by Shelley Widhalm
Starting in September, I’m going to take on the challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.
I’m not original in this idea—I attended a poetry workshop Saturday, Aug. 5, presented by Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, where I learned about her 30-day poem challenge that has since extended to more than 10 years.
That’s at least 3,650 poems—and I thought I was clever for being like Emily Dickinson and writing 1,000 poems since my childhood. I began my effort in elementary school with “poems” on pink paper covered in drawn hearts before I moved on to napkins, laptops and paper bits.
“All day long, I’m available to poems,” said Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate and author of “Even Now: Poems & Drawings,” “Holding Three Things at Once” and “If You Listen.”
Wahtola Trommer spoke at a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” giving poetry advice and offering prompts at the Loveland Public Library in Loveland, Colorado.
“I found her presence—in person and in her poems—both open and passionate, and I was delighted with her calling her workshop a ‘playshop,’” said Veronica Patterson, a Loveland poet who helped organize the workshop through the Regional Poets based in Loveland. “Play is so essential to freeing our imaginations.”
The Daily Poet
To become a daily poet, Wahtola Trommer had to do two things: lower her standards and realize that writer’s block isn’t something she could afford. Thinking each poem had to be good got in her way, so she had to let some poems go.
“They’re not all precious to me,” Wahtola Trommer said. “I think poetry is practice.”
Wahtola Trommer took on the challenge with two friends, who agreed to read, send and receive each other’s poems but not make any comments, because then it became work, she said. She and her friends reached their one-month goal and extended it to three, but then her friends dropped out. She continued … and continued.
Why? Wahtola Trommer had “rigorous willingness,” or the radical availability to show up for poems. She has four rules for writing poetry:
- She will write.
- What she writes doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be true, both to the poem and to the writing.
- She will not know the ending, because then there will be no surprises. If she does, she will get out before things get serious or the poem can offer up its lessons. The best approach she has found is to write past the known ending. “The poem knows more than you do,” she said.
- She will share her poems.
Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Regional Poets, took Wahtola Trommer’s advice to heart.
“I found her saying that a poem does not have to have an answer and probably should not to be the best thing I came away with,” Kincanon said. “Also, I am writing a poem a day, and that is really challenging and keeps me active in writing.”
Poetry as Process
Poetry is a process and a way to engage with curiosity, discovery and meeting the world anew, Wahtola Trommer said. She recommends using the senses to access the world and paying attention to the small details. To do this, she suggests trying metaphor, which helps the poet make connections, since poetry is the language of connection and a bridge to the world.
Metaphor, a poetic device comparing one thing to another, can be used for any two things, because anything can relate to anything else.
“Start with a question and allow the metaphors to teach you, though the poem may not come up with an answer,” Wahtola Trommer said.
Poems also have opposition and tension. They are “in stress,” in the process of pressing on the poet the things of the world, and “in-scape,” presenting the aliveness of those things, such as through landscapes or escapes.
After Wahtola Trommer gave her presentation, she had the workshop attendees write poems from three prompts. In the first, she told everyone to take out a sheet of paper for a poem game: write a partial statement, followed by “is like,” fold over the paper and pass it around the table, continuing down the page. I said things like, “Baby ducklings in a lake in July are like …” “Going to a bar on Monday is like …” and “Eating a dandelion for breakfast is like …”
We got a different sheet back from the one we started with and chose one of the prompts. I chose “Driving a bicycle on I-25 is like …”
Our other two prompts were beginning a poem with the statement, “I thought I was a …” (I said “princess,” because I was back in my childhood on my red trike …), and writing a list poem. Again, I went with the princess theme and let the poem lead me to writing about a poet, an accountant and a singer, all who want things they don’t have.
I left the workshop with three poems and encouragement, plus a goal: 30 poems in 30 days. Maybe I’ll continue if I find my own rigorous willingness to show up, do the work and let go.
Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell’s Ink Services, a writing and editing service based in Loveland, CO. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications and holds a master’s in English from Colorado State University. She blogs weekly about writing, editing, and the writing life. She can be reached on her website or at firstname.lastname@example.org .