Taking on a challenge: halfway through #100daysoflearningaboutpoetry

A reader beginning a poem is like someone stepping into a rowboat with a stranger at the oars; the first few draws on the long oars through the deep water tell a lot—is one safe, or is one apt to be soon drowned? A poem is that real a journey.
— Mary Oliver

Since April 5th I have read poems by over 50 poets, and made a post on Instagram for each one. I started it as part of #the100dayproject, a challenge started by Elle Luna where people make something for 100 days and post it on Instagram with its own unique hashtag - mine is #100daysoflearningaboutpoetry. It has been challenging, inspiring, and eye-opening. Since I’m halfway through, I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned and my favourite posts so far.

  I learned this poem at a meditation retreat this spring and it stuck with me. This is also one of my favourite drawings from the project so far. 

I learned this poem at a meditation retreat this spring and it stuck with me. This is also one of my favourite drawings from the project so far. 

Dropping Keys - Hafiz

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

My goals for the project

My plan was to read 100 poems by 100 different poets and share them on Instagram every day. I also decided to learn a little about each poet as I go and to mix up how I share the poem as much as possible.

Here are a few ways that I’ve been creating images: 

  • Taking a photo of the poem in a physical book
  • Writing it out by hand hand and adding drawings or doodles
  • Making a drawing or painting to go with it, or choosing one that I’ve made in the past
  • Taking a photo, or choosing one
  • Printing the poem out and photographing it in a natural setting
  • Taking a photo of the book itself 
  • Taking a video of me reading the poem

I haven’t been able to keep up with daily posting (I should be on day 78 by now) because it takes time to wade through repertoire to find a poem I like, and then to let it percolate enough for an image to emerge. I have however, read at least one poem every single day (and sometimes entire books of poetry) and plan to completely my 100 posts no matter how long it takes.

  Flowers I was given for my first gallery opening. It was powerful to read this poem about dreams on the day when one of my dreams came true. 

Flowers I was given for my first gallery opening. It was powerful to read this poem about dreams on the day when one of my dreams came true. 

Kitchenette Building - Gwendolyn Brooks

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

Why I'm doing this

I’ve always been intrigued by poetry, feeling like it contains vital secrets to humanity that are just beyond my reach. But despite my longing for it, I've never been able to make poetry a regular part of my life. I keep buying books or bringing them home from the library, only to have them languish on the shelves.

I read very quickly (just ask my book club - I read our last book twice and everyone else barely finished it once) which is great for adding books to my ‘Completed’ list but not great for letting poetry sink in. Poetry can't be read quickly. It needs to be given time and space and full attention, which requires the type of patience I've never been able to give it. Until now. 

Once I had spent a year working on my fear of drawing, I thought that perhaps poetry should be the next challenge. I originally decided not to do #the100dayproject this year, since daily projects make me grumpy and I didn’t want to give into FOMO like I did last year. But a mysterious combination of influences gave me the idea that this would be the perfect thing to do: not to make something for 100 days, but to practice a skill nonetheless. To get in the boat and let poetry row me into the deep waters I’ve always known it would take me to. 

  A poem that seemed appropriate on a long-awaited spring day.

A poem that seemed appropriate on a long-awaited spring day.

For What Binds Us - Jane Hirschfield

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight. 
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

IMG_20170516_204209_237.jpg

What I’m learning

  • I am most drawn to the poems that have a clear message or moral -- a grand, inspiring statement about how to do life properly -- but I’m working on expanding to learn about poems that focus on something more subtle. I'm looking for new ideas, for small moments, for details that make me see things from someone else's perspective. 
  • I don’t need to “understand” the poem for it to have value. If it creates a feeling, or makes me think about something - anything - that’s good enough. 
  • Poems get better and better. Each time I revisit a poem, I tend to see something new in it. This is great when I feel stumped by something. 
  • The sheer quantity of poetry that I have to get through means that I still struggle with slowing down enough and often find myself whipping through poems like I do through novels. But I’m learning to take my time with a poem, sinking into the rhythms, sounds, and images bit by bit with each reading. 
  • I have been reading a lot of poets that I had never heard of and it’s so great. I’ve been trying to keep the list as diverse as possible and have gotten so many great recommendations from friends about their favourite poets and poems. 
  • As I go, I'm also re-learning the formal structures of poetry and a little about the history of western poetry, which adds richness and depth to the experience. I wish I had time to expand my understanding to poetry from all over the world, but that could take a lifetime. And maybe it will. 
  I based this image on a Mesoamerican sculpture that I found when I searched "seated woman". I didn't like it at all at first, but it has grown on me. 

I based this image on a Mesoamerican sculpture that I found when I searched "seated woman". I didn't like it at all at first, but it has grown on me. 

Basket - Leonard Cohen

You should go
from place to place
recovering the poems
that have been written for you,
to which you can affix your signature.
Don’t discuss these matters
with anyone.
Retrieve.  Retrieve
When the basket is full
someone will appear
to whom you can present it.
She will spread her wide skirt
and sit down
on a black stone
and your basket will bounce
like a speck in sunlight
on the immense landscape
of her lap.

What I hope for in the long term

  • I would like to assemble a collection of poets that I will return to after the project is over, so that I can dive more deeply into their repertoires. 
  • Eventually I would like to start memorizing some of the poems that mean a lot to me.
  • I would like to develop a habit of reading poetry regularly, to mix it in with my usual novels and non-fiction piles of books from the library. 
  • I would like to collaborate with poets in making art. 

I still have almost 50 poems to post so I would LOVE some more recommendations. Who is your favourite poet, or what are some of your favourite poems, and why? Leave a comment below! 

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