Monday, April 9, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #9: Lisa Vihos on Practicing

I "met" poet Lisa Vihos through 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a global poetry initiative begun by Michael Rothenberg. You can read my interview with Michael here.
A 2011 100 TPC poster.
Lisa was enthusiastic about sharing her story -- how a long period of regular writing practice eventually paid off for her -- because it's so encouraging. If you believe in Malcolm Gladwell's theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before one achieves mastery in a skill or art form, Lisa's writing habit makes sense.
The 10,000 hours theory appears in Gladwell's book Outliers.

I "tested" the 10,000 hour theory on my own writing life. Although I don't have an official log of hours spent writing, I guess-timated how much time I spent writing each year, from the time I finished graduate school to the time my first book came out. It's right around Gladwell's mark.

Here is Lisa: Prepare and Set Aside

For many years, I danced around my poetry, trying various literary avenues: children’s book writing, art writing, short story writing, journaling. Nothing blossomed and whenever I met a published writer, I broke out in an envious sweat. I was troubled.

Then, something like a small miracle occurred. After participation in a workshop with poet Philip Dacey at the 2007 Great Lakes Writers Festival at Lakeland College, I felt as though a faucet had opened up in my head. Poems started to pour out. I knew I needed a goal to sustain the flow. In January 2008, I determined to write a poem every week and email it to a small circle of family and friends. I did not expect commentary, just eyes and minds to engage in the work. One friend asked, “do you really think you can write a new poem every week?” I had no idea. But, I had to try.

Eventually, my distribution list grew to over 200 people. I never missed a deadline in three years and three months of Sundays. Not every poem was stellar, but most of the poems were pretty good, and certain people always let me know when something touched, tickled, or confused them. One of my readers is a widely published poet who eventually suggested that I cut back my frequency in order to better hone my craft. I liked this idea, and in March 2011, I started to send a poem only on the first of the month. I think about potential poems all month long, but I often don’t start writing until just before my deadline. I’ve always worked best under pressure.

In her April 1st blog post, Laura shared a recipe for an inspiring green tea shake that involved organic pecans being prepared the night before and then set aside. Likewise, a poem (or even a whole lifetime of poetry?) benefits from being left to marinate. But don’t put it on hold forever. Return with fresh eyes as soon as you can and write more. If I learned anything in my three-year apprenticeship, it was to develop a practice of mind and to think as a poet. To collect details, connections, snippets; to steep them, savor them, and eventually turn them into poems.

My favorite Poem of the Week comment came from a neighbor who said, “Thank you for your dedication. You have inspired me to revisit my songwriting.” A comment like that makes my heart sing. That is what poetry is for, in my opinion: to move and inspire, to point out that which would otherwise go unnoticed. On that note, I’d like to share the poem with which Poem of the Week began on a winter day in 2008.

Advice from the Snow
by Lisa Vihos

When you fall, fall as I do
soft as feathers or a baby’s sleep.

With a light hand, spread an ocean of diamonds.
Make no sound as you blanket the earth.

Reflect light back upon the looker
orange and pink at morning, deep mauve at dusk.

Simply by your presence, round out flat places
and outline beauty that otherwise goes unnoticed.

And when I call you, do not be afraid to lie down
to bring forth an angel; an image of you in me.

How successful has Lisa been since her three year weekly-poem project? "Advice from the Snow" was published in the 2011 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets poetry calendar. Lisa’s poems have also appeared in Big Muddy, Goose River Anthology, Lakefire, Red Cedar, Seems, Verse Wisconsin, and Wisconsin People and Ideas. She has one Pushcart Prize nomination and one chapbook, A Brief History of Mail (Pebblebrook Press, 2011). Her second chapbook, The Accidental Present is due from Finishing Line Press in June of this year.

Tomorrow is Tuesday. Stop by each Tuesday during National Poetry Month for a prompt related to writing habits.

6 comments:

Ruth said...

I love this. Thank you!

Poem of the Week - Lisa Vihos said...

Good morning, Laura! Thanks for letting me share my story. I enjoyed reading your interview with Michael. Really great stuff! We will change the world, one poem at a time!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Thank you, Laura and Lisa, for this terrific post and beautiful poem. "To develop a practice of mind" - love that. And the 10,000 hours part: a nice reminder in our culture that it's actual practice, not talking about it, that will improve any craft.

Cathy said...

So much great advice here. I loved this quote by Lisa, "That is what poetry is for, in my opinion: to move and inspire, to point out that which would otherwise go unnoticed."

"Advice from the Snow" was lovely. I think we would all do well to reflect the light of others.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Cathy. I like that idea, too, reflecting the light of others. Yes, it's the job of poets to "point out that which would otherwise go unnoticed."

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

What a gorgeous poem this is! I am going to copy it right into my notebook... Lisa is very inspiring, both her writing and her dedication to craft. I feel grateful to have met her through you, Laura. Beautiful. a.