What I learned writing a poem a day for six years
It started on a couch.
A broke down, sunk in, Value Village reject that took an evening of driving and shoving and bickering and more than a few cry sessions to finally force into our cramped apartment.
I was sitting on that couch trying to think of something to do with my day.
Or my life.
Whichever came easier.
I was on the tailend of a relationship and had just quit my job, so I was stumped for what to do next. When a two month relationship takes two years to end, you have trouble remembering who you thought you were going to be.
I remembered this comic I used to read when I was in school. A local artist in Victoria declared he would draw a comic panel every day for the rest of his life. He’d collect them in these thick books and sell them at his shop. Back in the day I had eaten them up.
Now here I was sitting, bloated and bored, trying to find something to do. So I decided to write a poem.
I’d written poetry before. I’d postured as the poet when I was rejected from acting school, twice. It was a lazy attempt at doing the furthest thing from what everyone else in my program was working on without having to show any spine and, you know, switch programs. Or better yet, drop out. My writing never really amounted to much. A couple rambling Saul Williams ripoffs, a few passably interesting lines, not much else.
So I thought, well fuck why not write something today.
No ringing bells, no choral revelations. Just boredom. And a desire to try something new.
That one poem lead to a second and then a tenth and then a hundredth and on and on.
I moved into a new apartment, then broke up with my girlfriend, then moved into a new house.
I met people, I burned bridges.
I was depressed and vindictive and joyful.
And through it all I wrote a poem every day.
The year was up and I decided, well fuck why not do it another year. That year ended and then the next and the next.
Through it all I grew fatter, took on different jobs, got married, moved to two different cities.
And I wrote every day.
So here’s a few things I learned on the way that you may find useful if you’re sitting on your own couch, wondering what it is you should be doing right now that you’re not.
- You’re gonna make endless heaps of garbage.
This one seems self-evident but it might be the hardest to actually reconcile with yourself. You remember that taste speech Ira Glass gave, about how you’ve got taste but don’t know what to do with it? Sadly, he nailed it. And you don’t get to make taste until you’ve made a whole bunch of bitter bullshit. You might have the best idea in your head, but it doesn’t exist until it’s on a page. And the problem is, if you haven’t written anything before, when you do sit down to write that first thousand times, it’s gonna suuuuuuck.
- Daily productions doesn’t make daily gold
Bukowski once described writing as a good beer shit. You just do it when you need to do it. And when you hold yourself to some arbitrary goal, that tends to shackle you. You find yourself sitting on the toilet for hours, your only company the slowly forming hemorrhoids. Sure, write every day but try to have something to say every time.
- Write early
Get it over with. The longer you drag your feet the harder it gets. Wake up, write, enjoy your day. Plus then if you decide to write more later, it all feels like gravy.
- No one knows what to say about poetry anymore
I have spent six years asking people what they think of this poem or that.
And I have spent six years getting the same response.
“Oh yeah, that’s a good one.”
We’ve lost the ability to talk about art. Everything now is good or bad, liked or ignored.
I’m not saying this as a qualitative statement, just an observation. Be prepared for every time the word poetry getting mentioned for the party’s collective eyes to glaze over and dull.
- You better like poetry, cause no one else does
For real though. Don’t kid yourself, no one likes poetry.
Some people read it because they want to compensate for never reading Tolstoy.
Some read it because they’re fishing for something to rip off and write the next pop hit.
Some will write poetry because they don’t have the talent to write anything else.
The reality is, you’re writing it for yourself.
There is no money in poetry.
There’s no glory.
There’s no immortality. Maybe once you’re dead and even then that’s a longshot. You better be sure you’re really into it before you start.
- You don’t really get better, you write differently
You start with the obvious shit. I’m lonely, I’m sad, my mother was cruel.
You really show the narcism and the psychopathy that art is built on.
You get it out. And then you find what’s left.
That’s where the poetry lies. In hearing what you actually have to say.
But you don’t get there without talking a whole bunch of shit.
- You gotta read to write
Not the classics. Not some arbitrary canon. None of that garbage that doesn’t mean anything to anyone but a vindictive Russian desperately clinging to their crumbling victimhood.
But you gotta read something.
You gotta read and you have to say I like this, let’s have more. Or you have to say, fuck this and fuck you.
You have to read what others are reading and wonder why they haven’t pushed the button already. And you have to ignore everyone and walk through a bookstore alone for an hour, silent.
Judge a book by its cover.
Buy the fucker.
Read it in a sitting.
Or let it collect dust on your shelf for a decade then throw it out.
Just as long as you’re reading something else.
- You have to take care of yourself, it’s so easy to exhaust yourself over nothing
If you don’t feel like writing, don’t be an asshole to yourself. Believe me, no one is interested in reading your complaints.
Take a walk, drink some water (or better yet some wine), stare out the window, meet a neighbour (or don’t).
But whatever you do, don’t write.
Have a day of silence or of screaming.
Play some video games, listen to a podcast.
Call your sister. Call an enemy. Forgive someone.
Just keep away from the typewriter until you want to.
- The ones you like often get no play, the ones you think suck often explode
People have different taste than you. My wife loves Celine Dion. Which is a bad example because so do I. But.
What I’m trying to say is, generally speaking, people like different things.
I have a deep rooted infatuation with pro wrestling, other people roll their eyes at the mention of it.
Fuck those people. But also they have their own take on reality and what they want to waste their time on.
I could spend hours torturing myself over a line and when it’s finally out of me, the world will shrug and move on to the next cat falling over video.
Or I could spit something out in a second without thought or indulgence and I’ll have twenty responses in the first minute.
It’s all relative to who’s found you.
Take pride in your work, do everything you can to make good work, and then let it go.
Once it’s in the world, it’s out of your hands.
- Everyone has advice, but no one has it figured out
In the six years I’ve been writing poetry, I have taken one month off. It was this year after a long conversation with someone I respect. He told me people who write poetry online are hobbyists. I listened to him. I shouldn’t have.
What else is poetry but a hobby?
What else is art?
If you want to share a piece of writing, do it.
Fuck getting paid, fuck likes, fuck shares, fuck anyone else’s opinion on what you should be saying and how you should be saying it.
Write it how you want it.
Just be honest with yourself.
Make some garbage and then maybe, if you work like crazy and alienate the vast majority of your social circle, you’ll come up with a line or a passage or a whole goddamn piece that you’re proud of.
And no one did it but you.
And that’s about it.
I’m sure there’s a million other things I could say in a million better ways but for now that’s what I’ve got.
Really it kinda comes down to a real easy fact. If you want to be a poet, write a poem. There’s nothing more to it than that. Everything else is a pissing contest.
Read past poems @ jamesavramenko.com
Currently I’m posting daily on Instagram @anaveragemango