I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell. – Annie Dillard
We’re at the end of a month of writing poems and interrogating our lives for meaning, theme and mythic structure. We’ve looked backwards, mostly, across our history, the history of our families and our culture, examining the warp and weave of ourselves largely in retrospect.
But the hero’s journey – and the poet’s – starts new every day. What we do and what we create necessarily move forward in time. We wake up and put a foot out of bed, we breathe, we reach for our writing tools and we start that first line across the page. We go out into the world, maybe, and see what we are meant to see. We begin again, over and over, because our life and our poetry demand it. They require fresh vision.
Zen philosophy has a concept called “beginner’s mind,” a state of keeping one’s attitude open and receptive, approaching each moment with a lack of assumptions or preconceptions. It can be difficult to wipe one’s own mental slate clean, but if you approach something already knowing, then you have only a limited range to work with. If you don’t know, the possibilities are near endless.
* We have done quite a bit of “writing what we know” this month because we’ve been mining our own stories for material. Can you now ignore this pale little cliché of writer’s advice and write about something you don’t know about yourself? Try asking someone close to you for clues. It may be you turn up something minor or something you don’t particularly like, but honor your blind spots either way. They may lead to some new and greater understanding.
* What passage have you come through this month, whether you’ve written every day or not? How are you no longer the same person you were? What have you discovered, and where did you have to go to find it?
* Write about a person, an idea or a belief that is no longer a part of your life. How is this ending for you actually a beginning?
* Alternately, write about a time in which beginning something necessarily ended another.
* Go back to a poem you’ve written this month that you’re less than satisfied with. Try a new angle into the piece, maybe using a different point of view, maybe the opposite one you started with. Change the verb tenses, the setting, the characters. Try to see revision as a new start through fresh terrain.
* Write a poem in which you start at the ending of something and work your way back to where you think it starts.
Extra credit, ongoing: Choose an area of knowledge or a question you’ve had on your mind that you somehow never found the time to explore. For example, I use a car every day and have no idea how it actually works. I also don’t know how fish work, really, or birds. I never believed in the Easter Bunny but I did firmly believe in jackalopes until I was nearly a teenager. (Part of me still does, still contemplates that picture postcard up on the wall over my desk.) But I’ve no idea how the jackalope myth even started, I’ve just never looked it up. I think I will, today.
Choose an area of no knowledge and, cultivating your best childlike beginner’s mind, realize what you do not know about the world and go forth with it. Make a new beginning and document this beginning in a poem.