Not so long ago, when the faceless abyss of freelance writing seemed particularly jagged and packs were set down on the snow in silent pause, a friend threw me ‘a loop of rope’. Four lines a day he said. Poetry. Four lines a day, and we’ll get through this.
I had written many things before, some poetic in nature, but none of them in Iambic pentameter. I loved it. Instantly. I hadn’t even tried it yet and I loved it. I loved that it was a frivolous challenge void of a point, that it was a dialogue, that it had purpose and that most of all, it was driven by the spirit of writing just for the heck of it. Brooding clouds faded, the sun came out for a moment, and every day forthwith was a picnic in a storm in the brilliant shadows of poets long gone.
Being both in the possession of mildly obsessive temperament we rarely wrote four lines a day, as four lines was never enough. The poetry became a touchstone by which to measure the quality of each day, a meditation, a conversation, an archaeological investigation, and an affirmation of the collective writer’s mantra “I write therefore I am”.
And so the poetry set about its healing work, but it wasn’t always deep. In fact it usually wasn’t When you’re set the challenge of writing poetry every day you’re bound to authenticity. Sure some days the exaltations were fine and high. But when they weren’t , well, you simply had to be happy with what presented itself. A limerick about the boy beach band phenomena, rhyming verse about spinach pie, the first four lines of an epic science fiction tomb. Bad poetry, recited with a cockney accent.
On the days we wrote poetry we actually wanted to like, trusting another writer was invaluable. Happily, my friend was a disciple of precision, and would nae reward a badly written poem. In his dedication to editing he was my perfect teacher. Calling for last drinks and hailing the metaphorical taxi home, he kept my writing sober. And he was compassionate to the end about my need to write in a sort of semi possessed spontaneous style during which I had little space for re-reading and refining. Though, in my defence, I may have occasionally produced quality in this state. Still, I concede, much can be gained by a brave and thorough revisiting of one’s work.
Collaboration, the very thing my churlish ego had rejected was my now an irresistible muse. And in the end I wrote not for quality, but the joy of writing every day with purpose.
And so my lesson was spelled out in the sand. When it comes to matters of the craft, whatever that may be, we must approach them with open hearts, hold them lightly and practice them often. The subsequent joy is exponential.
So next time you find yourself sitting before a half written page that taunts you like some stagnant ponding wasteland.. or parent in law..reflecting in ill fashioned shards the failings of your eternally misguided or worse, mediocre soul…get out of your head, find a writing pal and try it.
Four lines a day.