I’ve been writing five lines a day since last August. In four day’s time, as you read this, the year-and-a-day project will be complete. To say that I have been utterly transformed / transmuted by this intentional, magickal act would be an understatement.
On the surface, writing five lines a day doesn’t sound like much. But writing five lines of verse, which you hope will breathe and dance and be true, is another thing entirely. As I said last month, writing poetry is actually about listening, about how you live. The lines on the page are the compressed, refined, yet still (hopefully) natural result of trying to live poetically. It’s a distinction worth lingering over.
As you might imagine, getting the heart / soul / body to cough up lines with any sort of consistency has been the biggest creative / spiritual challenge of my life. There have been numerous occasions where just sitting here in The Womb was not going to be enough to get it done. Amidst the potency of your inner metaphors, outside stimuli can sometimes be your best friend.
One morning, I woke up knowing where the days’ lines were hiding. There is an old canal where I used to live, a quiet place that I couldn’t appreciate in my twenties that I now visit all the time, even though I live a few hours away. I used to love biking or walking from my house to the bakery in the little town center, about a mile away, for the best chocolate chip cookie in existence. (If we ever meet, ask me, and maybe I’ll tell you where it is.)
Stretched over the canal are a few crossings; a concrete noisy highway overpass, which is dark underneath and feels like there might be a troll lurking somewhere, and an old bridge made of wood and stone, with a bench upon the little span, where you can pass a moment’s rest just a bit closer to the sky. Even from afar these places are still so alive to me …
I took the extra long scenic route that morning, through the Delaware Water Gap, waving to Tammany & Minsi, driving up and over the Blue Mountains, winding back down through a dozen little towns, past fields and quiet tributaries, and finally back to river level, to the final leg, along the river, down Route 32, full of memory.
After walking past my old house, which is now abandoned, as if I had dreamed the whole thing, I got on the canal path and started walking.
Sure enough, when I got to the troll bridge, I heard the first line.
The old wood and stone bridge did not cough up her secret at first, even after I sat on the bench for awhile, but I had faith, so I climbed back down and headed for town, for my cookie, which you have to eat while sitting on a rock by the little waterfall. There’s a rule.
On the way back, I asked very nicely, and the wood and stone bridge gave me lines two AND three, which was a real gift. That still left two more lines, though …
I started to wonder if the rest of the poem might be a bit further afield. Poemstalking is sometimes an inexact science, after all. Across the river on the New Jersey side, right where Washington famously crossed back in the day (I do have to tell you, folks … that painting is SERIOUSLY exaggerated. The river is not that wide.) there is another canal, and a small town that time forgot, and a friendly love wall. You don’t believe me?
The fourth line came quickly, but I still didn’t know about the fifth. Then the phone rang. It was The Muse. I sat on the magic wall and we talked and time stopped and now there was no question where the fifth line would be. So I drove deeper into memory, walked past Old Nassau, and sure enough, there was line five, at the top of the steps, where she grew wings and we flew, in that poem/dream, long ago.
Poemstalking isn’t always this involved / intense. Sometimes the lines are five minutes away, around the lake right in town. Then again, sometimes they are on the roof of a museum, on the Summer Solstice, and you know you have to be there to receive them, or they’ll fly to someone else, lost forever.
No one ever told me poetry was a full contact sport. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.