Wednesday, April 16, 2014

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Janlori Goldman

It has been a pleasure to work with the recent Toadlily Press poets, like Janlori Goldman. Here she kindly shares how her 30 poems in 30 days April writing group works. Great idea. Have you been writing a poem draft a day this month?

Janlori Goldman is a poet and teacher. Her first chapbook, ‘Akhmatova’s Egg,’ was published in 2013 by Toadlily Press. Gerald Stern chose her poem ‘At The Cubbyhole Bar’ for the Raynes Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Calyx, Contrary, Mead, Gertrude, Storyscape Journal, The Mom Egg, The Sow’s Ear, and other journals.  In May 2014, Janlori will co-launch The Wide Shore, a global journal of women’s poetry.  Janlori teaches at Columbia University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Writing 30 poems in 30 thirty days: isolation and community

Every April morning I wake up an hour earlier than usual to write. I sit in a dim room, write the first thing that comes (grey day, quiet river, pigeon roosting on air conditioner) and go from there. At some point in, maybe 20 or 30 lines, some phrase arrives that announces ‘done for now.’ I do a quick re-read, usually scratch the image that got me rolling, and type the roughest draft of a poem into an email to send to 6 stunning poets who will do the same thing each day for National Poetry Month. We are a community of writers, seeing each other through 30 days of 30 poems, all agreeing to send fresh, unpolished work, and open to a blank page the next day.

I get the sense that many poets around the country are creating lines that in May and June and July may serve up the generative bits for poems that we will publish, share, and recognize as having been written in a rare combination of isolation and community. Knowing that our rawest scribblings are read each day by a trusted ensemble of dedicated writers makes its mark on the poet and the poems, though I can not say just how or why this is— but most of us don’t even begin to imagine an audience of even one until draft after draft after draft, until we’ve stood in front of the mirror to hear the poem in the room, feels its cadence in our mouth, make changes on the spot to let music enter.

My 30/30 group requires something that breaks the usual pattern, a trust exercise of dropping first utterances back into someone’s waiting arms. During the day I may get a cheering email:  ‘strong language,’ ‘beautifully wrought phrase,’ or ‘this is going to be a kick-ass poem!’  Are any of us surprised at the end of April to see how we’ve absorbed someone else’s words or images or style as our own, how we are influenced by our community to express the greatest form of flattery?

I am grateful to Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, a remarkable poet and leader in our community, who assembles and introduces us, guides the process, and lets it fly for the month. And then in May we try to meet, read a few of our 30/30 poems to each other, and if a few lines urged us on to a more finished poem, we read those too. By the time May arrives, we are all a bit weary from the marathon of writing every day, and the daily reading and responding to each other’s poems, but there is a deep satisfaction of rich work and bonds formed that we carry through to the following April.

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