Writing the Day

I started a new daily writing practice for 2014 that I call WRITING THE DAY.

The idea is simple – and not totally original – to write a poem each day.

I wanted to impose some form on myself each day. I love haiku, tanka and other short forms, but I decided to create my own form for this project.  I wanted to do shorter poems and I thought about the many Japanese forms that I enjoy reading and writing. The haiku is the form most people are familiar with, and it is a form that gets far too little respect in the Western world,

People know that form as three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. But that’s an English interpretation, since Japanese doesn’t have syllables.

bridgerain400The main inspiration for me is the tanka form which consists of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. Even in that short form, the tanka has two parts. The 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (“upper phrase”) and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (“lower phrase”).

For my invented form, ronka, there are 5 lines, each having 7 words without concern for syllables. Like the tanka there is no rhyme.

My own ronka will focus on observations of the day as seen in the outside world and the inside worlds of dwellings and the mind.

From the haiku form I will try to use techniques like having seasonal words to show rather than tell – cherry blossoms, rather than “spring” or April.  Haiku also don’t include the poet or people as frequently as we do in Western poetry.

I am calling the form ronka – obviously a somewhat egotistical play on the tanka form.

wave crossing

William Stafford is the poet who inspired this daily practice the most for me. Stafford wrote every morning from 1950 to 1993. He left us 20,000 pages of daily writings that include early morning meditations, dream records, aphorisms, and other “visits to the unconscious.” He used sheets of yellow or white paper and sometimes spiral-bound reporters’ steno pads.

I already write every day. I teach and writing is part of the job. I do social media as a job and for myself. I work on my poetry. I have other blogs. But none of them is a daily practice or devoted to writing poems.

When Stafford was asked how he was able to produce a poem every morning, he replied, “I lower my standards.”  I like that answer, but I know that phrase “lowering standards” has a real negative connotation. I think Stafford meant that he allows himself some bad poems and some non-poems, knowing that with daily writing there will be eventually be some good work.

Read the poem, “Mindful,” by Mary Oliver and you’ll get a nice explanation of at least part of the motivation for doing this daily poetry practice – the joy I find every day in some thing, perhaps rather small, that I feel some need to record so that I will remember it in times when things seem less joyful. The poem comes her collection, Why I Wake Early, whose title fits right into the William Stafford writing practice that also inspired my project. She writes about the outdoors – crickets, toads, trout lilies, black snakes, goldenrod, bears and deer – and that is at least a third of what I expect my poems to have as inspiration. But I will be less disciplined about waking up early.

Now, I have been Writing the Day for 19 days and I don’t know if I can sustain the practice every day for an entire year. But, I know it is more pleasurable than resolving to lose weight, exercise more, spend less time online or any other of the common New Year’s boxes that so many people put themselves into in January.

Celebrating the Winter Solstice with Words


The shortest day of the year and the longest night signals the solstice, the first day of winter (if it did not already seem like winter in your part of the hemisphere).

Humans like solstices. They are one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years.

On December 21, 2010, there was a full moon that coincided with the Winter Solstice. I’m sure that would have interested the ancients.  In 2009, there was another astronomical coincidence when the Full Moon was on the last day of the year and was also the second Full Moon –  a Blue Moon.

Most of the attention on the upcoming Winter Solstice has been because of the Mayan Calendar, but today I am just interested in looking at how we have treated Full Moons and solstices in some literature.

At the most famous of stone circles – Stonehenge – those stones were carefully placed to receive the first rays of the midwinter sun in a special way. I don’t know if you mark the day in any way, but one easy ceremony might be to read something of the time.

As an undergraduate English major, I am “trained” to see winter (and almost everything!) as symbolic.  The often funny poet, Billy Collins, says that English majors are actually majoring in death. Certainly, winter in literature is often connected to sadness and death.

And we know that in northern climes, winter sends us indoors and if you combine that with that gray outside landscape, you start to understand the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) effect.

That is the time of William Carlos Williams’ “Approach of Winter.”

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine,—
like no leaf that ever was—
edge the bare garden.

As an antidote to that SADness, think about the fact that almost all solstice celebrations are just that – celebrations. They focus on hope since with the solstice day it is the start of the reversal of shortening days. It is as a time to celebrate the rebirth of the year.

Two poems in my moon and solstice collection are  “December Moon” from May Sarton‘s collection Coming into Eighty  and Mary Oliver‘s poem “Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh” (from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays). Both poets are known for being very tuned in to nature.

I also like this particular stanza from “Toward the Winter Solstice” by Timothy Steele.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.

Here are a few more to read that have a range of reactions to the Winter Solstice.

Again a Solstice” by Jennifer Chang
Fairbanks Under the Solstice” by John Haines
You can also listen to Robert Graves’ “To Juan at the Winter Solstice”