How I make poems and why I blog

As soon as your poem leaves the desk, it becomes scrap paper.

My poetry is like manna: night passes over it, and you can’t eat it any more.

My approach to writing focuses neither on product nor on process but on daily practice. What am I going to make today? What am I going to do right now? Is re-writing yesterday’s effort ever as important as going for a walk or reading a book to prime the creative pump anew?

An everyday or quotidian thing is assumed to be plain and ordinary. I beg to differ. Chasing the exotic, which is always tantalizingly out of reach in the future or in some other place, is just a recipe for delusion and unhappiness (not to mention colonialism); it’s the right-at-hand that saves us. But even if it were true that dailiness is boring, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not looking for a fucking epiphany when I write, and frankly I’m a bit tired of poetry larded with less-than-amazing insights. Making poetry is not, and should never be seen as, anything more mystical and special than working as a tax attorney or pumping septic tanks.

There is an addictive element to my practice. Losing oneself in concentration is highly habit-forming, and I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Even if in this case the habit—making poetry—involves breaking through habitual modes of thinking to try to invent/discover something original. (By which I mean original to me, not necessarily brand new. Again, I’m not about chasing novelty.)

I say “making” because my poetry may take the form of a video, a snapshot poem, or an erasure (which I prefer to think of as a textual sculpture). I like to work in series because it helps me get past the hardest part: finding an idea and getting started. Not to mention the cumulative result: a whole collection of related poems, which just happens to be easier and more fun for readers or viewers than a random selection of tenuously related work.

“Practice” has an interesting double meaning: it encompasses not just implementation (putting something into practice), but also rehearsal, preparation. As such, it’s the perfect word for a blogger, who is actually publishing, yes, but also trying out work for possible further publication in different media. Blogging software is absolutely critical technology, as far as I’m concerned, more important than pen and paper (which I rarely use). It’s not just the dailiness of blogging but the performative aspect I enjoy, even if there’s little feedback. Just knowing that a poem is public the instant I click the “publish” button, no matter how much more work it may ultimately need, is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. While I greatly admire poets who can beaver away in private, filling whole notebooks and hard drives with rough drafts and less-than-perfect work and saving only the best, most polished poems to send out for publication, that’s not me.

Or rather, it was me, up until about 15 years ago. In 2003 I discovered the joy of online self-publishing and I’ve never looked back. My work is probably the better for it. It’s hard to say for sure, because I’ve also matured and gotten better at my craft during that period through sheer repetition and continual self-criticism, some of which would’ve happened even if I’d never taken up blogging.

But I’m fairly certain that I’m the better for it. Because contrary to the Romantic notion of the poet or artist as solitary, tortured, heroic creator, in reality, poetry grows in community and belongs to everyone. Through blogging and other online activity I’ve made friends, become part of multiple overlapping communities of interest, and created work collaboratively that I never would’ve been able to make on my own. Via Negativa went from being a single writer’s blog to a multi-authored experiment in poetic dialogue. A videopoetry blog that I started on an impulse as a birthday present to myself back in 2009, Moving Poems, has opened up new worlds for me—and, I keep hearing, for many others as well. In the past, poets would’ve had to move to the city to enjoy these kinds of interactions. Thanks to the web, I can live out in the woods and still feel as if I belong to a global network of writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians.