March 2014 was not good to me.
Arriving home to London after a tumultuous month in transit, I was feeling crushed: physically, spiritually. Deciphering how to proceed felt impossible, much less getting back into any kind of daily rhythm. Ignoring half-unpacked suitcases and half-made life decisions, I spent two days prone on the sofa, listlessly scrolling through apps on my phone.
Then, a tiny, silly thing: an online friend posted this to Instagram. For unknowable reasons, it startled me awake, hit me hard.
And I remembered: Words! Poems! I used to love and collect poetry, especially the short modern kind, poems whose strength comes from words left out. I wondered if there were other people for whom an unexpected stanza might alter the course of their hour, day, week. Someone had shared a few words and improbably done me a huge favour; now I wondered how to keep it up, and pass it on.
In the past I might’ve tried tweeting some poems, but you’re stuck wedging them into 140 characters or linking to a variety of sometimes dubious or absent online sources. (Plus your friends will call you out for being that jerk who tweets poetry.) I thought about making an app or website, but already had my own to attend to, and it felt impolite given the poems weren’t mine in the first place.
Email felt like the right medium. Optimal for short text but more flexible than Twitter; more intimate, private, and pocketable than the open web. Moreover, my inbox also felt a bit like Twitter did in the dismal times before it got (deep breath) Weird — full of professional matters, networking, snark, sincere-but-hurried correspondence at best. Could this burdensome channel also play at the unexpected, the weird or sublime, right next to Re: Fwd: Friday status update? A lot of us started to think so; I decided to do it with poems.
Barely a week later, I committed: I’d send a poem I loved, every single day, to anyone who subscribed to my tiniest of TinyLetters. I had no idea if anyone but me would read it; my curatorial qualifications were dubious; the pace was ambitious. My flat had a slender poetry shelf, some Atwood and Creeley favourites, but I’d soon run out. I would have to start reading a LOT more poetry.
It would get me out of bed in the morning, wouldn’t it.
What unfolded was a year of slow but consistently-escalating loveliness.
I spent a lot more time in used bookstores; a lot more time on Tumblr. Having roughly twenty poems in the queue became key to picking just the right thing any given morning, so. Bedside tables overflowed with new volumes. Always be pomehunting.
Subscriptions grew ever so slowly, but what a group; every new signup brought unexpected realtime reactions, suggestions of amazing poems (and poets), and even came to include writers I’ve long admired.
I received anonymous Amazon gift cards; a dear former colleague wrote in to say he’d never been into poetry, but ended up buying Anne Carson and Julie Kalendek books after reading them on Pome; I’d get replies solely in emoji. Every morning I’ve been able to get up, have a cup of something, and send some words I love straight into the inboxes of more than 400 people. It has been an absolute honour, and — I say this with the full mortification of a guy with a laptop writing a blog post about his fucking poetry newsletter — a privilege.
So: daily service, and Pome as we know it, is now coming to a close.
A lot has shifted for me personally during my 365 days of Pome. I changed jobs and moved to a new city even more packed with writers than my last; full of readings and poems in the physical world. I have a new schedule, new rhythms. And I keenly feel the need to make room for fresh projects and ideas, not get too comfortable.
Or: I want to make sure I never send you a bad poem.
All that remains is for me to say thank you, thank you, thank you for reading and for so many kind words and thoughts and links. It was a garbage 2014 but we got through it together, and for that I’m forever grateful.
Here are links to all the poets featured during Pome’s run. Buy their books, follow them online, hear them read. And share your favourite bits. We have more tools for sharing experiences about being human than any other humans in the history of humaning; let’s use them.
And yes, I’ll keep this channel open. Who knows what may come through it?
New York City, 5 April 2015
This post is also available on my website.
Kind thanks to Kristen, Kate, and Anthony for reading early drafts.