This is a special edition of the Alive at the Center Guest Poet Post series. Today, we are pleased to feature a piece by Karen Finneyfrock, a poet from Seattle, WA, who invites you to participate in the yearly 30 poems in 30 days writing challenge. Please enjoy her post—and pick up your pens!
Author portrait by Inti St. Clair
30/30: National Poetry Month Challenge
We all know that National Poetry Month was created by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. (Or, at least we’re all nodding along like we did know). It’s tougher to determine the origins of April’s 30/30 Poetry Challenge.
Sometimes called 30 for 30, or NaPoWriMo, sister to the popular novel writing challenge, NanNoWriMo, the 30/30 Challenge calls upon writers to write and publicly post a new poem for each day of April.
It all begins in the waning days of March, when poets start asking one another who will be taking the challenge and where they will be posting. Poems show up on facebook, blogs, tumblr, group sites created for lots of poets to post work, even hallways and telephone poles. Poets often form haphazard e- campfires, tagging one another, commenting back and forth on poems. It’s a chance to read poems so hot off the presses, they smoke. As you would guess, the product is a mix of surprising success and expected failure. The poems often have the friction and heat of a first draft, along with the sandpapery roughness.
As a poetic and cultural phenomenon, poets reading each other’s new work for thirty days straight would be enough. But it doesn’t stop there. When I post a poem on facebook, there is no telling who will comment. I’ve had acquaintances from high school who haven’t read a poem since graduation comment on my work. I’ve had poetic heroes of mine pop over and leave a suggestion on a stanza. The challenge reaches poets and non-poets in a social media storm of metaphor.
Here’s why I anxiously await April’s 30/30 every year: For one month, I’m actively engaging with other poets. I’m not buying their books and reading them at my leisure over the coming year. I’m reading work they produced that day and commenting on it that day, in all its raw newness and slop. It contains the thrill of seeing behind the curtain, or watching the final dress rehearsal and then staying after to give feedback. You join the poet in the creative process, rather than consuming the product of that process.
The second reason for my ardor toward 30/30 is the product. I write SO MANY POEMS in so many experimental ways when I’m under the gun. “Okay, I’ve got 30 minutes to pop this poem out, let’s try a Cinquain.” Or, “Let me just write down this dream I had last night and see if it looks like a poem.” Time limits are often good for the creative voice and 30/30 is a month-long grueling timer.
Speaking of which…the Challenge? I’ve never made it. In my years of doing 30/30, I haven’t even gotten close to writing a poem every day. Does this mean I’ve failed? Not in the slightest. 30/30 is more like a writing prompt than a writing assignment. It doesn’t really matter where you end up; it matters that the journey is taking place. I generally come out of 30/30 with about five new poems that I edit, perform, and publish. For me, that is a seriously productive month. But, here is a word of warning to poets: Some journals will consider a poem “published” if it has already appeared on your blog or facebook page. If you write something you love enough to submit, you might check out a couple of publications before you post.
Karen Finneyfrock is a poet, novelist and teaching artist in Seattle, WA. Her young adult novel, The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door, was published by Viking Children’s Books in 2013. Her second book of poems, Ceremony for the Choking Ghost, was released on Write Bloody press in 2010. She is a former Writer-in-Residence at Richard Hugo House in Seattle and teaches for Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Writers-in-the-Schools program. In 2010, Karen traveled to Nepal as a Cultural Envoy through the US Department of State to perform and teach poetry and in 2011, she did a reading tour in Germany sponsored by the US Embassy.
Karen’s poem “Monster” is featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Seattle edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.