the goldfish may or may not be drunk (a poem-a-day writing challenge)

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I won’t pretend to understand the science, but Smithsonian Magazine says goldfish make alcohol to survive winter. Seems reasonable enough. I’m all about the spiked eggnog this time of year.

But that’s not my only strategy for surviving winter this year. In late January/early February this year, I’m taking a little break from reality and going on a writing retreat in the Berkshires, and in early March, I’m headed to AWP in Tampa. I’m delighted to have those big outings to look forward to and break up winter into smaller pieces for me.

To be honest, I’d hoped to be celebrating first book publication and be well on my way with manuscript #2 by the time these opportunities came around. At times, I even gave into the idea that I’d only really enjoy them if I felt like a “real” writer if I had those things: debut book on the table, new book project to chat up.

In my sane moments, I measure success as a writer in other ways, of course. Even though I’ve been really pleased with the results of submitting individual poems (find some here), it’s easy to feel drained after spending so much time/energy/money on the effort to publish a manuscript. I’d often decide the zip and zing of writing new poems would be a great antidote, but I felt… too slow and heavy or something.

That’s been the case for months. To date, in 2017, I’ve drafted fewer than 10 new poems. Maybe fewer than five. The brain can start to believe that’s as good as it gets now and mourn the loss of the “real” writer self, the one who could bang out a draft every time she sat down in the chair. Hell, most days, I forgot entirely about the chair, let alone the writer.

It’s time to shake that off. And so I’ve committed to writing 30 poems in 30 days as part of a poem-a-day marathon with Tupelo Press.

The goldfish may or may not be drunk. 

I’ve often turned to formal and informal poem-a-day challenges as a way to reconnect with the part of me that most feels like a writer: the girl who writes poems. In fact, this will be my third time writing with Tupelo. Many of the poems that were born during those months found their way into my current manuscript or into journals. The accountability and community make all the difference in the world to me.

And so I’ll be spending lots of time at the writing desk this month… proving that despite working full-time, parenting teenage boys and pushing through all sorts of holiday festivities, there’s still time to write. I have needed the reminder: Dear girl who writes poetry, you are worth the time. If you’d like to cheer me on, please consider following along as I try to shut up the inner critic and simply CREATE for a while. You can read the poems here.

If you’d really like to help give me a kick in the pants, consider sponsoring me (even $5 or $10 “tips” add up). My fundraising page is here. The poem-a-day marathon raises money for Tupelo Press, which is a really amazing press in my backyard. Tupelo publishes gorgeous books and anthologies and brings so many important poems into the world.

This morning, the universe gave me huge affirmation of rising to this challenge at this exact moment. I woke up to this poem by June Jordan. Here are a few lines:

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are

and a few more:

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me

I can think of nothing more important right now: reaching out of darkness, honoring the stranger in all of us.

RELATED: I write about the feast or famine quality of my writing practice here


  1. Wow, I can relate to the “mourning the real writer self.” I used to be able to crank out SO much creative work – poetry, short stories…now it feels like tremendous effort. I really do wonder why that happens to so many writers. Good luck, I know you got this!

    1. we’re so hard on ourselves!! it’s helpful for me to have good friends (& in particular writer friends) around me who remind me that the rhythms are what they are. in fact, a couple days before i took the plunge to do this 30/30, a good writer friend responded to my groaning by reminding me that it was ok to just free write for a while, that maybe something new was happening and i needed to give it room. i felt better and agreed with her… and then WHAMMO! 180 degree about-face: i decide to force it lol

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