Friday, May 3, 2013

My Poem-A-Day Challenge for April (and Beyond)

[This blogpost first appeared on the 49 Writers Blog on May 2, 2013]

When the cruelest month rolls around each year I step out from my office at UAA and throw the poetic gauntlet down the hall to my buddy and colleague, Professor Shannon Gramse.  Shannon is a cross-country skier extraordinaire, gifted teacher, and Co-Editor of the journal Ice-Floe. He is also a poet. My bold challenge to him has always been for each of us to write a poem a day for April, National Poetry month. At the end of the challenge the loser --- yours truly ---buys lunch and we go over the best poems of the batch and discuss them.

Here's where I admit to you my darkest secret. Please don't tell him. I'm actually the winner. Not only do I get the practice of penning several dozen poems, but I get to an inside glimpse at some real poetry. The work of someone who studies poetry, thinks poetry, and is both a student and master of the craft. Me? I'm actually not a poet. I'm also not a novelist. Or a memoirist. Or screenwriter. Or short story-ist. Growing up where I did in southwestern Alaska, no one told me I needed to pick one mode and master it. So I didn't. I went with a duct tape approach to writing and found myself and my writing adhering to a little of this and that. For me the character, stories, or ideas find the form themselves. Still, each April slips like melting dogshit beneath the Xtratuf and I am drawn to poetry, and secretly hope I can talk Shannon into sharing a month's worth of work with me. 
This year something struck me, perhaps the fall and subsequent head trauma after slipping on said dog-doo, and I decided I would not only write a poem every day for the entire month, but I would share them. Not just share them with my pal Shannon or maybe my mom, but the world (or at least the on-line world, the rather small world who frequents blogs and/or actually reads web published poetry.).  At best, a few people would read the poems, right? At worst, I'd only write a couple and fail publicly, or worse yet people would actually read the poems and then know that stuff I say about me not being a poet is true.

Do I dare? Do I dare? I asked myself, throwing Prufrock out with the tea and coffeespoons. 
I dared.
The results were not at all what I expected, nor would I anticipate the responses from readers around the world.

Each day I wrote a poem and posted it to my blog, usually accompanying the poem with some sort of photo. The poems were inspired by my day to day life. Thoughts during the day. Experiences with my son. Breaking news. Concerns about humanity. The brilliance happening in Juneau during the legislative session. You know. What ever struck me. What ever form found its way on the page. There was simply no method to my madness. I often wrote them on my iPhone while putting my son down for a nap, singing ABC's at the same time.  Later I might read the poem aloud to my dogs/son/moose in window, edit on the fly, and share via social media. Facebook. Twitter. Google Plus. (I know, I know, that's ridiculous, but as an author with my first novel finally being published in the US this June, after a few years and few countries preceding the US pub date, I leave no social media form un-liked.)
Naturally friends and family were supportive. Some laughed. Some cried. Many many Facebook likes were liked. Some begin to share the poems with their friends. Those responses fueled me. People began to expect a poem by mid-morning. I'd get requests or funny comments saying, "You're late! Where is my poem?" Things like that. 
Then a few teachers asked if they could reprint the poems and share them with their class. KYUK, the public radio station in Bethel where I grew up, took my poem "Seal Oil Salesman" and read it to goofy circus music. [Click to listen here.] News outlets shared several of the poems. People sent countless private messages of thanks. In one month's time I had over ten thousand hits to my little infrequent and poorly designed blog.
I share all of this not to bolster my already fragile ego. No. I'm sure that will be shattered when I sit down again with the real poet, Shannon Gramse, and read his beautiful poems. I share this with you to toss the poetic gauntlet your direction, and perhaps I won't even limit it to poetry. Let's open the challenge to all forms. Write I say. Write and share some of your work with your friends and the world. You don't have to hoard all your words for some future publication (or in my case save them to submit to journals for rejection). Instead hit "share" and people will "like" them.
Don Rearden is not a poet, or a novelist; in fact, he didn't even write this. He's testing out a new APP that picks up his brain waves, sorts all three of them, and publishes blog posts while writing poems, novels, screenplays, and book publicity. His debut novel comes out again, the forth time, this June with Penguin US.