May 28th, 2003

abstract butterfly

100 poems project

When I was 22 or so, I did what I termed a 100 poems project. I set out to write some 100 poems in a very quick succession. To the extent I had a theory, and in those days I usually had an elaborate theory about everything, I believe that my theory was that poems are like photographs. A photographer takes hundreds upon hundreds of snaps, knowing that most of them are not "keepers", in search of the one meaningful photo that he or she shows.

I've written before about my theory of poetry as worthless words, by which I do not mean that all poems are worthless (like most people, I have my own preferred aesthetic for poetics, and assess poems by my idea of what works). Instead, I mean that I'm less interested in poetry as a "literary experience", than as one of many ways to bridge the communication gaps among people, particularly people in small settings. Poetry is yet another of those literary worlds filled with too much derision by people "in the know", although virtually no art form (other than perhaps, the documentary film) has more attention lavished upon it by more people for the sake of less readership than anyone could imagine.

I no longer recall if I literally wrote 100 poems. I do have evidence that I wrote dozens and dozens of poems, most of which I still have today. A solid number of them I then submitted to little literary magazines, those curious things printed up with grant money which garner essentially no readership. I acquired an impressive stack of rejection slips, ranging from really cool form "we get too many poems to do you the courtesy of a "no" response so by the way, no" slips to the poet's dream, a hand-written note from a respected magazine or two "please try again". I also got a few poems accepted for publication, in a very few magazines, the kind one suspects are assembled right at the kitchen table, which magazines then published them in the middle of the issues, as to which I suspect that a tiny few people ever read the poems. One got accepted for the local statewide newspaper, but I never saw it published, so I wonder if it ever came out.

In the past decade, I've had little interest in "traditional" publishing outlets, as I've come to recognize that one can, without impinging upon public grant money better devoted to more noble causes, generate one's own self-published material and achieve circulations of readers not that different from those achievable by most "literary" journals. In addition, when one sends oneself a rejection slip, one can spend a great deal more time drafting a hand-written note, pointing out flaws in the poetry, and cordially inviting oneself to submit again. I think it is part of what I term "the curse of the polymath" to believe that one is the engine of one's own creative spark, and not dependent upon the genius of admittedly wiser minds to make one famous. I've worked my view of the importance of connection through communication into an aesthetic of bad poetics, which posits that creative expression has an important inter-connective function ultimately more important than conventional "recognition". I term this form of poetry "bad poetry", although the word "bad" in this context is a placeholder, something like the concept of Atman, which imparts "not this, not that". For some years, I posted my poetry in Compuserve's wonderful Poetry Forum, where like minds often communed (and a few over-earnest minds spent too much time worried in mildly haughty prose that nobody wrote in 17th Century forms) and critiqued each other's works. Then I self-published my own little booklet, and enjoyed finding a readership for it. Now I sometimes to poetry exchanges, such as on

LiveJournal has energized my creative expression to a large extent. I see that my Memories Section now contains some 27 gurdonark poems, while off-line I've written few more. My bad novel stems directly from nacowafer's suggestion (for which I'm ever, as ever for her many ideas, grateful) that I try nanowrimo.

But now I begin to wonder if I ought to embark on another 100 poems project. I want to write poems in the same way I use a throwaway camera--snapping madly. I want to write down what is scribbled inside me, on this curious bit of soul I have, even if I find that my soul tends to be slight and faintly joke-oriented rather than a Pablo Neruda soul. I want to create one hundred poems in while I have the mute button firmly pressed downward on my Inner Critic, who assails my creative effort rather like Dolby sound assails white noise.

There is room for many pilgrims on this path. All one has to do is type a comment to this post, which says "by July 31, 2003, I will write 100 poems, no matter how much they make me wince", and you're "in". Who knows? I may even submit a few of mine for potential publication. I'll certainly self-publish some of mine. Maybe I'll put them in a side journal. You could do the same with yours.

Stuck for a theme for that first poem? Let me help. You see, I'm still running my "Mail Poetry Call", which asks for friends and strangers both far and wide to submit poems on the theme "Infinite Space, Tiny Apartment". I've gotten a solid few, but wish to get a good few more. Your first poem can cover this theme, and then be mailed to me at the address listed in the linked post for a bit of poetic communion that is mildly unprecedented. You have plenty of time. The deadline is August 1. Still, if it twere done, tis best done quickly, as that is part of the bad poetry aesthetic.

But the key is 100 poems. Not the number 100, of course, as 78 or 113 would do just as well. The key is liberation--from judgment, from worries, from the day to day mundanity that drives one crazy. The key is to write on the page whatever is on my mind, even if my mind is banal, and then, when it's down on the page, to write again. Write again, and again and again. Soon I'll be up on the bicycle, and who knows where I can pedal then?

I sometimes say I don't "believe" in poetry. By this, I mean that I don't believe in a way of looking at poetry which divorces poetry from everyday life. I think that everyday life is poetry, and writing it down should be as natural as breathing. I want to climb the Arbuckle Mountains (they are not really tall enough for the task, but are a convenient drive) and cry out "write it down. be a poet, not an editor. write it down". I hope that I call this out on a foggy day, so that I can hear my own voice echo.

Will you join me in writing 100 poems?