I'm not much of a 'write for contests' kind of guy, preferring to commit to art rather than things which would produce some kind of personal recognition but I have participated, for the first time, in National Poetry Month because it is, in part, about something in which I believe. For any of you who are unfamiliar with it, this is an American event created to specifically promote poetry and increase public awareness of poetry and poets, in general. What is asked of us during the month of April is to write a poem each day of the month. I begin to be a little uncertain here, wondering if some quantitative value is going to do anything worthwhile for poetry but, what the heck; it’s for a good cause so I can tolerate a portion of sloppy logic to go with the good intentions.
I’m used to external discipline as it is applied to learning. I’m a teacher and I try to do this for my students all the time as I also help them with the process of learning how to do that for and by themselves (called learner autonomy). In my life as a poet, I frequently find I need to learn more about my art. How does W. C. Williams bring that larger context along with that object, The Red Wheelbarrow, with such a simple, short poem? How does Basho find the soul of something physical and familiar to us? How does a sonnet or sestina work? I must learn from these external things so I can do what the art of poetry demands of me.
When I seek to gain knowledge from external sources I am practicing learner autonomy in my own life. If a poet acquaintance like Robert Lee Brewer takes upon himself to post a daily prompt for each day of National Poetry Month for use by hundreds of poets on the internet, this is another form of external discipline because now I must write not only daily (which I already do) but on a specific theme. Sometimes a thousand or more poets respond and post their themed results on an internet location where they can be collected and judged. I am the kind of poet that likes to revise and this regime gives no time for that activity to take place. In essence, we are being asked to produce the best work we can with rather short notice and with very little opportunity to revise before submission. This is so far away from the writing regime I have been using for years but I find I am learning some unplanned lessons in areas I usually don’t even think about by participating in this experience.
We are nearly half way through and it is not too late to pick up your pen and join in the fun. If, like me, you would never consider doing such a silly (although well motivated) thing like this, I invite you to give it a try. After all, being a holy person in the isolation of living on a high mountain is one thing but coming down and trying to be pure in the city with its myriad temptations is a whole ‘nother. Join the crowd!