Up Hill and Down Dale on the 20:20 Poetry Trail

Amazingly – to me at least – my Poetry 20:20 project is nearing its end already. I’ve done today’s poem so that means just three more to go. 85% done, and in some ways I feel as though I have barely started. In other respects it feels like a very, very long run where I’m just about stumbling along the final straight! But Friday will come up fast and then it will be over.

Once it is all done, I will put up a post reflecting on what I’ve learned from the whole thing. But when you reach the end of a long run, it’s easy to swim with the endorphins and think glowingly of how great it has all been, forgetting the grim bits; so I thought I’d keep myself honest and put up a quick post about the hard times in the middle.

The last time your correspondent filed a report was Wednesday of week 2; that was a high point, where I’d eased myself into the project and everything seemed to be working. A couple of days later it was all different: I was doing the same things but the work wasn’t coming out right. I felt exhausted, in the way a mine is exhausted: the ore dug out and nothing worthwhile left.  I was still doing the things that normally refill my creative unconscious – reading, running, watching, thinking, clustering, freewriting – but it just wasn’t working.

Then I thought again about my running metaphor for the project. I remembered how when I’ve started a period of exercising again after a break, the first few times are great: everything’s easy, distances get further every day, I’m making progress. Then I hit a plateau, or appear to go backwards: every step is a struggle, I feel like I’m getting fatter not fitter, the effort seems pointless. But what I know from running or cycling is that eventually that plateau passes, and I seem suddenly to take a big jump forward, which appears effortless but of course has been earned by the steady work.

So I crossed my fingers and hoped the same would be true in writing. Fortunately, I think there is a degree of similarity: there have been days in the last week when I’ve felt in my stride again, able to master my material and form, connected with the shifting, hard-to-reach sources of poetry. At these times I do sense that the new ease springs partly from the spade-work that I’ve been making myself do every day. But there have also been days when it has been just as bad as before: pulling dry ideas from the husk of myself.

So while I will take lots of positives from doing this project, I can’t say it has been joy all the way. That doesn’t worry me: I expected it to be hard, and I expected the difficulties to be part of the learning, which they have been. Having said that, I’m glad it’s ending soon: my creative side is telling me it could do with a rest.

Or do I just need to keep going?

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1 thought on “Up Hill and Down Dale on the 20:20 Poetry Trail”

  1. It is a good question – take a break or keep going? I think you’ve done so well with this project – soldering on even when you didn’t feel like it. I know what I would do in your place but that probably won’t help. Maybe when you reflect back on the project you could also think about a good way to proceed – what seems the natural thing to come next.

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