07 February 2010

When poetry pays the bills.

I have been taking myself to the woodshed lately over not writing enough new poems. My time management strategy is akin to how certain colleges schedule a gigantic lecture class of 350 students in an auditorium that seats 200. Unfortunately, all of the students who would usually skip are in attendance, in my time management strategy, instead of staying home with hangovers and lazing in front of reruns. Hence, this has not been a very productive semester so far, in the writing department.

I used to have a job making cappuccinos for people. I could make them with a lovely flourish on top, sometimes the eerie likeness of an apple in the foam. However, when I was not working, the last thing I wanted to do was make coffee, or hang out at the local java junction with friends and eat biscotti. I don't want my attitude toward poetry to reflect my past attitude toward coffee.

Mostly, it doesn't. Reading poems and talking about poems makes me spend an awful lot of time thinking about poetry, and loving it. I thank universe every day that this is what I get to do for a living. But the majority of my time is spent thinking about other people's poems (yeah, you know me). Sometimes I wonder if making coffee, or working a non-poetry related job, is easier on a writer's psyche.

I know that I should just make poetry a priority. I should send some of those 350 metaphorical students packing (in real life, I only have 28 students total, and I would never give them their walking papers). I have to feel it, though. I can't force myself. And sometimes I have to get all of the other tasks done before I feel okay.

Anyway, dear readers, those who pay the rent with poetry-related activity, or non-poetry-related activity, how do you keep going? What makes you channel energy into writing poems, rather than into vacuuming cat hair off the basement stairs?

As a final note, I took the above picture today and accidentally made it the wallpaper on my Blackberry. That must have some kind of significance. Probably to remind me that I need to write a poem.

10 comments:

Justin Evans said...

I am not a prolific writer. I write when I get the chance, between classes, walking home, or a few moments in my bedroom while my wife graciously keeps tabs on our boys.

Looking back I realize I have no idea how I ever finish a poem, but I seem to manage it. Perhaps it's all part of my filter. If I have a completed poem, it's because I have found a way to justify working on it.

My finished poems get sent out and I attempt to visualize it as part of a manuscript, which always fails because I never know I am writing a book until I am half way finished.

The one exception is this latest book, where I wrote more than 50 pages in two months, but even then I don't know how I managed to write so much---and it is unlike anything else I have ever written---to the point I have no idea whether it is any good at all.

That, and now that I finally know what I want the manuscript to be I can't seem to write the last eight poems I need.

Maybe this is just a weird, round about way of saying I am just as confused at how I make this work.

Nancy Devine said...

i teach high school and frequently feel drained by the end of the day. often i force myself to write; maybe i treat it like exercise or tooth brushing. sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn't.
i've decided that if i'm generative (be it through writing, cooking, making music, devising ways to teach) that i'm good. then i let go of the guilt that hounds me.
making a writing life work is challenging for me. sometimes i prefer to just hop on twitter and relax.

Penultimatina said...

Update! I wrote a poem!

Lyle Daggett said...

I work for a "living" in an office full of cubicles in a large corporation in an office building. It's a job I don't have to take home with me, i.e. fixed work hours and when I leave at the end of the day I'm done till I'm at work again.

I write whenever I have spare time, in the mornings before I start work, during my breaks, in the evenings, on weekends, on vacation days when I have them. Not every single minute of spare time, of course -- I also read, eat, sleep, get dressed, go to the drugstore, spend time in blog land, etc. But I discipline myself to make time to write, and to do the writing.

It helps, without a doubt, that I don't have children, that I have no debts other than basic monthly expenses. I don't have a whole lot else pulling at my time.

I've never taught for a living, and I've found that it has helped me immensely to be able to get my mind away from poetry for periods of time during the day. Now and then I'm too tired to deal with writing, though then that's the case I'm basically too tired to do anything but sleep. When I'm awake enough to do anything else, eat, talk, ride the bus, whatever, I'm awake enough to write.

I have fruitful and fallow cycles that vary, so there are some times when I'm writing in a constant frenzy, and other times when I'm squeaking it out a line or two every couple of days. Over the years I've had to learn to ride out the "dry" periods. The poetry always comes back.

I keep at it because my life would have no meaning if I didn't.

Stephanie Goehring said...

I don't really have anything that awesome to contribute here (I'm still trying to figure out how to motivate myself to write while working the hours I work) but I really just had to say that your poem, "Shipwreck," up at How a Poem Happens, motivates me to want to write. That poem is stunning.

台灣 said...

今天是個好天氣~祝你愉快~^^~~..............................

Archambeau said...

What the what? Mary Biddinger gone puritanical and work ethic-y? I mean, to hell with it. Let the poems come when they want to come. It's not like the world is dying from a dearth of poems. And didn't Keats say ""If Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves of a tree it had better not come at all."

I guess what I want to say is this: why beat up on yourself? Let the field lie fallow for a while. That's a kind of work, too.

Bob

Fred said...

Well, as the Permissions Dude I'm squarely in the "poetry activity" area, which (somehow) pays the bills and keeps my little guy in diapers (don't worry--he's only two).

Like everyone else I've got time management problems, which is a good thing, not only because I often bill by the hour, but because the lack of activity to juggle would make it hard to pay the bills. I do work for a ton of literary presses, and individually they don't generate enough work so I need to have a number of clients, all with rights & permissions queries that arrive at different rates and difficulty levels. Today I got a major national magazine to not only print a poem, but pay $200 for it. Tomorrow it might be difficult to get people to cough up $25/poem.

All this is to say that time management problems are not really problems at all, but opportunities.

pottygok said...

Here's part of my post from the Cleveland Poetics Blog (clevelandpoetics.blogspot.com):

In his book As Easy As Lying, H. L. Hix advocates a training regimen for poets. These include "External" training (going outside poetry and bringing external hobbies and readings into poetry), "Verbal" training (expanding one's vocabulary and learning from other languages), "Musical" training, "Traditional" training (understanding the history of poetry and poetic traditions), "Physical" training (awareness of the body), "Chthonic" training (awareness of the bodies and entities around us), "Cultural" training, "Communal" training, and "Conceptual" training. I think following some, if not all, of this regimen helps to infuse one with the energy and inspiration for poetry.

pottygok said...

I came to this post from a repost Cleveland Poetics Blog (clevelandpoetics.blogspot.com). Here is part of my response from that blog:

In his book As Easy As Lying, H. L. Hix advocates a training regimen for poets. These include "External" training (going outside poetry and bringing external hobbies and readings into poetry), "Verbal" training (expanding one's vocabulary and learning from other languages), "Musical" training, "Traditional" training (understanding the history of poetry and poetic traditions), "Physical" training (awareness of the body), "Chthonic" training (awareness of the bodies and entities around us), "Cultural" training, "Communal" training, and "Conceptual" training. I think following some, if not all, of this regimen helps to infuse one with the energy and inspiration for poetry.