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The Writing Life: A Testament to Daily Writing

2014 February 11
by Liz Lampman

The Writing Life

1484161_10152070709534098_290624239_nI wrote a poem every day in January. And I’m still surprised that I can say that I did that. I’ve tried before, believe me. Other months, my journal started out strong with daily efforts until day ten, or eight, or… yes, four. There are a number of factors which made me successful this time, and I’m grateful for each of those, but I think it’s important (mostly for me) to acknowledge that I wrote a poem a day for 30 days. This post is about what made that possible for me. And guess what, if I can do it, you can do it too!

As we discussed here on The Writing Life earlier in January, the independent publisher Tupelo Press coordinates the 30/30 Project every month. Writers volunteer to take on the challenge of writing a poem every day for thirty days and, in so doing, raise funds for Tupelo Press from their friends, family, and personal networks. The poems are posted daily, here. Inspired by the opportunity to support a great press and looking forward to a challenge, I took on the project as a way to kick-start 2014.

On day one, I felt great! Like a poet-superstar! By day two, I was frantic with pen in hand at 9 pm, clueless about what to write. I wrote a bad poem. And the next day, chastised by my own self-criticism, I sought a way to release myself from self-scrutiny. In so doing, I ended up writing my first ever ars poetica. Excerpted here:

Sit back from wit:

no pen is clever.

You may be a house plant

or, if you choose, a cup of steam.

(From “Ars Poetica I” by Elizabeth Eva Lampman, first seen on the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project page, day 3.)

It may have been my favorite poem of the month, but more importantly, after that point I felt released and free to explore the challenge on my own terms and on my own whims! My next realization, was that I was used to shutting out ideas that I thought were “not interesting enough.” Instead, I let myself write through all of my ideas and it turned out that some of my rawest impulses became poems that I appreciated very much. The moral of the story, don’t cock-block your ideas.

Once my daily regimen was, more or less, developed, I realized just how permeable the membrane is between my immediate reality and my writing. I focused more on concrete details and settings than emotionality; I’ve been learning that emotions can be effectively conveyed without “I feel” statements. This practice also allowed me to recognize what truly inspired me. For instance, one day I happened along the Tin House blog post about a sentence-long poem… and I’ve probably written at least three single-sentence poems since then. And why not? It seems to me, that allowing obsession, allowing repetition, and embracing inspiration make the writing process all the more exciting! Obsessions are interesting, and I figure that if I’m ruminating, I must be trying to get at something. What about the obsessions that don’t work… the ideas that fall flat… the BAD poems, you ask? Well, by writing them I still learn something. And, whatsmore, I can’t expect all of my ideas to be genius, so I guess I just that I need to have more ideas!

At the end of January, I not only had 31 new poems, but I’d given my writing process much more intentional thought. Toward the end of the month, I came up with a list of tips, based on my understanding of writing poetry. (This was seen first on the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project page, day 29.)

On Poetry / by Elizabeth Eva Lampman

  1. Writing takes time.

  2. Sit down to write—after moving, stop moving.

  3. Move—after being still, move.

  4. You do not need good handwriting.

  5. Length is not important.

  6. Define the following words: cliche, diction, rhetorical, concrete, convention.

  7. At first, avoid scenes with sunsets, roses. (See number 6.)

  8. Write everything.

  9. There are no rules.

  10. There are some rules, but they are less important than writing poems.

  11. Release yourself from scrutiny. Writing is difficult and even more so with a judgmental devil on the corner of your page.

  12. Bad writing is better than not writing at all.

  13. There’s no penalty for writing a “bad” poem.

  14. Do not edit as you go. Let your impulses and language be as expansive as possible.

  15. Express the poem with language and structure BEFORE adding punctuation.

  16. Punctuation should clarify, not complicate, the poem.

  17. Listen to the sound of the words you choose,

  18. and make note of the words you like.

  19. Be hesitant to use emotional adjectives; let the tone, shape, and images tell the reader about feelings.

  20. Archive all versions of your work.

  21. Engage with the work in as many ways as are possible. Draw it. Perform it. Handwrite it. Type it. Read it out loud!

  22. Sleep on it—take a break between revisions.

  23. If you’re stuck, read someone else’s poem.

  24. Be aware of what you’re asking the reader to do, but

  25. don’t worry about pleasing the reader.

  26. Let the poem create it’s own reality with its own laws and conventions.

  27. There is an infinite number of poems to be written; its up to you to discover how many of them are up to you to write.

So… can you do it? Can you commit to writing daily? If you take it on, I encourage you to hold yourself accountable in some way. Send your poems to someone, print them out… do whatever it takes! Write on.


The Writing Life: An Interview with Jeffrey Levine and Kirsten Miles of Tupelo Press

2014 January 7
Comments Off on The Writing Life: An Interview with Jeffrey Levine and Kirsten Miles of Tupelo Press

The Writing LifeNote: During the month of January, I, and eight other poets, are participating in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 Project. The object of the game is to write a poem every day for thirty days, and in so doing, raise funds from friends, teachers, and readers for Tupelo Press. The poems are posted daily here, and participating writers are responsible for fundraising in whatever way suits them. (If you’re interested, join me here!) Why Tupelo, you ask? Tupelo Press is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit company, so they depend on support to seek out and publish emerging and established poets, fiction, and non-fiction writers. I was able to gain more insight on this project and Tupelo Press itself through correspondence with Jeffrey Levine, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press, and Kirsten Miles, who is a Regional Director. 

TPHazel & Wren: How did Tupelo Press get its start? And what does non-profit status allow you to do?

Jeffrey Levine: So, in 1999 I created this “job” out of, well, nothing.  I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t really know very much about doing it. Strictly speaking, that’s not really true. It would be more true to say that I didn’t really know anything about it, except, I felt I had one important talent: I could spot great writing. (Every entrepreneur needs a healthy dollop of ego.) So, I rented a little office on the second floor of the US Post Office in Walpole, NH, and I found a desk and a chair, a telephone (remember those), a computer, and a printer and set about learning my craft.

Non-profit status gives us the ability to apply for grants and to reach out to the public at large for help with the funding required to operate any sort of press. Funding a literary press is like running any other arts organization. It’s hard. It’s costly. We’re all about finding and holding onto a base of supporters who believe in our mission, who love our books, our online journal, our various literary projects (like the 30/30), and who like the fact that, as a non-profit, gifts to us are tax deductible (to, as they say, the extent permitted by law). That said, almost every literary press in the land is a non-profit, even the university presses.

H&W: How is the base of Tupelo Press readers comprised? (i.e. online? subscriptions?)

JL: We sell thousands of books a year through bookstores, especially independent (non-chain) bookstores, through Amazon, to colleges and universities (on account of course adoptions), to libraries, through distribution houses (like Small Press Distribution out of California) and directly through our website. We offer subscriptions each year (9 books for $99), so subscribers form an important part of our sales base.

H&W: It looks like Tupelo Quarterly has just gone live! Is this Tupelo Press’s first online literary journal? What does this project represent for the company?

Kirsten Miles: Yes, this is Tupelo Press’s first online literary journal.  We have always planned on a journal as part of our mission, and with the addition of Jessamyn Smyth we have found an editorial voice with a complementary passion for “holding the gate open” for new voices new tones and new dialogs in poetry.

JL: Now that we have an online literary journal (which is about to launch it’s second issue), we also can say that we have a significant online readership. The Tupelo Quarterly gives us, essentially, another media in which to offer literary prose, poetry, and art. It also gives us the ability to mix-media, and to give exposure to significantly more terrific poets, as we can only afford to publish about 15 books a year, but we can present and publish hundreds of writers each year “on the air.”

H&W: The Tupelo Press website states the following regarding submissions: “We’re drawn to technical virtuosity combined with abundant imagination; memorable, vivid imagery and strikingly musical approaches to language; willingness to take risks; and an ability to convey penetrating insights into human experience.” Can you speak to the development of this statement? What do you think the work published in Tupelo Press publications will represent in our current ‘artistic time’?

I hope that opening the gate for these emergent voices will lead to a greater recognition of, and more vehicles for published poets, that our legacy is the paths of these poets but also the expansion of the path of poetry, of writing as an honored art form and authors, especially poets, as valued artists. We seek this for our young writers in the Tupelo Press Writing Center, to give hope to future generations of authors, that writing is an art worthy of the deepest societal support.

Let me answer your question this way: My favorite moment from my job is really a recurring moment, when everybody has left the Tupelo Loft, called it a day, and I’m there alone with the books on the shelves (and so, in a way, with the 140 or so authors we’ve helped to send out into the world,) and there are the books in the boxes and the hundreds of manuscripts stacked up on the sorting table and the left-over coffee and the windows wide open on the Berkshire mountains, at least in that part of the year when you’d want to open them, and I have time to think with no small pleasure about the difference this Press has made in the world, or anyway, the difference I imagine it has made, and that has to do with playing an important part in shaping American letters, and also that it amounts to a kind of modest legacy, and if I’m wrong about that, still there are those mountains.