirty days in a row, not just occasionally when an idea popped into my head or I had time I could steal from other projects.
Like a piano student's fingerwork, the every-day poem gave me a poetic flexibility I'd lost. So I determined then to try and write a poem a day for a year. Now I'm about to start the third year. Along the way, the majority of the poems have been consigned to the back files, most likely never to be seen again by anyone except masochistic scholars. But about fifty or so of the poems have already been published -- after considerable revisions -- in journals, magazines, in my latest collection for HolyCow! that venerable small press in the Midwest, as well as in upcoming children's books. A pretty good ratio.
And yet... and yet... some piece of the year-long puzzle has been missing.
I finally realized the missing piece was the reader's respons. When one of my November pledgers wrote back this year telling me that the day's poem was life-changing (or at least day-changingI knoew I'd written something that had the ability to sneak into the armor chinks, slip under the lowering portcullis. It happened several times with several different poems. I may be a slow learner about some things, but I caught on to that!
So I developed a new plan I: "A Poem A Day/ A Book a Month". I offered to write and send out a new poem a day for the next year, beginning on January 1, to people who subscribed. The only cost is that instead of sending money to me, the subscriber has to buy one of my books that month from a local bookstore or take one out of the library to read.
Here's my poem for this January 1, my New Year's resolution. I will have all of 2013 to work on it, to get it right or sell it to a magazine, for as all poets know (and Paul Valery said it first): a poem is never finished, it's abandoned.
"Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion.
You must set yourself on fire." Arnold H. Glasow
First find the right tinder,
a handful of dry grass,
the idea of the poem, piecemeal,
shaggy, rough, flaking in the hand.
A bit of flint next, the hard idea,
needing something striking at the core.
Find a stick, not for poking about with,
that will come later in the revision,
but to cradle the nascent flame.
Then blow. Oh--wait,
your hot air is not regulated enough.
You might put the small spark out.
Thrust the ember into the pith,
into the heart of the poem.
Feel the heat of it, browning the edges,
curling, curing, curating your lines.
Now you are ready, the fire is set.
Breath deep. Blow yourself apart.
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