NaPoWriMo: A Veteran’s Guide
Okay, ‘veteran’ is maybe a strong term, but I’ve completed it on time two years on the trot, completed it a touch late one year and totally cocked it up another year, so I would say I have a wide experience of what NaPoWriMo is like, from all angles! NaPoWriMo is the anachronym for National Poetry Writing Month, the little sibling of NaNoWriMo which is the same for novels, which occurs later in the year. NaNo’s challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month; daunting to most people. NaPo’s challenge is less about the word count and more about consistency and perseverance; the challenge is to write a poem every day. Every single day, and if you miss a day, then you do two poems the next day. And so forth. So why do we do this to ourselves?
Poetry is Fun
Many people think poetry is the height of pretension, playing with words to look clever, or to give voice to lofty, philosophical dreams. This need not be the case, although deep, philosophical poetry certainly has its place! If you’re thinking you wouldn’t have the necessary material to write decent poetry, think again. Some of my most popular poems have been about very un-deep subjects indeed. Some are downright silly.
I almost wish it were
A metaphor for death; decay!
Instead you’ll be surprised
To hear me say
That coming home to
Is actually a measure
Of my happiness
Green and lumpy
Like it should be
Now it’s blue as well:
But no drama
At this sight;
I shrug and in this moonlit night
In the bin I put the mess to bed
And have a lovely curry instead.
There is no deep meaning to this poem. I came home one night looking forward to finishing off my lovely homemade guacamole, probably with some crackers and what not, and it had developed a lovely little hat of pin-mould. Yes, I will literally write about anything. And you should too. Don’t fret and worry over feeling the perfect bit of inspiration. Anything that makes you smile, laugh, roll your eyes, grit your teeth; anything you feel something over can inspire a little bit of poetry.
Poetry has No Rules
It doesn’t have to rhyme, although it can. It doesn’t have to have perfect form, although if you want to follow iambic pentameter (five sets of two syllables per line, with the emphasis on every second syllable) rigorously, that’s OK too. Here’s an example of a rhyming poem that tries to follow the same or similar rhythm on each line.
Poorly him is poorly me
A thing I cannot bear to see
A furrowed brow; a sweaty neck
A temperature I have to check
A grumpy face, a growly voice
Sad with each and every choice
Wants a blanky; wants a nest
Wants to cuddle to my chest.
Wants some food then nothing’s nice
Not eggs or ice nor toast or rice
Nor sweets or beans nor jams or creams
Not cocoa pops or ham, it seems.
So pillows, sheets and arms it is
Exhausted both; but friends in bliss
As poorly him hugs poorly me;
We rest: the best that we can be.
The rhymes lend emphasis and give the poem a sing-song quality that matches the subject, my little (then) four-year-old boy needing his mummy. In contrast, here’s a poem that has no reasonable rhyming scheme or structure.
Take a pinch of ecstatic ether
Breathe into lover’s eyes
Stretch silk over frame
Of sweat and sinew.
Remove stars from the sky
Place in own eyes
Blink three times
There’s no place like home
And there you are.
Sometimes the way the words weave together is enough. It doesn’t need to be pruned and prodded into a particular structure.
Pro tip: If you are unsure how your poem will read, try reading it out loud. If you find that it sounds a bit disjointed, try changing some of the emphasis onto different words, or getting your editing pen out. When we read a poem on the page, we always hear a voice in our head speaking it to us. If it sounds great read out loud, the chances are it will sound great in someone’s head.
Poetry is Great to Share
One of the most fantastic things I’ve found about NaPoWriMo is how many friends I’ve made dong it! From the comfort of my own sofa, which is exceedingly handy when I’m not able to get out and about, I have shared my poems through my own website and Facebook, including dedicated groups for NaPoWriMo poets. I also get to read everyone else’s poems, and comment on the ones I like best. And sometimes, I get lovely comments about my poems, which makes it all worthwhile! When someone tells you a poem you wrote made them smile; that, to me, is one of the best feelings ever. The other great thing about these groups is they encourage you to keep going. When you feel like your muse has slammed the door on the way out of the building; when you’re tired, anxious ,down, doubting yourself; when you’re thinking it all seems a bit impossible; go and have a read of other people’s work, see how they’re managing, and talk to them to find out what keeps them ticking along. And remember, it’s all for fun!
Good luck to everyone participating in NaPoWriMo this year. Here are some fantastic links and resources that I use every year. I look forward to reading everybody’s poems!
The Official Site: http://www.napowrimo.net/
They are already blogging about this year’s event, and during the month of April you’ll find prompts to inspire you, hints, tips and poems from this year’s participants. There’s also a place to share your website, should you want to.
The Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/napowrimo
An easier place to share your poems if you don’t have a dedicated website. More prompts on here, and usually a dedicated post each day to share your own poems and read the other poets’ work.
NaPoWriMo Sharing Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/357732567604333/?ref=br_rs
A nice, friendly group for sharing poems. I’ve found some lovely people here.
The Poetry School: https://poetryschool.com/theblog/napowrimo-2017/
These are last year’s prompts, and I’d be very surprised if they don’t put some new ones up this year.
My Site: https://soundsoftime.wordpress.com/
My daily poems will appear here, mostly on a theme of spring this year, although who knows when I’ll be inspired by something gross in my fridge!
This post originally appeared on our first site, dis-spelling.org.uk in 2018