Poem a Day: the continuing case for a daily practice. Even if you suck.

A few years ago, as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to write one poem a day.

I was inspired by my grandfather, who, at 92, would jot down a few notes every day in his dayplanner about what had happened that day, even though from where anybody else was sitting not much was happening at all.

Still, it was a practice that helped him differentiate one day from the next.

The motivation was cured further over dinner with my partner’s grandmother. In her late 80s, she confessed that she regretted not keeping a journal. “You forget so much,” she said. The days all blur into one, she said, unless you make an effort to identify one true thing that makes today different from yesterday. “They just slip away so quickly.”

And in a way, that’s what the poem-a-day was. A word-Polaroid. A dated snapshot. An attempt to harness the velocity of this life, and if not to actually slow it down, to keep pace.

Some days, some weeks, I was swept up in the current of life and the notebook didn’t float. But I kept returning to it.

This year, I recommitted to the poem-a-day project. I dropped $55 on an A4 Moleksine notebook, so the dated page (and the audaciously expensive paper) would hold me accountable.

Today is December 31, and I close the book. I have written 365 ordinary poems.

I might have to write a thousand, in order to write one truly brilliant one (like strange and shining poets I stumble upon.)

But even if I never manage to write a poem that shines, and even if I never sit down at the age of 80-something and follow the trail of crumbs that leads back through all my days, to this new 2012 notebook, all fresh pages and promise, the exercise has allowed me to look at each day of my life as if there is something brilliant worth plucking out, burnishing down to a handful of words and holding up to the light.

The case for a Daily Practice

I get the new hygienist at my 6 monthly check-up.

After ten years as a ski-bum, finally having dental benefits means I vaguely dread these appointments – there’s belated penance to be paid for sins of omission and neglect. And the new hygienist, though young and capable, is brusque enough to be a little Scary. Not to mention the sharp instruments she wields.

“Do you scrub when you brush your teeth?” she asks.

“Ummm…” (Is there any point in denying this?)

“Imagine scrubbing the skin on the back of your hand really hard.  You’d scrub it raw. That’s what you’re doing to do your teeth.”

“So you’re telling me I can’t brush twice as hard for half as long?”

“No shortcuts,” she smiles. “Sing Happy Birthday. Brush for the whole song. Gently.”

Be gentle with yourself. Take the time it takes. 

This has been the story of my 2011. Repeated so often and coming at me in so many different ways (in yoga class, in the dentist chair, in the garden, on my bike, building a trail, at the shooting range, in bed with the flu) that I expect they’re going to take my “gifted” card back. *Sorry, we didn’t realise how dense you would turn out to be when we gave this to six-year-old-You.

My constitutional density has turned me into an advocate for a Daily Practice.

It is why I love my friend, the Manifestly Un-Dense Julia McCabe for her Art of Discipline yoga immersions – for not only committing to a personal 6am practice of 2 hours of yoga a day, but for cajoling a class full of sleepy-eyed students to the mat with her.

And it is why I keep checking in on my (also Not Dense) friend Rory Tucker with his Photo a Day project. His curiosity to discover his recurring themes and obsessions has taught me that it is okay to revisit the same things over and over, that sometimes, that return is what it takes for things to sink really deep.

Year Forty One. Photos by Rory Tucker

A daily practice is like standing in the stream of time trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. You’re rarely successful, and you miss far more than you touch, but you really really notice everything… including the strength of the current, the temperature fluctuations in the water, the close calls and near misses, the muscular sashay of the fish, the occasional bird-shadow that will suddenly block the sun.

It is attunement by full immersion.

So I recommit to another year of practice: 30 minutes of yoga, a daily poem, and flossing. Even when I don’t feel like it. Especially then.

Because I owe it to my future self. Not the clean teeth or the memory book or even the opened hips, (which my future self quite desperately wants.)

I want to give myself the power of a habit. The unbroken chain of a daily practice, freed of the burden of back-sliding  to zero. Starting over is the hardest thing. It’s so much gentler just to do it every day. And let it take the time it takes.