Poet At His Desk

On Why I Just Cannot Fathom Doing 30 Poems In 30 Days (NaPoWriMo)

Jose 8 Comments

Poet At His Desk

Poet At His Desk

Hanging around poets, I often get random memes thrown in my direction. Sometimes, they’re simple writing prompts gathered from current events or some erudite writer, or “homework” from a workshop or a show I attended. I don’t always pay attention to them, but that’s often left to us to figure out. Then, around every April, I get a flood of e-mails and Facebook messages about this National Poetry Writing Month Challenge, where, for 30 days, a poet must write poems in for each day. The concept has its merits and it certainly looks like fun from the outside.

But it’s crap. Here’s why:

1) Unless you’re fully invested in poetry, you rarely make it through 30 poems. Most people I know only get through 10 on average. Some try to be slick by writing a barrage of haikus, but …

2) The poems themselves often end up sounding mundane at best. While writing with structure in theory is difficult, the exercise itself takes less skill when doing it in this time period because everyone excuses it. They’ll be reading another poem the next day!

These two reasons often lead poets young and old who try this to feel like their efforts have been diminished by those who do complete the challenge (the very few, hardcore, persistent, or simply haikuists). I see it, and wonder if “quantity over quality” is the sort of message we as a poetry community (I’ll include myself in this club) want to communicate. Unless you’re a full-time poet whose become that refined in their work, NaPoWriMo doesn’t work for the growing poet.

Poetry is a means by which we take a whole set of loosely connected thoughts, tighten the string that binds these thoughts, and sow them up just enough so when we pass the message along, the next person can get a snapshot of your experience. It’s less conversation, more soliloquy. It’s not simply boiled, microwaved, and ready to serve: it’s distilled, chilled, seasoned, and then cooked to order. It’s not necessarily lyric embedded in metaphor, but it’s certainly life drenched in voice, and bias.

With 30 for 30, it’s hard to see that extraction all the way through.

Here are some things, however, I might suggest for any of us who decide we’d like to do some activity that takes a few minutes of your time everyday for those thirty or so days that involve poetry. Write a few poems and edit them throughout the week. Try another form you haven’t tried and, upon failing, try again. Work on that magical manuscript you’ve been promising to yourself forever (my personal favorite). Read and support other poet’s works (on deck for me: Paul Martinez Pompa’s My Kill Adore Him and Martin Espada’s Alabanza).

And if you decide to carry on with 30 for 30, that’s also fine. Some of us need that social prompt to force that writing out of us. We can’t better if we don’t practice writing constantly. I just find that NaPoWriMo is not the most effective tool, especially self-esteem wise. Besides, poetry that lasts forever never comes from a couple of days.

Jose, who only has 20 poems out of my 100 or so that I’m happy with. Manuscripts suck until they’re done.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonOn Why I Just Cannot Fathom Doing 30 Poems In 30 Days (NaPoWriMo)

Comments 8

  1. bivey

    I hear you on this point. I give my students (7th graders) about three weeks to complete eight poems. They select some of them to read on Family Weekend. They share some of them online with other schools, and comment on poems by students at those other schools. They bring in “morning poetry” to read. They prepare presentations, including in-class activities, on terms like “consonance.” They attend all-school housemeeting and listen to people reading poetry. They submit poems for our all-school poetry contest, and attend the Poetry Festival where the winners, and a professional poet, read. They keep an eye out for “Golden Ticket” poems that the English Department hides around the school. In short, poetry is all around them for much of National Poetry Month, but they also have time to craft poetry and let it develop. At this year’s reading, I teared up three times, and laughed out loud about as often. It seems to be working out okay.

  2. UpsideDown Peace

    Well Said! Although it’s a very broad statement considering millions write…I’m an optimist…Maybe someone, somewhere has Quantity with Quality (lol)

    KEEP IT PEACEFUL

  3. NYC Educator

    I read the book about writing a novel in 30 days, and it seemed to me the writer was saying write whatever crap you can come up with and perhaps you can fix it later. I’m sure if you follow that advice you’ll succeed.

  4. Glendaliz Camacho

    I totally agree. I read poems posted during April that contain typos, misspelled words! Lawd have mercy! Definitely agree with you – quantity over quality. Those that participate should be aware that most of it will be crap but perhaps they can come away with a few rough pieces with potential that they can get excited about once the frenzy is over. The one good thing that can come out of it is perhaps forming the habit to sit every day and write but I’ll let you know more on that once I declare (yet again) that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, and then fail to even do the first day (now that is a habit I’ve stuck to).

  5. pre_k

    we both now I am a bit of an asshole about my poetry.. I don’t think I even have the capacity to write a poem a day.. maybe i do but I am sure the quality would begin to suffer after about four or five days. most of the poems i put on the internet these days are usually key-styles, which is usually me sitting their in the moment typing out something. for me personally, a good quality poem that meets my personal standards takes a couple of days, if not a couple of weeks in order to complete and tweek to my liking.

    While I am not a proponent of such things I can see how it can be useful. sitting down and actually writing is the hardest part, at least for me it is. If you can get people writing at some point their skill will improve. how much it actually improves is a matter of what one puts into it. For me I will stick to my social network back room poetry posting schedule until i am ready for something else..

    anyway.. keep on working on the manuscript.. If your poetry has grown as much as i have perceived your general writing ability to have grown, it is possible you are on your way to Pulitzer.. that is if i don’t beat you there first.

  6. Joseph Perez

    Poetry is a means by which we take a whole set of loosely connected thoughts, tighten the string that binds these thoughts, and sow them up just enough so when we pass the message along, the next person can get a snapshot of your experience. It’s less conversation, more soliloquy. It’s not simply boiled, microwaved, and ready to serve: it’s distilled, chilled, seasoned, and then cooked to order. It’s not necessarily lyric embedded in metaphor, but it’s certainly life drenched in voice, and bias.

    This is by far one of the best definitions of poetry I’ve read in a long time. Makes me hungry for good writing.

  7. Post
    Author
    Jose

    Thanks to everyone who’s commented. I understand the idea of editing later just to get the thoughts out. This was me playing devil’s advocate (or the devil), and wondering if people take the 30 / 30 too seriously, as if it’s part of their poetry badge. We all know people who can write only a few poems per month and can make it better than those who’ve written dozens of poems over the same time period. For me, it’s about quality over quantity.

    Joseph, that’s where we should work. That persistent hunger is nice for its benefits.

  8. Pingback: Rock Wilk: It’s Like His Heart Broke Wide Open — The Jose Vilson

Leave a Reply