30 poems in 30 days

This April, I did that thing that makes most non-poets (and, to be fair, many poets too) roll their eyes: I took on 30/30, that challenge where a bunch of poets around the world commit to writing a new, complete poem everyday for 30 days. A lot of people are confused by 30/30, ask if poetry can — or should — work like that, if mass production isn’t the antithesis of poetry. Put like that,I understand their concerns, but for me, this year above all years, 30/30 has been a revelation of the opposite sort, something between meditation and therapy. This year, 30/30 has, for me, meant a deep, sustained, careful attention to my inner world— an attention that was, in moments, completely exhausting. April was a difficult month, personally and professionally, and doing 30/30 this month has meant a refusal to avert my eyes from any of my feelings and insecurities. It has meant an insistence on sitting with deep pain and deep love, of noticing each caving of chest, each hollowness in stomach, each fear in throat — of learning how to say “I see you, and I am present for this,” over and over, to all sorts of emotions. It has meant sitting across from friends in cafes, writing through tears, refusing to hide. It has meant writing on the toy train, between Marie biscuits and mountain views; it has meant finding poems on Mall Road, and in my grandmother’s stories, and in response to the news. It has meant making poems out of other people’s words, questions, betrayals. It has meant the kind of self-discovery that makes me print poems out and take them to my therapist saying “look! I just explained me to myself!”. It has meant poems that almost broke important relationships and poems that created new relationships, poems that taught me to honor my anger or hurt, and poems that taught me to forgive. At some point, this poem-a-day exercise became an exercise in mindfulness, an insistence on getting through things rather than simply getting over them.

30/30 has been about the ability to nod at a feeling without immediately trying to change it. 30/30 has been about learning to wrap words around hurts, but also about learning that sometimes I need not bandage, sometimes the wound must ooze before it dries. 30/30 has been the ability to look without fear at a moment/ relationship/ feeling, distilled down to its absolute essence, and somehow, this looking is itself a kind of gaining of power.

Over the same month, I have been reading The Body Keeps the Score, a fantastic book about trauma and healing, which was recommended to me for the work I do with young people, but which has been just as meaningful at a personal level. In one section, the author, a psychiatrist, writes about how relearning how to name our emotions is intrinsic to healing from trauma— about how being able to locate emotions in one’s body is a big step in reconnecting with the parts of ourselves we shut down when we were in survival mode. Without getting into too much detail, I too have spent the last year or two recovering from a point where I had forgotten how to identify my own feelings, how to trust my own gut. The attention to inner landscape demanded by 30/30 pushed me to redevelop that vocabulary, and in naming those emotions accurately, I was able to regain a sense of autonomy and agency. This, for me, is poetry doing its best work, making me more whole, more present, more resilient. Everything else is a bonus.

This April has also been the first time I have shared early drafts of my work on social media: Almost a third of my poems made it onto Facebook, visible only to friends, but still, out of the private realm well before they were polished or otherwise shielded from their own vulnerability. When I wrote about a close friend’s engagement, he told me he couldn’t have captured the night as well. When I wrote a letter to a Kashmiri friend with my dreams for her son, we reconnected after months separated by the violence that my government has been perpetrating in her city. When I wrote a letter to my own six year old self preparing for her first surgery, several friends texted or called to offer love or support (which surprised me because I didn’t think the poem had any information they didn’t already know!). In many ways, the vulnerability of putting up fresh writing opened space for other conversations and other vulnerabilities to surface.

Are all of those poems good? Of course not; that was never the point. Will they all be revised into pieces that go out into the wider world? Again, probably not. I do think I could get ten good poems out of these thirty (and that’s a lot of good poems for a month), but the real reason for 30/30 runs so much deeper.

Overall, I am probably going to remain that person who is currently working on the ninth draft of her second manuscript, and who doesn’t put anything short of a fifth draft up anywhere, but who knows? Maybe this month of sharing will teach me that it is okay sometimes to let that guard down, to be unfinished, or messy. Maybe it’s okay for some poems to walk out into the world in their pajamas; maybe freshly combed hair is overrated. Maybe what counts is the courage to show up, see, and be seen.