Spontaneous Poetry: A Festival and a Challenge

Finding the August Postcard Poetry Fest was an accident. It was just one of those dozens of submission calls that overwhelm my inbox every week, but this one, I happened to read. Click here to learn more about how it works, but the concept is simple: you sign up the week of July 4th, you get put into a group with thirty-one other people who have signed up, and then you commit to send each of those people a postcard containing one of your poems before August 31st.

These are the postcards I’ve received this year from Fest participants. I’ll be keeping them in a little decorative bowl on my front hallway table for everyone who comes over to enjoy.

The idea is to write spontaneous poetry. Write directly on the postcard, don’t worry about editing, just let yourself write and let it go. If need be, pack your Writer Brain ™ into a trunk with those novels you’ve decided to stop querying and stuff a gag in your inner editor’s disparaging mouth. Just let go. And send a poem a day (roughly) into the world, to be received by someone elsewhere, a slip of verse in the corner of their mailbox.

If it sounds a little crazy, well, maybe it is. How often do we, as writers, get reminded that our work isn’t free, that editors are our best friends, and that we need to value the process? This festival was challenging me to let all those things go. I was going to write and mail off thirty-one new poems to complete strangers, knowing that every postal service employee along the way might read them, knowing that some of those postcards might not even reach their destinations. In the avalanche of catalogs and junk advertising that gluts every mailbox these days, how fragile is a single personal index card?

But I did it. What I came to understand is that there was extraordinary value in the process – a new kind of process for me – because it allowed me to be spontaneous about poetry. I no longer had to make sure every poem bore the weight of some Deeply Important Truth; maybe next week I’d write one of those, but today’s could be just a fragmentary vision. I could let myself be inspired by mundane things, because after all, I had to produce a lot of poems in a short time, and they couldn’t all be Shakespearean sonnets.

(For the record, I produced zero Shakespearean sonnets this summer.)

And what I found, once I had the impetus to clear away the chaff of pressure surrounding what I thought I was supposed to be writing about, was that ordinary life is both mundane and inspiring, at the same time. The pleasant desperation of a deadline, coupled with the informality of a postcard, helped me understand that I could carry those random thoughts that flitted through my brain on a daily basis to their logical lyrical conclusions.

Once school started, I instituted “Hourly Fivers,” inspired by my friend and fellow writer David Jón Fuller, who tried to stop what he was doing every hour or so and write for five minutes. On days when I could cram it into my schedule, I would try to stop every hour or so and scribble down a poem in five minutes. I wasn’t successful in making this a routine, but I loved the concept, and I did write several poems this way over the course of a week.

The postcard challenge is over now, but I’m eagerly looking forward to next year’s. I’m also finding ways to incorporate this writing practice into my Creative Writing curriculum; so far my students seem to like it, and they’re producing really wonderful poems. I think the biggest lesson here is that spontaneous writing can have value on its own.

I won’t lie and say that I have enough time for writing. I won’t lie and say I make enough time for it, either. My job and family are too much with me, and that’s okay: I’d rather have them. But I’m trying to make it all work. My next scheduled challenge will be the NaNoWriMo, which you might know I modify to be realistic for my life full of teaching and parenting. These periodic bursts of activity keep me on track, keep me from drifting off into non-writing space. These challenges are a tether, reminding me of who I am in a life that’s constantly chipping away at who and what that’s supposed to mean.

I hope next year you’ll join me in the August Postcard Poetry Fest, because I’m pretty confident, all other things being equal, that I’ll be there.

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4 thoughts on “Spontaneous Poetry: A Festival and a Challenge

  1. Thank you for sharing your process for the August PoPo 2018 ..
    This was my first time … spur of the moment decision and very
    happy I did participate. I found myself, making that spur of the
    moment decision, not as organized as I prefer to be, so I made
    the error of forgetting to copy some poem and cards.

    Like

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