This year during Camp NaNoWriMo, we want you to write what you love, whether that’s a novel or not. This week, writers of all kinds will share what they’ll be penning this April, and why you should join them. Ready for our second Camp Elective? Maureen Thorson, founder of National Poetry Writing Month (which we don’t run but do appreciate!), tells us why you should flock to poetry:
Identifying as a poet is a strange business. After all, how do you know you’re a poet? There’s nowhere to apply for a license. Do you need to clock a certain number of hours at open mike readings in coffee shops? Get an MFA? What if you just stand out on the sidewalk and announce, “I’m a poet”? Will all of the “real” poets come out of the woodwork to shame you?
Happily, no. (Although passersby might give you a wide berth until you stop making odd public announcements). As it turns out, there’s not much to being a poet, except writing poems.
So there’s the rub! How do you get started with writing poems? Well, like anything, one gets better and more comfortable with practice, and that’s where National Poetry Writing Month comes in.
In similar spirit to Camp NaNoWriMo, NaPoWriMo invites you (and you! and you, too?!) to write a poem every day for April. Back in 2003, I loved poetry, but I didn’t know any poets. Still, I decided to give myself the challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days—and I made it! Starting NaPoWriMo kickstarted my work when I was feeling lonely and low.
The next year, I moved to New York, and actually met some poets. And like me, they sometimes had trouble writing: with no ideas, and no formal writing deadlines, their writing would slow way down. It turns out that writer’s block is universal. So when April came around, I decided to repeat the challenge, and this time, some of my poet friends joined me.
Since then, published poets and unpublished poets have tackled poetry with us in April. People who’ve been writing poems their whole lives, and people who’ve just decided to start now. Kids and grandparents. Book clubs and elementary school classes. And there are books that exist today because poets decided to shake up their writing routine and write those thirty poems under deadline.
So how do you participate in NaPoWriMo? At its most basic, just write a poem every day for April! If you’re so inclined, you can start a blog where you’ll post your work, and submit it to us on our site. You can also get a peek at other people’s efforts, access a poetry prompt each day, and check out daily poetry-related links. And sure enough, you can also use Camp NaNoWriMo to organize your poems, reach out to other writers and keep track of your poetry-writing goals!
For me, one of the most gratifying things about NaPoWriMo is how many poets come back each year, like the swallows to Capistrano. Not everyone makes it the full thirty days, but they come back and try again. And the poems that result are wonderfully diverse, just as the participants are; all forms, styles and subject matter are represented. Heck, for the past two years we’ve even had one guy who writes poems entirely about masonry!
Writing poems doesn’t have to be scary. There is no application process. All it takes is a little gumption, and a willingness to open your mind to the possibility that you, too, can write poems.
Maureen Thorson's first book of poetry, Applies to Oranges, was published in 2011 by Ugly Duckling Presse. She began NaPoWriMo in 2003, and currently hosts its site, where poets can share their writing efforts. She lives in Washington, DC, where she co-curates the In Your Ear reading series at the DC Arts Center, and is the poetry editor of Open Letters Monthly, an online arts and literature review.
Photo by Flickr user meilev.