Sometimes, I am overwhelmed with writing assignments and have little time to write poetry. My writing assignments for the educational market are mostly nonfiction (with occasional poetry and fiction thrown in). Some months, or even seasons, feel like a poetry black hole.
But even during those poetry droughts, I write 3–5 poems a week.
OK, poems is too strong a word. They’re poem sketches or skeletons, which may or may not ever turn into anything. But at least they keep some small part of my brain working in a poetic fashion. And it’s only because I have a poetry diary.
Way back in 2007, I decided to try a photopoetry diary. I had heard Anne Ylvisaker talk about how she did a photo diary of sorts, forcing herself to take one new picture each day while she was in a major writer’s block episode. I thought, “Well, that’s kinda cool.” And then I thought it would be neat to add poetry to that. And my photopoetry diary was born.
I took a picture each day (ideally) and wrote a poem of 15 words or less to go with it. The idea was to write the poem (again, using the term loosely!) in about 3 minutes or less. I wanted something do-able, something that would allow me to work my poetry muscles but not intimidate me.
The diary was a success, though I was very sick of having the camera attached to me by the end of the year! (That was before iPhones–for me, at least.)
I had some things I really liked, like:
Spent last year’s last
money to begin the new
year with roses
on our toes
written after getting pedicures with my daughters (special treat using Christmas cash). And
stitch across blue
embroidering the sky
one twig at a time
I gave up the photos the next year, but I kept the Poetry Diary. And I kept writing bits, some nice, and some dreckish:
She dressed up
in her big sister’s
looked as sophisticated
as a tunafish.
When there’s more white
even Head and
won’t do the trick
I have no idea what moments I was capturing those. Probably just as well!
I dropped my 15-word limit. No 15-word limit, but I keep them short and fast. Sometimes, I pick one object for the week and write a totally different poem based on that object every day.
Here’s a week’s worth of poems about the wind turbine in our city.
and making them
Brown sedan eased away
She tried for stillness
But her arms windmilled thick air
Sun leans low
turns this way, then that
feels the churning wind
fan his cheeks
Stationary ship’s great sails
stretched taut to metallic hardness
batter against the wind
feed me the sky
clouds for dessert
Sometimes I choose a form for a few weeks and try to write a poem in that form every day.
There are so many options! But if the idea of a poetry diary appeals to you, here are a few tips:
- Keep it simple. Do not put pressure on yourself. Allow yourself the fun of just doing poetry play, where you focus for 3 minutes and see what comes out.
- Pick a theme or form. If you often don’t know where to start, it can be helpful to have a way to get started. Maybe a whole month of haikus. Or a year of poems based on your dreams (if you remember them).
- Don’t revise! Let this be a dumping ground. Let at least one month go by before you go back and look at any of your poems (and, frankly, a year is better!). Cut yourself some slack and just enjoy them for what they are. And maybe you’ll find a few you want to work on further.
Writing fast poems in daily diary can feel like spewing cement some days. But when you go back and rediscover how you felt, when you gain insight into your strengths as a poet, when you bring memories back into the raw present, you’ll discover you were dripping diamonds on the page all along.