CRAFT FOCUS: Thacker on a 365-Day Poetry Challenge

For this craft focus, poet and fiction writer Larry Thacker (Poetry '18) goes beyond the month-long writing challenges and tries writing a poem every day for a year. His commentary below on the lessons his personal challenge taught him can inspire all of us to add challenge to our everyday. We are writers, and we must write, after all.

Poem-A-Day: For A Year

The headspace where writers live is a strange and fascinating country. Once we realize that

Yes, I am a writer, and I must write!

we set about establishing a little homestead in that land in our minds and are there, whether physically at the keyboard or with pen in hand, much more than people ever know.

I’ve just returned from what feels like an uninterrupted year-long foray deep into that backcountry where poetry runs wild in the hills.   

On this past 15th of September, I successfully completed a 365-day poem-a-day personal challenge. No one dared me to do it. I hadn’t lost a bet. I wasn’t threatened.

I’d participated in month-long challenges before such as during National Poetry Month in April. But last September, while engaged neck-deep in my MFA studies with West Virginia Wesleyan College, I realized I was managing good writing time. The framework for what resembled a poem a day, or two, was the result on many days. All of them great? No. But I was writing and holding my momentum as a writer, something we all cherish.

What if I tried this daily? A poem, every day, for a year? Was it possible? There might be a good reason people only tried it for a month at a time, after all.

Being prone to crazy ideas anyway, I committed, ran down a few early partners to trade work with every day for accountability and got started. I didn’t wait until October 1st. That would have been too long to think on the mountain to come and back out. September 15th was as good a time as any.  

You can imagine my immediate anxieties.

Sure, a month, maybe two. After that, what the hell was I going to write about? What about when I’d suffer from writer’s block? What if it was all junk? Was this purely a self-indulgent project? Isn’t this putting quantity over quality? How would I know? I’m biased. What if I couldn’t find any partners to help along the way? What if I’m too lazy to keep it up? How awkward would it be if I said I’d do it and couldn’t keep going? And the question we all ask ourselves all the time: What if I fail? 

There were a lot of excuses for not doing it.

Nevertheless, a year is passed, the project complete. The poems accumulated day after day, sometimes more than one a day. Having attended two MFA residencies and numerous festivals and seminars, the overall count is well over four-hundred poems. 

Though not the only things getting me through the ordeal, two factors helped most: partners and a routine.

I was never alone. One or more writers were alongside me the entire time. Knowing another poet was wandering around out there waiting for a strike helped with the frequent loneliness of the project. I knew I’d be hearing from someone before the day was out, that I’d be reading their work, influenced by them, encouraged and energized.

A routine was essential, of course. And it wasn’t simply, go write. Unless something drastically interferes with the day, I get up early (usually 6 a.m.). I’m at my desk by 7 a.m. On these poetry days, I’d have something written resembling a poem by 8 a.m. But I wouldn’t end the writing day there. I would at least revise, read, and submit something, usually by 9 a.m.

Of course, my schedule isn’t the same as others. I’m lucky for having those hours free. But as you know, life has a way of being an abstract obstacle to writing.

Without these partners and a routine, the rest of life – a double MFA (poetry and fiction), helping manage an antique and vintage store, running my own small vintage business, and the responsibilities of family and home – would have surely ruined my chances of doing this one important thing every day. 

I’m still writing daily, though more fiction is creeping in, and since I’m dead center in my final MFA semester (thesis), I’d best be about the business of collection and revision, huh?

Yet it’s difficult to break routine. I’m still out in the backwoods of that headspace where literally everything is mined for potential poetry.

Many believe it takes twenty-one days to establish a habit. If that’s the case, how long will it take me to shake this practice of turning to new poetry every morning?

I’m not sure I want to. 

Editor's Note: Larry D. Thacker’s poetry can be found or is forthcoming in over a hundred publications including The Still Journal, Poetry South, Tower Poetry Society, Mad River Review, Spillway, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mojave River Review, Town Creek Poetry, and Appalachian Heritage. His stories can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review, Vandalia Journal, and Grotesque Quarterly. His books include Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia and the poetry books, Voice HuntingMemory Train, and Drifting in Awe. Visit his website at: www.larrydthacker.com