Sunday, April 22, 2007

Poet is a Verb

I had an epiphany on Saturday. Not just a little, oh that's an interesting thought, hiccup. But a full-blown, change my view, alter my approach, epiphany. See, I was lying in the bathtub, my best place for thinking, and reading "Writer as Parent: No More Aching to Be an Artist" by Don Barden, which is in the new Poets & Writers. In this article, Barden describes how his writing life was turned upside down once he began to stay home with his toddler while his wife ran a bookshop. (By the way, from the outside, their life seems pretty blessed.) He was forced to write in ten minute bursts, and give himself breaks by doing the dishes or laundry. He no longer had time to agonize over a sentence for hours on end. He had to produce. Barden interviews other authors in the same position, most of them with multiple children and books. They view their lives as messy, time-strapped, but most of all, productive.

I enjoyed the article and got out of the tub. Then, it hit me, when I realized I had spent 45 minutes in the bath. Doing nothing. Not writing, in other words. Now, I'm not trying to begrudge myself the pleasure of soaking on a Saturday. Don't get me wrong. But I spend a lot more of time not-writing than writing. Most weekends, I think to myself, I'll totally get some writing done. But then, I surf MySpace, I see movies, I do homework, I grade papers. Most of the time, I do everything but write.

I've been calling myself a poet since I was 15 years old. And I have been writing for that long, which in itself is an accomplishment. Being a poet is a large part of my identity. It's how I label myself to my friends, family, colleagues, students, and community. But it hit me -- poet should be a verb, not a noun. It's not something I am, it's something I do. And I could do a lot more writing, publishing, and revising. In my adult life, my dedication to my craft has waned, post-graduate school. I see myself going through these waves of productivity and non-productivity with my writing. Currently, I spend more time worrying about my teaching career than working on my writing career.

I haven't exactly been a slouch recently. Since starting this blog, I have been much more productive. I average about a poem a week, which is a huge improvement from my last two year fallow period. (Try 0 poems a week.) But writing is something I put off, like cleaning off my desk or scrubbing the tub. It should be the focus of my week, the focus of my activities, rather than the hobby or chore I squeeze in, between episodes of 24. When I think of the self-made artists/writers that I admire, like SARK, Ani DiFranco, Henry Miller, et al, they took actions to create the lives that they wanted. They write/wrote voraciously, but they also took the time to make careers from their craft. This is truly what I want in life.

In order to better help focus my attention, I decided on Saturday to weekly post the verbs (or actions) I have taken regarding poetry in my week. I think I'll post them on Saturdays, to differentiate from my Weekly Word Counts. I've suffered from a feeling that I'm not inspired by anything in my writing, so I'm going to look at these actions as writer's dates as first, like Julia Cameron suggests. But they can also be actions I've taken in the business of my writing, like seeking publication or promoting my blog.

After I decided this, I had the most amazing Saturday. Everything I did had a feeling of lightness. First, I took a walk around my neighborhood and wrote a poem. Then, the husband and I went to the Midtown Global Market and saw an awesome folk singer named Chastity Brown and ate African curry and bought Mexican food for dinner. That night, after dinner, we took another walk and met a group of punks having a sidewalk decorating party. I wrote "Poet is a Verb" on the ground, the line that's been following me all day, and my husband and his body outline chalked on the floor. And I still got to watch 24, knowing that I fulfilled myself as a writer and wife first.

I think this is going to work.


Carole said...

I found this post inspiring. Focussing on 'poet as a verb' is a much better idea than on word counts.

Jessica said...

thanks carole -- it was an inspiring ephiphany for me. I'm glad I conveyed it.

I still want to track my word counts, because it holds me accountable to the writing, but I think the verbs will also be useful as well. It will count all the other parts of my writing life.

Marie said...

I LOVE this blog! Why do we procrastinate something we love? I have loved writing for a very long time and don't know why I have a great journal and pen and I don't sit down and do it...I am going to put "Poet is a verb," with credits to you, next to my computer to remind me... I'm reading Finding Water (another Julia Cameron book), and it suggests the same thing. Would you like company on the verb Saturdays? It could promote your site... Thanks for sharing...

Jessica said...

Thanks Marie -- I figured that other people would feel the same way I do. I think it's pretty natural, to a certain extent, to procrastinate our favorite things.

I would love company on the verbs of the week. I think that having partners in crime, so to speak, would help me to be more motivated. If anyone wants to join in on my verbs on Saturdays, post what they've done on their websites and let me know, that would be awesome! :)