April is NaPoWriMo (or National Poetry Writing Month), where participants are challenged to write a poem a day. So, to celebrate this great innovation and get you inspired, KBR is delighted to welcome creative writing mentor Karen Benke.
My book Leap Write In! is both an invitation and a creative writing adventure book for tweens, teens and other Earthlings. Since Leap is celebrating a birthday this month, here’s a leap write in challenge just for you.
Finish reading this post and then turn off your computer and set aside all hand-held devices. Then reach for the nearest pen or pencil, a piece of lined or unlined paper, and invite a small poem to come play on the page. Poems can sometimes be shy, so it’s important to be gentle and kind — both to the poem and to yourself!
Still with me? Great. I’ve done this thousands of times and it’s a sure-fire way to remove any lingering doubts and all hints of the blues. Writing a poem by hand is like a blast of yellow or orange, or whatever happens to be your favourite colour of the day, amplified by a million, aimed at your heart-space.
I’ll take the pressure off even more: the poem you set loose on the page doesn’t have to be finished and it doesn’t have to be good. Really.
Have you ever stopped yourself from doing something creative — making up a song, penning a poem, painting a picture — before you’ve even started, because you think it has to conform to some idea of how it should look or sound or be in the world? Simply leave your critic or any part of you that wants to say 'No' in the other room for a while and find out what wants to spill across the snowy canvas of your page.
Your poem might be tame or wild. If you notice it’s on the wild side, sometimes it helps to put your pen down and follow a furred creature around for a while first. Just this morning, I followed cat Clive out the kitchen door into a small patch of sun. Poems love to be written inside or outside, by the way. I had my piece of unlined paper and pen (black with a felt-tip) with me, so I sat beside Clive on the pebbly path and let my poem roam. Sometimes if you have a hard time getting started, try taking your poem off its leash, remove its collar, give it a scratch behind its ears, stroke its back or belly. Poems like that. If you get close enough, you might even hear your poem start to purr.
I’m here to tell you that you can write about anything or anyone on this tilted planet of seven billion and counting. Writing is something that helps with happiness and happiness helps the world. It’s a win-win situation, taking a break from a screen to pen a poem. And the subjects for a poem are practically limitless. Poems can be written about two-leggeds and four-leggeds. Your poem might be about a certain creepy crawly, something that likes to slither, a swimmer or even a winged one. If you can imagine it, you can write about it. It’s that easy. Maybe you’ll write about the way your dog or cat dreams, or about why you like or don’t like to write … or the path you followed from your bed into the kitchen this morning.
Paying attention to our lives offers up so many ideas and options for poem-making and playing. With pen or pencil in hand, in a place of light — sun light, moon light, star light — begin. Call it a letter to the universe or a note to yourself if poem feels too ______________ (you fill in the blank). All you’re doing is setting down one brave word at a time and taking a break from the punctuation police and from making sense. You’re relaxed. You’re breathing. You’re keeping that kindness rule close. You’re not worried what your poem should or shouldn’t sound like because when you’re playing you can’t worry. You’re letting your poem rhyme or not. You’re dancing with words on paper. If your critic wanders in, you know you can find somewhere else to sit because you’re keeping company with your poem not your critic right now.
Write for as long as you like. Forget about time. No one’s stopping you from sharing, if you want. Maybe you’ll read what you wrote to a tree or send it to a friend. (Clive always listens to my poems, especially when they’re about him.) Sometimes it's fun to write a poem and then tuck it away for while. Sometimes you might find the entire world exists with you, right there on the snowy stillness of the page. Sometimes what you discover is as small as a shark’s tooth or as enormous as a black hole roaming around the depths of the universe. You’ll never know, until you unplug, put down the phone, set those devices aside and pick up a pen.
Do it, I dare you. Just leap write in!
Karen Benke is the author of LEAP WRITE IN! Adventures in Creative Writing to Stretch & Surprise Your One-of-a-Kind Mind (Roost Book/Shambhala, 2013), RIP THE PAGE! Adventures in Creative Writing (Roost Books/Shambhala, 2010), and SISTER (Conflux Press, 2004). A mentor who specialises in creative writing to tap into your heart’s truest intentions, she is the creator of the monthly handwritten, snail-mail-sent Museletter. She lives north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge with her family and a cat named Clive. Visit her at: www.karenbenke.com