November 1, 2013

30 Poems in November!

Guest Blogger: Becky Jones


I first learned of what was originally called “30 Poems in 30 Days” from an e-mail invitation in the early fall of 2009.  It came from then-Poet Laureate of Northampton, Lesléa Newman, who explained the project she envisioned: one poem a day for a month, with the hope to raise $3000 for the literacy project of the Center for New Americans.  That first year, she raised over $11,000.  Last year the fundraiser topped $20,000.

The challenge to write a poem a day got under my skin.  It felt do-able, an effort that would kick-start my creative juices, so I committed myself to the task. Life’s wisdom, condensed and filtered through my brain, explains what happened next for me:  “As long as you dither, all of life’s forces will dither with you.  But the moment you step forward with your decision, the ground will rise up to meet you and open up the path before you.”

So I committed myself to the project in early October, when I had weeks to let ideas percolate.  Almost immediately, the ground rose up to meet me:  I was flooded with ideas for poems.  By November, I was a ripened jewel weed ready to pop.  Do you know jewel weed, sometimes called touch-me-not?  It grows on the edges of woods in the dappled sun. Swollen translucent green seed pods hang off yellow and orange blossoms that look like miniature snap dragons.  When ripe and full, the pods burst open under the slightest touch, as the inner filaments – pulled long and straight by the pods’ growth – recoil and send their seeds out like bullets into the nearby forest debris, where they wait to take root the following spring.

On November 1st, I sprang into action, cranking out the first of 30 and more poems for the month.  I rode the crest of that wave comfortably and enthusiastically for about fifteen days.  It was as if the momentum, the build-up of unexpressed ideas, carried me halfway through the month.

I continued faithfully to write a poem a day, sometimes two – but I started to struggle.  I finished only two or three poems to my satisfaction the entire month.  Some days I didn’t get to my poetry until late at night.  But I kept the discipline, even if it meant dashing off a short, short poem at 11:57 pm; that discipline gave me pride and energy. And there’s nothing like a deadline to get the adrenalin flowing.

When it came time to do the public reading, I vacillated between two poems.  I chose to read a pantoum, a Malaysian form of poetry I’d tried my hand at.  It was not a very good poem in my opinion, but I felt it would signal that I was a serious poet.  Almost immediately after reading the pantoum, I wished I had read the very first poem that sprang jewel weed-like from my pen on November 1st. Suddenly released after the build-up of ideas, that poem represented all the potential created by the challenge.  And it was a poem I had a great time working on. I hadn’t read it because I thought it was too silly.  But now I appreciate its vitality.  Here’s the poem I wish I’d read:


Full of Eyedeas


30 poems in 30 days?

Naah!! Who could do that?

But the seed of the idea is planted.

Each day of October

has seen the mound of soil on

my little potato patch grow.

I can tell that the list of

one hundred poetry ideas

has already produced an

abundance of new potatoes.

I can feel the crowding

beneath the surface,

an extra 37 topics

already clustered, waiting

to take root.


I will dig some up way too soon,

to see if they are ready yet.

They will be small, ill-formed and stone hard.

Some I will never find again.

A few, I imagine, will ripen.

They’ll grow big and juicy

with dents, no doubt, and

bumps, imperfect potatoes but, still,

full of juicy promise.


Harvesting will be a delight

for me, this new gardener.

I will savor the digging

the scrubbing, the baking.

Butter will melt

in the steamy flesh.

And I will think with satisfaction and surprise,

This grew in my rocky soil.

I had nothing to do with it

except to receive the seed potatoes given to me,

each with its own little eye,

and plant them deep and build the mounds.


For now, I pick up the pen.

I see the beginning sprouts.

I will tend and wait patiently,

water and stake, if necessary,

watch for blight,

and wait impatiently for harvest day.


If you are tempted to write 30 poems in 30 days, I heartily encourage you to put your pen and your imagination to the task.  You’ll also be helping the Center for New Americans provide vital services to our newest residents and citizens.

Terry S. Johnson, program chair this year, has generously crafted 30 poetry prompts to see us through the month.  These will be posted on November 1st.  Details for enrolling and finding the prompts are available at the Center for New Americans website, here.


You never know what kind of delicious, quirky potatoes you’ll harvest, until you try.

                       — Becky Jones



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