Practicing Fearlessness

I just finished a draft of the 53rd poem in my 100 poems in 100 days effort. I haven’t revised any of the poems yet; I’m holding off until I have all 100 in draft form. And I like what I’m seeing, not because the pieces are particularly stunning, but because the writer in me is stretching and practicing fearlessness.

The greatest thing about doing this kind of writing exercise is the way hesitation dissolves. By writing a poem every day, I’ve moved my thinking into a more open mode. What I mean by that is everything becomes fodder. Everything offers a possibility for comment, dissection, versification. Instead of starting with a big unwieldy idea, like love, I start with the empty chair at the kitchen counter and move toward the bigger thing. Maybe I start with the thread hanging from the hem of my shirt, the way my daughter’s boyfriend says hello, the sound of the bass guitar in a song on the radio, the empty coffee mug in the sink. By beginning with something very specific, I get to probe the familiarity of my own life for all kinds of layers. I can play endless rounds of “what if?” to move beyond the mundane. And it gets easier to put myself into that state of mind the more poems drafts I create.

The big trick is going to be the ability to call up that state of mind during revision and make the work into that which will pull readers in, toss them around, and spit them out with the feeling that they’ve just seen transformation. Tall order, but it’s my goal. I keep going back to my favorite Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem for inspiration: “Constantly Risking Absurdity“. That’s what we do as poets, as writers: we constantly risk absurdity. We constantly risk everything. If we didn’t, what would be the point?


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 “Constantly Risking Absurdity”: The Writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti 
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  1. I practice fearlessness every time I pick up my guitar. As Garrison Keillor once said in discussing a conversation with Chet Atkins “There were aspects of Chet I wanted to emulate and still do. But he persuaded me not to pick up guitar. He said the world does not need another mediocre guitarist.” I beg to differ!


  2. I guess we're always practicing. As writers we are always trying to get the words just right. As I sit here I wonder, how many times have I said someone really nailed it? I think you can only “nail” it for yourself and hope the rest of the world tunes into your wavelength. john


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