Posted by: Viola | July 8, 2014

Keeping a poetry notebook

Keeping a poetry notebook is arguably one of the most important things a poet can do for her poetry. But it has taken me years to appreciate the importance of this simply monumental act. I have scribbled poems on scraps of paper, on already used sheets of paper, on little sticky notes, on corners of papers ripped from their moorings, in notebooks meant for other things. I have been very disorganized about keeping my notes and drafts of poems together. For half a decade, I rebelled against the very idea of using a real notebook and calling it a poetry notebook.

Fear. Something about notebooks and school. Maybe the trauma of being a student for almost all my life and having dozens of notebooks filled to the brim and overflowing with lectures and summaries and questions and exercises. Terror. The academic life. Something about having to go back, read those notes, take exams, pass or fail, get good grades or die. Paralysis. Something about having to remember what is in all those notebooks while my memory fails me daily. Aching fingers from note-taking and hours and hours of copious amounts of notes and still an empty coconut shell of a head on my shoulders.

No surprise why I fled from keeping a real poetry notebook. It’s only in the last year or so that I have been able to look at a book and say to myself, “Baby, calm down. You’re a writer now. You’re a poet. This right here is your spiral book or moleskin. This right here is for your notes, drafts, ideas, insights, memories, and interesting phrases. This is for your poetry. Write in it, OK? And don’t be afraid. You don’t have any exam. No quiz. You don’t have to commit everything to memory. In fact, this book is so you don’t have to overtax your memory. No grades. No supervision. No homework. And if your hand is tired, take a break. And this right here goes under your pillow or next to your bed and not in a backpack. And this book can go with you to the park and to work and it can be your playground. This is where you say whatever you like. This is where you are free.”

I now keep a real poetry notebook. Actually, I have three. Or maybe four. Or five. Different sizes and shapes, designs, some to suit particular moods or practical needs. Some are stationed where I can reach them quickly. One in the bedroom, one in the living room. Some are on a shelf. Some are in a bag. And I put words into them whenever I can. I put dreams, too. Ideas. Phrases. Questions. The random thought. And I am thankful. The notes and books and my overall habits of writing still feel disorderly, unpredictable, changing, and some pages of notes look so messy and chaotic that I wonder if even I can decipher what I wrote. But one thing is certain: I have come a long way. I am more confident about making, or taking, poetic notes. And…I am less afraid.

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Responses

  1. Inspiring piece.. The particular line that really fascinates me is “get good grades or die”… Well crafted Allo !

    • Thank you! I hadn’t thought very much about that line but it is a lovely phrase…”get good grades or die”…thank you so much for pointing it out and for stopping by and reading. -Viola

  2. […] summer, I kept a poetry notebook, consistently, for the first time. I also filled up that poetry notebook. It took about three […]

  3. […] So a poetry notebook (a believable notebook), should be messy. It should be full of pages scribbled on. There should be lines and verses all over the place. Ideas and possible images and metaphors sprinkled all over, on random pages. There could be drawings and doodles, whenever needed. Scraps of conversation, bits of memory, lists of captivating words. There should be lots and lots of poems in the notebook, each one at a different stage of development–or abandonment. […]

  4. […] a new poetry notebook. This is my third notebook since last summer. Last summer, I blogged about keeping a poetry notebook and taking it seriously. I am incredibly proud of myself for being consistent about my notebook […]


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