Monday, May 17, 2010

Looking Back on NaPoWriMo

This April was the fourth time I participated in National Poetry Writing Month, in which the challenge is to write a poem every day for the month of April. The first time, in 2007, I just plunged in. Each year since then I've stopped writing poetry sometime in March, and focused instead on making notes, gathering ideas for NaPo and experiencing varying degrees of trepidation.

It happens regularly that two or three times during NaPo I feel like giving up, but manage to keep going with small things, limericks, cinquains, fibs, triolets, surrealistic haiku, etc. In coping with the intensity of the roller-coaster ride that is NaPo, I've found that my most reliable sources of inspiration are:

1) forms. There are tried and true forms, such as the villanelle, which I can write in my sleep; and then there are exotic ones to experiment with (Lewis Turco's The Book of Forms, 3d.ed., and Robin Skelton's The Shapes of our Singing are good sources). When writing in forms I rarely worry about the content, which may be quite surrealistic; the results are sometimes happy, more often plodding, but if so it still gives me courage to try the form again later.

2) building on the work of other poets. I've kept a running list of ways to do this, which sort themselves into broad categories: a) starting with a borrowed title of phrase and going on from there, arguing with it, etc. b) using borrowed lines as the basis of a villanelle, rondel or other (usually) French form; c) playing with a longer chunk, or a whole poem— writing between the lines, doing paraphrases or "translations" such as homophonic, antonymic, Oulipo +7, etc.

3) This year I also got quite a bit of mileage from cannibalizing some of my old failed poems which in former years I didn't have enough distance to let go of.

In previous years I was so exhausted by the end of April that I wrote very little for the rest of the year. I wonder if that will be the case now. I ended on a high note, with a clear feeling that over the month I had learned something about structure. A few days into May I participated in a 7/7 challenge at The Waters. I have much more of a sense of direction this year, and hope to maintain enough momentum to participate in a 7/7 challenge every month or so.

Participating in NaPoWriMo or any other challenge involves commenting on the work of others. Not critique, but positive encouragement so that we can all keep going. I'm too introverted to be good at this, but appreciate the comments others make about my efforts, and admire people to whom such responses seem to come easily. A NaPo group with lots of participants is especially daunting; I start out with good intentions, but tend to fold midway through. With luck I will gain some practice while doing shorter challenges.

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