Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Isaiah 42:10 (ESV)
This past November, I tried the Poem-a-Day challenge for the first time. I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year, churning out 1600+ words a day with a purring cat in my lap and a woodsmoke-scented candle perfuming the room. The challenge was a forge for my imagination, refining but painful. I wasn’t sure I could do it again. But one poem a day? If I tossed meter and rhyme and extensive revisions out the window, I could do that.
The Poetry Pub’s prompts were magical. I struggled with some of them, especially “syzygy,” but I rediscovered an old pleasure with the hardest ones. The mental wrestling required to make an image work, to tie the first and lines together back to the same idea, and to make the last line of a poem ring like struck crystal, gave me a thrill I had forgotten. I glimpsed connections between memories, ideas, and stories I had never seen before – relationships and geometry, conversations and pottery, cold wood stoves and loneliness, staircases and nostalgia. I remembered the joyful labor to sing a new song.
Most of my poems were too messy or too personal to share here, but this one is my favorite:
Fall Semester, 2016
The awful responsibility of Time,
My Southern Lit professor intoned
With the resonance of a great brass bell.
The west wind rustled crimson leaves across campus.
Flocks of absentee ballots launched from the mailroom.
What if time is a pool and not a river? I wrote,
Hazelnut coffee in hand, looking out the window,
Where afternoon gilded the red brick archway
Over the ebb and flow of class times and mealtimes.
Wolf Creek! Wolf Creek! The frequent chant:
A parade of friends carrying the newly-engaged to the river
To throw them, laughing, into the current of days.
“A poem is judged by its last line,” my British literature professor told us in my freshmen year. “A good poem has a good ending.” Messy as this poem is, I was proud of that last line.
The current of days has carried November away, and we are in Advent again. This year, a writer-friend named Reagan Dregge and I are approaching winter with a new creative collaboration: a letter subscription with a matching website centered on the theme of rest, stillness, and abiding. It’s called Winter Pages, and the first few contributions have already given me the refreshment of delight.
November’s Poem-a-Day challenge was, unexpectedly, excellent preparation for Advent and the Winter Pages project. Pounding out a poem a day – raw, rough-edged, and unglazed – forced me to see fresh wonders, intricate complexities, and startling relationships. Similes served as intricate bridges between memories, dreams, ideas, and longings; metaphors were copper mirrors that recast the world in mesmerizing shades; alliteration chimed cheerfully; the few formal styles I tried, including a villanelle, were crucibles which forced me to bend my words into beautiful shapes. Poetry forced me to see and make things with new eyes.
In the same way, the artists participating in the Winter Pages project are helping renew my sight, restoring and re-illuminating the colors and textures of the ancient story. Reagan Dregge’s introduction and musings on green and gold and shades of gray gave me the coziness of the winter prairie in Minnesota and reminded me of our eversummer hope. Tyler Rogness’s description of an ensnowed maple tree recaptures the waiting and Resurrection that Christmastide looks forward to. Jaclyn Hoselton’s meditation on Mary’s Magnificat emphasizes the breathless wonder of Gabriel’s message and Mary’s creative response. Joy Manning’s poem re-tuned me to the unutterable longing and endless beauty of starlight. Sara Bannerman and Margaret Bush’s playlists invite me into the ministry of music, which can weave celebration, lament, suffering, and hope into beauty. More contributions are coming – ponderings on joy, solace, and seeking.
The last Poem-a-Day prompt, November 30’s, was “You, Too?” The idea comes from C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves, where he says, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” (Chapter on Friendship, pg. 83). Happy but exhausted from the feasting and travel of Thanksgiving, I was too tired to come up with a poem for that one. It has been a year of solitary drives, new faces and known ones, deep conversations, laughter, and long silences, but not many of those fresh “you, too?” moments.
But then I realized: working with other artists to honor the “still point of this turning world” (to steal from T.S. Eliot), a refuge of quiet in this busy season, is a better expression of that magical “you, too?” than any poem I could have manufactured to fit that theme. I am only one of many who are trying to sing a new song.