Contentment Diary 1/8/10, Snow Day Without Snow

Today was supposed to be my first day back at work after the Christmas break. It would have been registration, which would have meant that just about the time the panic truly set in about how much I needed to do before classes started, I would have been stuck helping students register with no time to work on my class preps.

As luck would have it, we had an onslaught of arctic blast weather alerts yesterday, and registration was canceled today. As luck would further have it, we didn’t actually get any winter precipitation out of this. It’s been brutally cold for South Mississippi, but all utilities remained in working order. Since I never left my house, that was good enough for me.

The upshot of it all is I’ve had a snow day without snow, and I can now put off until Monday the process of panic and frustration that I always experience during registration. Instead I’ve fiddled about, attempting to catch up on various projects. Haphazardly, of course.

I learned a couple of things about myself. There’s a reason I’m not a photographer. I saw a stray cat huddled up against the fence at the back of my yard this morning. My first thought was “poor cold kitty.” My next thought was “what a great picture that would make.” This was quickly followed by “if it weren’t so cold I’d go out there and try to get a picture.”

The other thing I learned was that a Google of “Contentment Diary” now places my site at the top. I’m the leading expert as it were. Too bad I don’t I don’t actually know what a contentment diary is.

I’d like to blog about important issues right now, but I also don’t want to distract myself too much from completing important tasks, so the main item of my contentment to report is I’m typing to hear myself type. Yet, I’ve just seen this Stephen King quote float through on Twitter: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’m resolved to write on the blog as much as possible mainly for that reason. You have to write a lot to be a writer. Because I teach a lot and have many other commitments, I don’t have the time available for sustained writing, like working on a book or writing scholarly articles. This may be only fluff writing here, but it serves a purpose. It keeps me in the mindset to write. It keeps me in practice. Theoretically, at least, that should mean that when I do have more sustained writing time available, I’ll be more prepared to use it wisely.

This is a lesson I learned as a graduate student reading Peter Elbow. Write to write if you don’t have any other reason to write. It’s an idea I believe in and push to my students. There should be no reason I couldn’t practice it as well.

I do, however, have goals for the blog beyond blogging for the sake of blogging. I’d like to post something every day. I’d like to post a poem once a week. I’d like to post a reading response at least once a week. I’d like to use this to think through some article ideas. I also want to write more about the process of writing poetry and trends in contemporary poetry. And then there could be cat pictures. There really could.

How I Wrote "Blazes"

I’ve just written and posted a poem that I have tentatively titled “Blazes.” People frequently ask how I write, so I’m going to talk about this one while it is fresh enough to remember.

First, there was a Twitter event on Tuesday of this week in which people were posting poetry, talking about poetry and writing and publishing, all using the hashtag #poettues. I didn’t feel well and wasn’t really up to writing something new, so I posted a poem I’d drafted recently. At the same time, I thought what a great idea #poettues was. I thought it would be wonderful if I could manage to post a new poem on my blog every Tuesday.

I’ll regret posting a poem on Friday because of that, but #poettues was what had me thinking about scheduling time out on a weekly basis to draft a new poem.

Then on Wednesday I noticed that Robert Lee Brewer had a new writing prompt up at Poetic Asides: “take no prisoners.” For whatever reason, the image that popped into my mind was a bulldozer. I didn’t think much more about it at the time. I was busy doing other things. But the idea of writing a poem and the image of a bulldozer were planted in my mind.

Later, I noticed on Facebook that Molly Fisk had posted a writing prompt about water and another one about a falling apple, which reminded me of Newton’s gravity explanation.

Meanwhile, on Composing with Images the weekly theme was moon.

Thus, this morning when I pulled out a legal pad and a black gel pen and asked myself if I had a poem in me, the images that had collected around the idea of writing in the past few days were bulldozer, water, moon, and gravity.

A few months ago, my brother flipped a backhoe into his pond–not in the moonlight, but definitely because he was attempting precarious actions on a levee. It was inevitable that this would tie in with the other images, and so with that string of random pictures in my head, I sat down and wrote “Blazes.”

This is a typical process for me. I don’t always use intentional writing prompts. Mostly I pick up bits and pieces from things I’ve read or seen or heard. I take a kind of mental snapshot of anything that interests me. That snapshot gets mixed in with other snapshots. Then when I write the collection of recent mental snapshots arranges and rearranges itself in my head until a poem or something like it emerges.


If you have a bulldozer,
or if you are a bulldozer,
the only thing stopping
your uphill battles
is gravity. No need
to experiment.

Will man or machine
fall faster down the levee?

It’s been done before.
Every 2nd grade boy
will tell you. It’s all
the same, man.
It’s all the same.

But go ahead if you want.
Full blazes for the moon
in the only way a man
who makes a practical
living is allowed to try.

Fleeting. Cumbersome.
Bound by laws of nature
and the eyes of those
you love best to flip.

Into slime.