Just pick up a pen: What I learned trying to write a love poem a day
BOOKSHELF: Athena Kildegaard recommends these books for kindling your creative sparks: Small Mechanics by Lorna Crozier
Silence Fell by Josephine Dickinson
What We Carry by Dorianne Laux
Selected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Fourteen Sonnets by Joyce Sutphen
by Athena Kildegaard
Sometime that March I began to doubt my project: writing a love poem every day for a year. The day unfolded-chores, teaching, concocting dinner-and I knew I'd need to write a poem, but I had nothing. My new year's resolution was on the verge of collapse. I don't remember what I did on that bleak, late-winter day to jump-start my poetry engine. But I do remember thinking that I'd resolved to accomplish that one thing, and I was not going to give up.
It was not a glib or jokey resolution. In early December 2009, I found myself reading love poems. Every poet writes a love poem; love, along with death and nature, are the subjects of poetry, I once heard an anthologist argue. Sure, I thought, every poem starts with love, if only the love of language. Nevertheless, on that December day, I was reading love poems. I'd started with the day's poem at Poetry Daily and then pulled a couple volumes off the shelf to read other love poems I cherish.
Through 30 years of being in love with the same person, I'd written few love poems. Maybe I just did not know how to write a love poem. There's only one way to learn to do a thing and that's to do it-pick up a pen and give it a go. In the course of a year devoted to writing poems of love, I would learn to write one-or at least that was my idea when I hung the calendar for 2010 on the kitchen wall.
By March, when I had my crisis of the heart, I remembered William Stafford, who wrote a poem every day and dust-binned most of them. The creative path is littered with flops. The challenge is to find a way in, pick up the pen and see where the words lead. So I scrounged for starting places, and that's when the magic of the project came to me: the spark for a poem can come from anywhere. I simply had to keep my eyes and ears open. Watching my cats wrestle in the morning sun, reading about flower symbolism or whale songs, listening to a scientist on the radio-all of these served to start a poem.
Have I learned to write a love poem? Recently, my widowed father remarried. He and his sweetheart asked me to write a poem for their ceremony. I had the luxury of several months to write, but the poem challenged me like no other. No, I hadn't learned to write a love poem. What I had learned was that the creative process depends on stubborn persistence. And a little love.
Athena Kildegaard's book of love poems, "Cloves & Honey," is available from Nodin Press. She teaches at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
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