When I speak to school students about poetry, I often tell them about an exercise or challenge I’ve used to help me write. The idea of 30 or 100-day projects began for me with a TEDx Auckland talk, called Inspiration Wherever You Are, The 100 Days Project, by New Zealand graphic designer Emma Rogan:
As Emma Rogan explains in her talk, it’s an idea she’s adapted from Michael Beirut, a graphic designer and design critic at the Yale School of Art. Each year he asks his students to undertake a project where they repeat one simple creative exercise of their choice every day for 100 days.
I’ve used the practice for periods of 100 days, or 30 days, and it’s the latter I usually recommend to students. For example, in the past, my daily exercise was as simple as writing a 12 line draft of a poem, perhaps about something that made an impression on me that day.
As I explain to students, the results are very imperfect, but the practice helps you develop creative discipline, encourages you to be attentive to ideas that arise in your day-to-day life, and generates creative work you can return to later to edit or rework.
I emphasise that it’s not an idea designed by or for poets, and can work just as well for aspiring novelists, short story writers, graphic designers, photographers, painters, songwriters, game designers, choreographers, actors, and so on. It’s a great idea, and one worth spreading.
[From an address to high-school students and their families, September 2018.]
Poetry is a very old technology. In all likelihood, it has been part of the human experience almost as long as fire and stone, and just as long as many activities that scientists look to to set us apart as a species: cave painting, making bone tools, using pigments and jewellery, building hearths, and burying the dead.
Poetry has always touched lightly on the world. As a spoken artform to begin with, it has left us no definite traces of its earliest origins, though in all probability it is older than pottery, and older than the wheel. It has a place with fire, stone, ochre, song, music, story, ritual and mythology as an element of what it means to be human, as an essential part of who we are.
Poetry is an ancient technology, but it is also a relentlessly new one. And so we find it flourishing still in an age of popular songs, poetry slams, podcasts, e-books, YouTube clips, Twitter feeds, and Instagram posts – all of which have exponentially increased its ability to reach into our lives, and the capacity of young writers to find an audience for their work.
I’ve had a productive week, poetry-wise. I’m delighted to have two poems appear in Otoliths Issue 44 (Southern Summer, 2017), which went live on February 1. As always, the new issue is brim-full with poems – textual and visual – with lashings of innovation, novelty and wit.
My poems ‘Omina’ and ‘Fugue’ can be read here. ‘Where Songbirds Began’, a short documentary by ABC’s Catalyst, was a provocation for the former poem. For anyone needing a further inducement to read on, I can suggest: a.j. carruthers’ ‘Ten from Versificator’, Michael Farrell’s ‘vovo driver’ and ‘Two Poems’, Joanna Thomas’ ‘Four Short Illustrated Erasure Stories’ and Ian Gibbins’ ‘Two Visual Pieces’.
Otoliths, which has been published since 2006, is the enterprise of editor Mark Young. The archives are accessible online. Also worth a visit is Mark’s blog, gamma ways, which features regular posts of his own poems and visual poems.