Thursday, April 13, 2017

"What You Do Most Is What You Do Best"

I promise I won't write every single blog post for the rest of my life about poetry, poetry, poetry.

But I'm still loving every minute of my poem-a-day commitment for National Poetry Month. Today, April 13, I now have 13 new poems that I've written, and I've noticed a pattern.

I'm getting better.

Even though I am doing this only for its own sake, just for the sheer creative joy of the writing itself, it's hard to break a lifelong habit of self-appraisal. I know which poems I've written are just so-so, in my own assessment, and which ones have a little spark of something special - perhaps six words strung together in a fresh way - or one burst-out-into-a-chuckle flash of humor - or some tiny insight about the human condition that may not wow anyone else but records something I want to keep in my heart. Lately, I've had more of these moments, more poems I feel like sharing with the universe.

This makes sense. I recently heard the motto "What you do most is what you do best," and it does seem to be true. Even though I have a long way to go before I've logged the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell says is necessary to achieve mastery in a field, just the ten or so hours I've logged this month have made a difference. I'm a better poet than I was two weeks ago. (And a happier person.)

It's self-reinforcing, too. The more I love writing poetry, the more time I spend writing it. The more time I spend writing, the better I get. The better I get, the more satisfaction I derive from both activity and product. The more satisfaction I get, the more I keep doing it. . . .

I know I can't sustain this schedule of poem-a-day writing. I'm letting many other more urgent pursuits fall by the wayside, beguiled into tarrying with my muse. My current plan is to finish out the month of poetic obsession, then turn to neglected articles and books, to preparing the course I'm teaching this summer in the Graduate Program in Children's Literature at Hollins, and other tasks.

But I'm going to sign up for another month-long poem-a-day challenge before the year is out. Poetry was my first love as a child. Maybe it will be my last love as I age. I'm grateful to the girl I was for all those poems she wrote. I like to think she'd be happy to know her future self would still be writing poems. I wish I could send her one to see if she'd like it. But even if she didn't, she'd be pleased that I was still putting one word down on the page after another, for every day of a happy April, fifty years later.

1 comment:

  1. Randall Jarrell on what makes a good poet (from wikiquotes): "How necessary it is to think of the poet as somebody who has prepared himself to be visited by a dæmon, as a sort of accident-prone worker to whom poems happen — for otherwise we expect him to go on writing good poems, better poems, and this is the one thing you cannot expect even of good poets, much less of anybody else. Good painters in their sixties may produce good pictures as regularly as an orchard produces apples; but Planck is a great scientist because he made one discovery as a young man — and I can remember reading in a mathematician’s memoirs a sentence composedly recognizing the fact that, since the writer was now past forty, he was unlikely ever again to do any important creative work in mathematics. A man who is a good poet at forty may turn out to be a good poet at sixty; but he is more likely to have stopped writing poems, to be doing exercises in his own manner, or to have reverted to whatever commonplaces were popular when he was young. A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great."
    -- Reflections on Wallace Stevens [the conclusion]