A couple of times a year, I go insane. I am smart enough to do so in the presence of others—often but not always exclusively women—who agree to go insane at the same time. In other words, I sign on to write a poem every day for a month. The first such month this year is February—a wise choice, since it only has 28 days, and if you think that writing 28 poems in a row is not significantly easier than writing 30 poems in a row, I am here to tell you that you are wrong, wrong, wrong. I'll probably do it again in April, for National Poetry Writing Month, and I will feel the difference, believe you me.
I'm excited about this month's poems because I haven't been writing a lot lately. Since by "a lot," I mean "pretty much at all," and by "lately," I mean "since Turquoise died," and by "since Turquoise died," I mean "since May," this is a pretty big deal. It's not that losing Turquoise shot me into a depression in which words lost their meaning or I lost my hope. There were moments of that, of course, as there are in all times of grief. But mostly, I was exhausted. I'd written a huge series of poems for and about her during the last few weeks of her life—sometimes drafting several different poems in a day. I think, although I'd have to look it up to be sure, that I was probably participating in a NaPoWriMo that April, and they started there and continued into May. But the point is that I was empty, poetry-wise. I had no subject matter and no drive. I needed sleep and processing time and more sleep.
This morning, while I was making coffee, I caught myself thinking that I was already a day late in posting the February 1 poem to the private blog that my friends and I set up to keep ourselves accountable when we do these kinds of things. I thought that maybe I wouldn't be able to do it at all, this 28 days of poetry that I signed on for largely because I've been feeling the need to shake myself loose again. I thought that it was possible that I didn't know how to write poems anymore, or at least that I didn’t know how to write poems that were not for Turquoise. Most of the precious few poems I've written since the end of May are Turquoise poems, even though I didn’t always realize it when I wrote them. And I consciously did not want to write any more poems for her, not now. I'd said what I had in me, and it was time to move on. This kind of gear-shifting after a series can be incredibly difficult for me. It's happened before, and I'm sure it'll happen again. I had written myself into silence with her poems, and while I was hopeful that writing a poem every day in February would knock some words back into me (or out of me, I suppose), I was very deeply afraid that it would not. Or, I should say, that I would not allow it to.
Maybe I'm just not a poet anymore, I thought.
And let me tell you right now, that is possibly one of the most patently ridiculous thoughts I've ever had. And I think about a lot of ridiculous things. I am a poet the same way that I'm a cancer or a person whose birth stone is ruby, the same way I am my parents' child, the same way that I am a being who breathes. It isn't something I can leave. It isn't a hobby. It isn't a profession. It isn't even a calling.
I always feel kind of douchey when I talk about this sort of thing, possibly because there are writers I don't respect who talk this way. Talking this way is part of the writer's persona ("I write because I have to." "I write the same way I breathe." Blah blah blah). And lots of people who write purely as a form of self-expression but who aren't interested in what any other writers have to say? Writers who don't revise, who don't read, who don't want to hear anything but how fabulous they are? They all tend to talk this way. The thing is, so does pretty much every serious writer I know. So I'm over-thinking again. It comes, I fear, with the territory. When you spend most of your time paying attention to other people and trying to figure out how they think, it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that they are doing the same about you. Unless they are writers, they probably aren't. Doesn't that make you feel better? Of course, if you're friends with a writer, or married to one, or have one in your family, you're now on notice: we are watching you. You probably figured that out on your own, though.
In any event, my favorite tea mug is hanging in the kitchen, unused. My sister-in-law sent it to me from Italy one year as part of a birthday present. It's orange on the outside and golden on the inside (where it's not terribly stained with the tea I drink so dark it could probably be used as paint stripper). It's thick-walled and feels good in my hand. And it is breaking. There's a long crack running down its side. I felt it with my lower lip before I saw it. I haven't figured out how to fix it, so I'm not using it right now. If I can't fix it, I need to let it go, but I don't want to let it go unless I have to. It is the perfect tea mug. These things cannot be taken lightly. There used to be two of them, but one cracked in my hand while I was pouring water into it. Boiling water. This happens to me often enough that I should know better than to hold the mug while I'm filling it. And yet.
So, I carried my coffee (in a different, equally-revered mug) into the living room, sat down, and started to write a poem about fragility. And it was, dare I say, terrible. God-awful, even. I write a lot of god-awful stuff. All good writers do. (So do bad writers—they just don't recognize it as such, I suspect.) And while I'm fine with putting rough drafts up on the blog for my poet friends to see (we all post first drafts and scraps of drafts and whatever else we have time to post and we all know it and there's precious little judging there), I'm generally not fine with putting God-awful drafts up there. Not at the beginning of the month, anyway. All bets are off once the 20th or so rolls around and we have to declare martial law or something. By the way, some of my best poems come out right about then—when I think the well is completely dry and I have to lower myself down there and start digging in the hopes of hitting a deeper spring…or whatever the well-digging metaphor is. I know nothing about wells except that we once had a dry one in our house that we didn't discover until a cat somehow figured out how to get under the floorboards and we pulled him out days after we thought he had gone off to die. But that's another story, one that involves bologna and Easter baskets on ropes and…where was I? Oh, yeah, God-awful drafts.
It was awful. And, I should add, it was. About. Turquoise. Not much I could do about that—a poem becomes what it becomes—but I didn't want to post it like that, and ended up cutting it down into a cinquain which, while still basically terrible, and still, despite myself, about Turquoise, was at least mercifully short. Then, I settled in to draft a poem about the green children of Woolpit for today's poem. That poem is better, and not just because it's about fictional people. Tomorrow's poem will be whatever it will be.
It's all related to what I was saying the other day about allowing perfectionism to ruin our goals. Or allowing it to protect us from our goals when we don't feel we can handle the task. Yes, I started late, but I'm on track again. Yes, it's only Day 2 and there are myriad ways that my plans for February can fall apart between now and March 1. My Day 2 is my Day 1 this month. So be it. All we can do is what we've got in us. And that's plenty.