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Tag: Poetry Writing Challenge

“Failing” in the August 2014 Poetry Postcard Challenge: My Writing Process

 

The rules of a Writing Challenge are never all that difficult: “Do [this] for [a certain number of days], and hold yourself accountable.”

“If you are able to complete the challenge, reward yourself in self-appreciation, cookies, sending your work out, or other such pleasantries.”

“If you are unable to meet the requirements of the challenge, or miss a few days, don’t feel bad. These challenges are difficult, as is bringing ourselves to write on a daily basis (as most of these challenges require). Consider where you went wrong, and improve these areas for future challenges.”

Seems easy. Straight-forward. Simple.

However, how do we really measure whether or not we’ve successfully completed a challenge, or failed? Is it really as black-and-white as “if you’ve fulfilled all the requirements, you’ve won”? Or should we break this down further into “Well, I didn’t really like what I wrote during the challenge, but I at least pushed myself to complete the challenge!” and / or “No, I didn’t write every. single. day., but I loved what I wrote and intend to revise it and am genuinely happy with my performance!” How do we measure success?

I think what it may come down to is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic values—the difference between personal gains and the appearance of gains, or success. If one chooses to complete a writing challenge to fulfill the appearance of writing on a daily basis, then the entire focus will be on the quantity: whether or not the writer manages to write a poem per day, and post them. However, if one chooses to complete a writing challenge to learn something (whether about writing poems, or their writing process, or to reflect on a larger project, etc), then fulfilling the requirements of the challenge consistently become more of a “bonus,” rather than a requirement. The appearance of writing regularly and writing well, as opposed to the learning process and personal gains of writing, goes out the window.

I’m not trying to be deceitful and dance around the fact that I didn’t “complete” the challenge. I didn’t complete the challenge. There was one day that I missed fairly early on, and I simply had other things to do in the last few days of August. But I had fun, and I wrote poems that I want to revise and that I feel (for the most part, with just a few exceptions) that these could be strong, future contenders for my first full-length manuscript. These poems also got me thinking about other writing projects I could get myself into, and they really centered me as far as what I want my full-length manuscript to be, which earlier in the summer had been undecided. Even if there are not thirty-one poems to present here, they taught me a lot, and I don’t regret them—and I don’t regret the few that didn’t make it to the page for a challenge’s sake (which is certainly not to minimize the importance and place of a writing challenge, but only to suggest that there are times when breaking the rules are better than fulfilling requirements).

August was quite the month, and the Poetry Postcard Fest was quite the challenge; I imagine I’ll probably do it again next year and will aim to actually write a poem on a daily basis—but in the hopes that I will learn as much, and feel as confident about, those poems as I have felt about these.

 

August 2014 Postcard Project

 

 

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Anticipating Her Arrival

 

I have asked my husband, What do you think she will look like? He frowns, and I know there is no answer. Not right now. All I know is beauty: crows bursting from a field, a candle flame, a gust of wind after rainfall. These things are beautiful, imprinted somewhere in her face, her hands. Somehow, I know they will be, like the stars.

 

August 2014_Poem 21_Anticipating Her Arrival

 

August 21, 2014, MLT

 

 

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Due Date

 

The act is violent, the tearing open, the skin. I imagine bird claws, the talons, a wind breaking open between two buildings. The mouth, agape. And the arrival. Two shadows.

 

August 2014_Poem 20_Due Date

 

August 20, 2014, MLT

 

 

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I Am Running Out of Poems.

 

And then I look to the fall trees, and I wonder if they ever think, “I am running out of leaves.” They probably do, they with their tall, scarred bodies, launching outward and up. Sometimes, they are probably dreaming, or worse, waking. They open their eyes to colored leaves, the green having fallen out, and they know it is only a matter of time. Their leaves fall, they are stepped on, they are lost on the river, and then that’s it. Dormancy and sleep, a winter cage. I can write during any month.

 

August 2014, Poem 19, I Am Running Out of Poems

 

August 19, 2014, MLT

 

 

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Searching Tide Pools for Shore Crabs

 

Crab is such an ugly word—the hard k, its suddenness. I’m steeped in these small pools, or perched on the surrounding rocks and sand, one hole after the next, searching for shore crabs, carcinus maenas. I find their gray and tan bodies, slick with the tide, their sideways catapult from rock slide to water. For the few I pick up and return, they seem harmless, but I’ve seen what they can do. They hunt in packs. Whatever unsuspecting thing is there, it will be buried beneath the collection of pinchers and bodies, the sheer weight of them. The act is louder and longer than you would expect. We’ve come so far from home.

 

August 2014_Poem 18_Searching Tide Pools for Shore Crabs

 

August 18, 2014, MLT

 

 

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Garden Stems

 

I go out into the world, looking for strawberries like the ones from my mother’s garden. They were small and firm, sweet but bitter, dirt caught in the leaves and deeper pits. We plucked them fresh from their stems and ate them before cleaning them, the dirt and seeds caught in-between our teeth. Now I search farms and locals, grocery stores, and the fruits in cartons are bruised and old. I clean them, and when I bite into them, memories of home are distorted. The fields are green instead of corn. Our driveway is lined in flowers instead of trees. The dog house and chicken coop are missing or transformed, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. This is what trying to return home tastes like; bitter, without salt.

 

August 2014_Poem 17_Garden Stems

 

August 17, 2014, MLT

 

 

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Untitled; An Accordion

 

Yesterday, I spent the day sleeping away my life. It was peaceful, the blankets all clustered near the back porch door, and all the doors and windows on the first floor were left wide open. The sounds of wind and wind chimes, birds calling, the scent of trees, came and went. All that was locked was the front door, as if that could keep someone from entering, as if that could keep my sleeping form from leaving, the groggy and misshapen state it would take, a black frame, a silhouette, against the sky and all that green. Most of the flowers my mother planted have lost their petals but continue in their strong green bodies, the wide leaves still calling for water. I feed them when I can, when the watering can is not too much for the smaller form inside me to carry, her kicking somehow always saying stay inside, do not move, do not lift anything, sleep. And so I do, and the summer is passing.

 

rsz_august_2014_poem_16_untitled_an_accordion

 

August 16, 2014, MLT

 

 

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Collecting Horses

 

I want to get back into drawing, the pencil in my hand, the thick charcoal under my nails. I keep collecting spare pieces of paper, of cardboard, in the hope that something might happen. A horse, gray and white shadows, it appears—the long mane draped over one shoulder like a flag, the exposed eye and eyelashes that are so difficult to render. I imagine, over and over, applying the pencil to the page, and know my husband will not care, will not see the years it took to come back here, will not see the hours that went into providing this horse with the lungs and teeth it needs to survive within a frame. When she is complete, when she is living, he may find a frame for her, hang her on the wall, but he will not see her. She’ll remain decapitated, or large, or hoof-less, without a barn, depending on how I render her. The life of an artist living in a household, the muck caught in each of the hooves.

 

August 2014_Poem 15_Collecting Horses

 

August 15, 2014, MLT

 

 

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Memories

 

You should know by now that we can’t go back. Not like this. Not back through the electric fence or past the sheep, dehydrated and teeming. Past the mailboxes and songs. Our bodies are like their bodies now, stormed over and pale with all this sunlight and dung. We never should have come out here, never should have left our homes, opened our doors. Agoraphobia. The witnessing of the sun. How pointless. How many times do I have to tell you? The trees are singing. They turn to you with bark in their faces and tell you this is how it’s going to be, out here, the moment we step down from our porches. We grow up, and we manage to lose everything.

 

August 2014_Poem 14_Memories

 

August 14, 2014, MLT

 

 

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