National Poetry Month is the perfect opportunity to both read and write poetry with abandon!
Visit poets.org to read a previously unpublished poem by a contemporary poet during each day in April. Also check out their 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month.
I also recommend Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day (year-round).
Writer’s Digest’s April Poem-A-Day Challenge. Daily prompts are provided, with encouraging samples. Post your poems in the comments if you want to share and potentially receive feedback or comments. Or just keep them in your journal!
NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month is inspired by NaNoWriMo, and hosted by Maureen Thorson, a poet living in Washington DC. Use the daily prompts and link to your blog or website if you’d like to share your poetry.
CREATE: If you want some structured parameters to start you off, try out this new Singaporean poetic form: the coronasonnet.
In my experimentation with journalling strategies, I've found that there are some really helpful ways to add visual structure to my journal in order to make sure that it keeps its sacred space in my life. My journal is not a bullet journal, but I find that having a page or two of visuals is great for adding focus.
Today, I decided to make one of the pages in my journal an intention wheel. I read about this on tinyrayofsunshine.com, a journalling blog with lots of practical tips, and I liked how it was named.
One of my main daily intentions, captured so well in the poem "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins, is to find something to appreciate each day and "hold it up to the light/ like a color slide." I want my journal to be a free place to think, appreciate, enjoy and express my thoughts. So I need to make sure I honour this time each day and protect it.
REFLECT: What are your most important intentions for each day? What do you want to track? How might journalling help with this?
CREATE: Try out an intention wheel as one page in your journal. Colour in the squares to see how you are doing in the areas that matter to you. Here is a free printable template.
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
Check out bulletjournal.com for more ways to organize your journalling and clarify your life goals.
Also check out 100 Days of Bullet Journal Ideas from Kim at tinyrayofsunshine.com.
I had the chance to experience The Chalkroom yesterday, an immersive VR experience created by Laurie Anderson and Hsien-Chien Huang. I was given a headset and two VR controllers, and for fifteen minutes I was able to fly through and explore a total of over ten virtual "chalkrooms" in a gigantic construct that seemed to float in an endless night sky. The idea is to embark "on an exploratory journey through a labyrinth of collective memories. Fragments of language and sound entangle in this space."
According to Laurie Anderson, "the visitor is encouraged to embrace an experience of isolation...one that restores the imaginative self". And how better to do that through virtual flight?
This reminded me of why I've just started journalling, since that experience serves exactly the same purpose. I am currently writing morning pages based on The Artist's Way. What are these? The author Julia Cameron explains them in the introduction to the workbook: "They are three pages of daily longhand stream of consciousness, written first thing upon arising. An excellent meditation practice,...the pages clarify and prioritize our day. Morning pages are not intended to be high art. They are not "real" writing. They are simply the siphoning off of the mind's surface so that we can get to the deeper thoughts and impulses that lie beneath our daily voice-over."
The Chalkroom gave me a perfect way to visualize the kind of environment I want my journal to be. The installation is currently open to the public free-of-charge in Singapore at the SMU de Suantio Gallery as part of the Singapore Bienniale 2019 until the 22nd of March.
REFLECT/CREATE: Sit down and fill three pages with continuous writing. This is something you can start with on any day that you simply want to "show up" for your journalling and honour the habit.
If you're nervous about flying, there's nothing like getting swept away with something absorbing, frivolous and irreverent.
Today I read the poem Delta Flight 659 by Denise Duhamel.
It's addressed to Sean Penn, and from her collection, Ka-Ching! (2009).
REFLECT/CREATE: Write a journal entry addressed to a celebrity of your choice, in any form you choose. What would you share or confide or critique?
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
Here are some of Denise Duhamel's other works:
(Co-edited with Nick Carbo in 2002) Sweet Jesus: Poems About the Ultimate Icon
...and some collaborative works:
Exquisite Politics (1997)
Little Novels (2002)
Saints of Hysteria: A Half Century of Collaborative American Poetry (2007)
Walking through my school on the way to teach a high school class last week, I passed a few elementary students pottering around in the grass. I smiled at them in greeting. We don't often get little folk on our side of the campus.
One boy stepped off the grass towards me. "Hi! Want to know what we're doing?"
Of course I did!
"We're taking pictures from a worm's eye view. We just learned about it in Art class. There's bird's eye view," he explained as he reached up and pointed downwards, "and worm's eye view." Now his hand was on the pavement, pointing up. "That's what we're looking for over there in the garden. See you!"
I was happy for that short lesson in perspective. It reminded me not only to take the time to chat with people and ask about what they are doing, but also to look through different lenses, whether creatively or in my personal life.
The Bird's Eye View
I often get lost in the details of an immediate problem, and feel it looming over me. The more it is in my mental gaze, the more overwhelmed and intimidated I feel. It doesn't help that I can get obsessive over tiny details. Going for a walk and literally looking at the sky and the horizon (the sea, if possible!), really helps to reset my frame of mind. Then I come back to it and decide to get one step done. If I have a huge stack of papers to mark, I grade a few, and then it doesn't seem so bad.
The Worm's Eye View
Getting a worm's eye view as a photographer is a way to stop and mindfully observe your surroundings from a completely different angle. Where I live there are huge palms, and if you looked straight up into the bunches of dry fronds that hang down under the green leaves, you might see bats sleeping, or monitor lizards several feet long hiding from the world, since they are invisible from the side and from above. I only noticed this because I once saw a lizard run up the tree, and decided to go over and take a look from the base. Yep, he was still up there. I need to do that figuratively but not allowing myself to be consumed in the daily rush of things I feel I must do. This journal is a way to carve out time for a worm's eye view.
This is my favourite poem about perspective:
I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.
REFLECT: How can you look at current situation in your life from a complete different perspective, or from several perspectives?
I am currently reading John Berger's Why Look at Animals?, and each of the essays in it are tremendously thought-provoking. The first one, called "A Mouse Story", talks about a man's encounter with various mice that sneak into his kitchen to nibble on his bread. After using a humane trap to catch them, he releases them in a field near his home. The style is simple and it is largely written in the present tense. It is a quiet and intimate encounter with the animal world.
This reminded me of the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, such as "The Lion Cage", "The Panther" and "The Gazelle", which focus intensely on the perceived inner and outer world of the animals named, suggesting volumes about the relationship between humans and animals.
It strikes me how many poems and essays about animals are written in the present tense, as curiously intimate encounters and descriptions. Yet Berger's book, according to the cover notes of the Penguin edition, explores "how the ancient relationship between man and nature has been severed in the modern consumer age, with the animals that used to be at the centre of our existence now marginalized and reduced to spectacle".
REFLECT: How do the lives of animals connect with your own? How can you be more conscious of this relationship in a way that either brings you balance, or promotes our relationship with animals in our envirionment?
MORE THOUGHT FUEL: Watch John Berger's influential Ways of Seeing series, as well as The Art of Looking. And read this Brain Pickings post that mentions John Berger and animals.
Today I looked to animated poetry for inspiration. Here are some of my favorites:
Whenever I feel a lack of inspiration, I turn to Ray Bradbury. His book, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, should be on every aspiring writer's bookshelf because of its energy, enthusiasm and wealth of creative ideas. I have read the essays in this book over and over.
One of my favorite essays in the collection is called "Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds". Near the beginning, Bradbury asks,
What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.
He goes on to explain that as he started writing, he found his own way to be creative:
I began to put down brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates. All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.
This evolved as time went on:
But along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.
The lists ran something like this:
THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. The TRAP-DOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.
I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds.
The essay goes on to explain how these lists gave birth to many of his stories and novels, Including "The Thing at the Top of the Stairs", which he finished that week in 1986.
CREATE: Time yourself for 20 minutes and list as many nouns as you can. Think of things you love and hate, and how they drive you. Keep this list and add to it.
REFLECT: What do the things you love and hate tell you about what drives you in life?
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
A Conversation with Ray Bradbury
Day at Night: Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer
I came across a couple of powerful pieces by Sergio Barrale on a recent post on Supersonic, part of an series entitled Our Private Religion. He has this to say about religion: “To me, religion is just feelings that guide us and inform our choices in the world…" I like that there is the idea of a private world, as well as a sense that it is shared with others.
Related to this, last summer I discovered Georgiana Houghton, a spiritual medium of the late 19th Century. I visited The Courtauld Institute Gallery to see her Spirit Drawings. Meticulous and ethereal, the automatic drawings were each said to be guided by a group of spirits, whose names were listed in spidery script on the back of the canvas.
Finally, on the same subject, Poetry Foundation's featured poem this week was "Faith" by David Baker.
REFLECT: What forces move you in your inner world? How do you want to make more space for these forces and express them in your life?
CREATE: Get out some markers, colour pencils or paints and create an automatic drawing. Close your eyes while drawing or colouring, or let your hand be guided by your favorite music or meditation.
MORE THOUGHT FUEL:
The Longing In Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World
Abstract Art Painting: Expressions in Mixed Media
They Knew What They Wanted
They all kissed the bride.
They all laughed.
They came from beyond space.
They came by night.
They came to a city.
They came to blow up America.
They came to rob Las Vegas.
They dare not love.
They died with their boots on.
They shoot horses, don’t they?
They go boom.
They got me covered.
They flew alone.
They gave him a gun.
They just had to get married.
They live. They loved life.
They live by night.
They drive by night.
They knew Mr. Knight.
They were expendable.
They met in Argentina.
They met in Bombay.
They met in the dark.
They might be giants.
They made me a fugitive.
They made me a criminal.
They only kill their masters.
They shall have music.
They were sisters.
They still call me Bruce.
They won’t believe me.
They won’t forget.
by John Ashbery, from London Review of Books and Vanitas
This poem was created using found movie titles. Found poems can be a strong creative boost, since results are unexpected and thus take on a magic of their own.
I decided to create two found poems with movie titles containing "he" and "she" respectively. It gave me some things to reflect about regarding gender, and also what title I would choose if my life was represented by a movie!
REFLECT: Think about and describe how you would like your life story to be summed up, and why. How can you steer your life in that direction?
CREATE: Choose any page from a book/newspaper/magazine and create a found poem. Alternatively, try a pool of movie titles/book titles containing a word that you are interested in.
MORE THOUGHT FUEL: Read more found poems here at Poets.org. And here are some excellent anthologies:
Found and Lost: Found Poetry and Visual Poetry