Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pushing limits, a little bit at a time

This summer, I'm noticing a difference in my bicycling. It's an incremental (tiny) shift: I'm still the slowest thing on two wheels, but I feel stronger, less tentative, less winded.

I wish I could get that same shift in my poetry, take it up a notch or even two? How to do that, other than writing, writing, writing? Metaphorical hills?

If only my poems were as solid as my calves.

How do you stretch? How do you grow?


Judith Skillman said...

Well, I think the growth in writing poems comes from doing it (mostly) and reading other poets. Sometimes taking a class or a workshop gives me the "shake up" of my long-held beliefs and habits enough for me to break out of the current plateau and, hopefully, get on up the next hill.

I wish I still had my motobecane. That was a good bike. It was French, orange, fast, and I was sooo young. I could ride down Beltsville Hill (in Greenbelt, Maryland, where I lived from age 6 - 28) without even holding on to the handlebars. Poems or pieces of poems or just words would come to me while I rode my bike, and I don't think I ever wrote them down. It was neat to just have them there in my head.

That's an awfully long time ago. I think pushing the limits, to return to the topic at hand, can be done in many ways. The main thing is to be gentle with ourselves as writers, to acknowledge ourselves since the world--let's face it--it's reality--doesn't really care too much about our poems. Is that heretical to say? I don't know. It just seems more true now than ever before.

So the keys to breaking through our own boundaries might be as simple as taking a trip (as Joannie did to the wine country, that sounds like fun!) riding a bike, taking a class, going on a retreat, reading a new author, or just sitting down at the table with one's writing implements, or at the eMac if one is addicted to technology and word processing, and without any particular goals in mind, letting the mind go. Kind of like "free writing" or following the impulse.

If that doesn't seem exciting enough to push the boundaries, then maybe the poet in us needs to take up skydiving, or climbing Mt. Everest. But I'll wager a good ten years of just hanging out w/ the instinct to write can yield some pretty amazing (to use an overused word) results: poems that, if nothing else, create in us when we re-read them the sensation of going back in time to an exact moment of our lives. It does't get much better than that.

Joannie said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you about writing--except that I already write plenty (sometimes, I think, on too many poems instead of concentrating all that energy into fewer poems, and maybe that would help).

My piano teacher used to say that "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." I don't buy into the "perfect" theory, but maybe if I replace it with "focused." So that's my question: How to focus on expanding one's boundaries?

And biking is not going to seem so fun to me this afternoon when I ride home in this (blinkin') rain.