National Poetry Month is looming on the horizon. That means it’s time for my annual, “OMG! What am I going to write in April?” post. While I have been known to write the occasional poem during the other 11 months of the year, April is when I really focus on poetry. I set myself the challenge of a 30/30, a new poem every day of the month. I also set the challenge of choosing one form and writing that form for the whole month. I’ve had a couple of years when I haven’t managed to write 30 poems, but usually I squeak by. There are plenty of forms I have yet to take on, but I’m considering going back to the Pantoum, the form I used two years ago. That year, I’d also set myself the challenge of dedicating the month to #SayHerName, having each day’s poem be written for/to/about a Black woman killed by the police. I didn’t make it through the month because it got too painful reading and reading about murdered women so I could decide who I would write for and what I wanted to express. I tell myself I’m determined to finish that 30, revise all of the poems and make a chapbook, but every time I go back, it’s still too painful. And the pantoum kind of got lost in the pain. So maybe trying it again, without the added pressure and weight of #SayHerName, would help me explore the form more successfully.
So what’s a pantoum? Here’s the definition from the Poetry Foundation: “A Malaysian verse form adapted by French poets and occasionally imitated in English. It comprises a series of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The second and fourth lines of the final stanza repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza.” The repeated lines appeal to me. I love repetition in poetry — or, really, just in general — and the repetition also creates a rhyme. I’m often not a fan of rhymes, but when it’s “naturally occurring,” somehow that makes a difference.
I have stayed with the idea of writing one form for the month. It’s an idea I got from Sonia Sanchez. I went to a talk she gave years ago, and she presented the idea of writing one form and only that form until she felt she had worked her way through it, really understood it, shaped it to the feelings she wanted to express. She talked about doing that with the haiku and rhyme royal forms. Crazy me decided to take on the rhyme royal for a month. I don’t (yet?) have the stamina or the chops to keep at one form for more than a month. A whole month is often beyond challenging. For all the struggle, it’s also kind of fun … at least sometimes. Such as when I wrote tanka for a month. And when I created the Arun, a new form (yeah, still hard to see this as a thing that could be true).
I have struggled (for decades at this point) with the idea of myself as a person who writes poetry. Every year there are numerous disclaimers about how I’m not a poet, but I write poems anyway or whatever. After all these years, I think I’ve tired myself out with that. There have always been and will always be plenty of people who wouldn’t consider me a poet, and certainly not a good poet. All that judgment notwithstanding, I write poems. I’ve given poetry readings. I read at the New York Poetry Festival, Claudia Rankine read and liked my work. Last year I had the nerve to submit a poem to a journal. This year I had the audacity to apply for a Cave Canem workshop. I can’t fully say who I think I am, but whoever it is, she seems to be a poet.
And, in the spirit of smacking down La Impostora and leaving my demons felled in my wake: to the long-dead poet whose workshop I took my freshman year in college, the woman who I allowed to convince me that I couldn’t write … screw you. I’m still here. I’m still writing. I let you cut out my tongue once. But, unfathomable being that I am, I’ve grown a new one, and poetry drips from it like honey. I may not decide to do a repeat month of the pantoum but I will take on the April 30/30. I will write poems.
It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!