This April marks the eighteenth annual National Poetry Month. I look forward to NPM every year. It’s a time for us to remember the impact poetry has on our lives, to revisit the classic poets, and to discover new voices in poetry. I also feel that National Poetry Month is a time to remind ourselves to be inspired, which is something I found myself doing recently.
When I was in high school I wrote poetry regularly. In addition to my “regular” journal, in which I recorded my day-to-day thoughts, I kept a poetry journal where I composed and edited original verse. Whenever possible, I would carry that poetry journal around with me just in case inspiration struck while I was out and about. I continued this practice in college, where I also had the opportunity to take classes in verse writing.
I would write poetry about anything that inspired me at that particular moment: a flower, a painting, a drop of water, my dirty car, a box of forgotten, old doll clothes. Whenever I came across something that moved me enough to write a poem, I would pull out my poetry journal, and the words would flow from my mind to the paper. I would later go back and rewrite certain verses, crossing out elements that didn’t work and adding in ones that did. The process was time-consuming and creatively exhilarating. Poetry was my chosen vehicle for expressing myself, and I loved it.
Yet something changed once I graduated college. I stopped setting aside time to write poetry. Every now and again I would write a poem or two, but with nowhere near the same regularity I once followed. I can’t pinpoint a concrete reason why I let this happen. I just became so preoccupied with things like graduate school, work, and life in general. I would still have moments of inspiration, but rather than whipping out my poetry journal, which I had given up carrying around, I would make a mental note to write it down later. Inevitably, “later” would never come, and that inspiration would be lost.
It was not until a few months ago that I realized how much I had let my poetry skills lapse. A local organization was sponsoring a poetry contest, and I decided to enter. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to get back in the swing of poetry writing. The days and weeks passed. The contest deadline was upon me. And what had I written?
I was at a loss. I no longer knew what to write. The words did not come to me as easily as they once had. No longer did they fall into meter or rhyme or even free verse. I still had a well of emotions and images I wanted to convey, but I didn’t know how to translate them into poetry anymore. I was out of practice and seemingly out of words.
I felt frustrated. I wasn’t willing to give up, though. I was determined to write something, not so much for the poetry contest as for myself. I started to just write things I noticed around me: chair, window, snow. Then I wrote down what I was feeling: quiet, empty, restless. At least I was writing something.
After I jotted down words for a while, I stopped and put my head in my hands. Maybe I couldn’t write poetry anymore, I thought. I had let myself go too long without writing anything, and I couldn’t suddenly make up for lost time. Then, as I lifted my head, I couldn’t help but notice my hands. They were rough, dry, and flaky. In other words, they had succumbed to the dry winter air. As I was looking for some moisturizing lotion it hit me: I should write a poem about my poor, scaly hands! And that’s exactly what I did. I wrote a thirty-line free verse poem about my poor, scaly hands. I then edited it down to twenty lines and submitted it to the contest just before the midnight deadline.
The poem was not what I consider to be my best work, but I was proud of it. Despite the difficulty I encountered, I managed to find inspiration in something and write a complete, cohesive poem. Even though writing wasn’t easy, I found the experience to be invigorating. That spark that I used to feel when I wrote poetry in high school and college had returned.
Of course I still have a long way to go if I want to get back to writing like I used to. I have to set aside time to write, write as often as I can, and, of course, be open to inspiration, because it can show up in unexpected ways.