Establishing a writing routine was a crucial part of the process, but it wasn’t everything. After grading papers, interacting with teenagers all day, writing lesson plans, and thinking about my curriculum, I realized that I had to create a mental space for myself as well. Or rather — I had to find a way to re-enter the mental space that had always been there.
While working on my MFA thesis (and later the manuscript for When the Only Light is Fire), I lived inside of my poems. The poetry was a landscape that my mind was grounded in. Everything I saw, heard, encountered was a contribution to the poetry I was writing and revising. I would listen to the score of Swan Lake on repeat all day long or look at a collection of paintings by a favorite artist over and over again. That kind of immersion simply isn’t possible now. I literally don’t have time for it.
This left me with two apparent options: Either I could start writing about being a teacher or find another way to inspire creativity. Well, if you know me, you know that writing poems about the admittedly strange experience of being a school teacher isn’t really my cup of tea. So, here’s what I did…
I decided to make poetry an important part of my students’ life. Not that I wasn’t already teaching poetry in the classroom, but I made it more personal. I started loaning students copies of my favorite poetry collections. (Turns out, Kim Addonizio has quite a following at my school these days.) When students found a poem they liked, I’d ask them if they could write a poem in response in share it with me. I asked students if they had any poems they’d written that they’d like for me to see. By seeing my students take poetry into their lives, I felt a spark again, a desire for poetry to be a personal part of my life.
I gave poetry to my students in order to access it myself. By blurring the lines between school teacher and poet in my head, I found that it was easier for me to jot down a quick idea in my ever present notebook and expand on that idea later. Even better, reading their own brilliant work (really, these kids are stunning) challenged me to write work that I could be proud of.
Instead of compartmentalizing work and writing, I’ve been trying to use work to inspire writing and vice versa.