Write After Reading: Writing the Life Poetic (Chapter 9)

Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic is a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Susan Taylor Brown’s blog. Last week, we chatted about Chapter 7 at Susan’s blogso feel free to head over there to see what you missed. Today we’re right here, talking about Chapter 9.

Living the Life Poetic. That’s the title of Chapter 9. Doesn’t it sound wonderful? A poet’s life should be poetic, right? For me, that calls to mind mystery and silence and exotic places and tons of writing time.

Huh. Just about nothing could be further from my life, which is in-your-face and loud and fairly mundane, with very little actual writing time, especially for poetry. So I clearly need the lessons of this chapter.

Cohen talks about the need to ruminate and respond to the “events, ideas, people, and experiences that impact us.” She says, “This kind of receptivity takes practice, especially in this fast-paced world where it is more common and acceptable to exhaust ourselves doing things rather than slowing down to digest those experiences that move us.” Amen, sister. And I am out of practice.

I regularly tell myself that I have to slow down, but I just can’t figure out how. Work is incredibly hectic, and if that changes, I don’t have an income! I know, I know. There are other parts to my life. And so far this year, I’ve been working on calming things down. Little by little, it’s working, but I’m nowhere near as calm and focused as I’d like to be. What about you?

The other quote I love from this chapter is: “I believe that this is what poetry demands of us: a willingness to savor mystery instead of stampeding toward certainty.” I love that! Even though I’m usually right there at the front of the stampede, breaking down the doors to the arena of certainty, routine, and plain-spokenness.

One thing I noticed in New York last week was how wonderful it is to look at new things and to keep thinking, “I could sit right here and write for a couple of hours.” Garden in the Ford Foundation building? Green and silent. Give me a laptop! New York Public Library? Give me time to drink in the wood and brass and painted ceilings! United Nations building? Let me sit and respond to these striking images with some poems–now.

But I also know that I have similar opportunities right here in Minneapolis, but I’m just not seeing them. I’m not open to them. So one of my goals this coming week is to find one new spot near my house where I might like to do some writing. I’m going to look for someplace unconventional (not a coffee shop or bookstore, in other words), but where I could still whip out my laptop without problems. Do you guys have inspiring places close to home where you like to go write? I’d love to hear about them!

OK, here’s the exercise I did, and I invite you to do it, too, and share your results in a comment. Or do any other exercise from this chapter and share that instead, in a comment. Whatever moves you!

Leave your house, apartment, yurt, dormitory, or office and spend an hour out in the world observing. Whether you’re sitting on a bench in a deserted park or jostling through Grand Central Station, your only job is to look, listen, and notice what catches your attention. Come home and write a description of one sight you saw, one sound you heard, one memory that was evoked, and one discovery you made. This exercise will get easier the more you practice it.

Also, feel free to share your thoughts about anything else in Chapter 9! What do agree with? Disagree with? Not understand? I’m looking forward to our conversation!

Next week, Susan will tackle Chapter 11: Come to Your Senses.

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