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Insider: National Poetry Writing Month

Feeling stuck? Join this online event and write 30 poems in 30 days with fellow participants from around the world.

Maureen Thorson.
Maureen Thorson.
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In April 2003, lawyer and poet Maureen Thorson resolved to write one poem every day for a month and post them on her blog. Other poets followed suit, so she shared links to their blogs. A few years later, impressed by how many people had adopted the practice, she launched the website NaPoWriMo.net. It’s short for National Poetry Writing Month, and it provides a gathering place for those committed to writing 30 poems in 30 days.

Inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the online event attracts participants worldwide. “The only assignment is to put something on the page,” Thorson explains. “It doesn’t need to be particularly good or exciting or long or important. Just get it down.”

She’s quick to add that there’s no prize, no quality control, and no punishment if you don’t write a poem every day. “It’s simple,” she says. “If you want to try to reinvigorate your writing practice, here’s one possible way for you to do it.”

On April 16, 2021, Thorson offered this prompt on her blog: “Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a two-part poem, in the form of an exchange of letters.” The next day, she linked to a blog titled Catching Lines, written by a UK poet who responded to her prompt with a prose poem. It begins:

Let’s take a census and audit what happens when I think of myself. Did you see, in that line, how I halved myself like an orange? You can plainly see the problem. I mean, things were simple with the peel on.

How it works

Thorson, who lives in Maine, is the author of the poetry collection Applies to Oranges, as well as several chapbooks. She runs NaPoWriMo each April as a non-monetized venture; she simply enjoys inspiring people to write poems. Each day for a month, she crafts a short supportive blog post including links to live and recorded poetry readings and creative websites such as the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. She also includes a writing prompt.

The prompts, often based on published poems, introduce participants to poets they’ve never read before. Some of the prompts are formal (write a sijo, a traditional Korean form), while others are more avant-garde (write a poem about what you see when you look through a window). “There’s a bajillion poems out there and different types of forms and styles,” Thorson says. “My hope is that NaPoWriMo is helpful for people who want to dip their toes into poetry in a non-scary, supportive way.”

The prompts, she notes, give people a starting point every day. “If they’re holding their heads and wringing their hands and saying, ‘My gosh, I have no idea how to get going,’ they have something that helps,” she explains. Sometimes, she adds, the prompts work in an inverse way. “You look at the prompt, and you hate it, and the fact that you don’t want to do it means you come up with something else to write.”

On April 19, 2021, Thorson posted this prompt: “Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a humorous rant.” Meg Sump, creator of the Lucky Cat Comics blog, responded to Thorson’s prompt with “The Trash Panda’s Lament (A Raccoon Sonnet),” a playful piece from the point of view of a raccoon whose midnight supper in a trash bin is thwarted by cucumber vines growing across a chain-link fence. The verse begins:

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On midnight dews, my dinner should commence.

Oh foul vine threading on thy chain link fence.

I would climb thee to trash bin reverie

But there hangest mine long green enemy.

Poets who post their work online as part of NaPoWriMo can submit their website or social media page for inclusion on Thorson’s online roster of participants. “It’s fun to see how many different directions the same prompt can lead people in,” she says. “Nobody reacts to the same prompt the same way. There’s a lot of surprise there, and that makes me happy.”

Many poets participate year after year; they leave supportive comments on each other’s blog posts and interact with one another on Twitter and Facebook as well. “In a world where social media just makes people feel worse about themselves and other people, it’s nice to have this little pocket of sunshine,” Thorson says.

What you’ll learn

Thorson believes a 30-day writing practice can change one’s perspective. “It gets you out of the mindset of ‘Not only do I have to write a poem – it has to be deathless immortal verse,’” she explains. “I want people’s experience of a first draft to feel like play.”

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She appreciates the annual reminder to avoid an obsession with perfection. “I should not be going into the drafting process telling myself before I’ve even put my fingers on the keyboard that whatever I’m going to come up with is not going to be good enough,” she says, adding that people need to make peace with the fact that sometimes they’re going to write terrible poems.

“A lot of our poems written that month never go past the first draft stage,” she says. “You can’t get hung up on drafts. You’re not going to run out of poems in your brain. The project’s emphasis is on having fun and getting something down.”

How to participate

Interested in joining NaPoWriMo? Simply visit Thorson’s website every day in April for prompts and submit your blog or social media page for inclusion on the site if you’re so inclined. Unlike National Novel Writing Month, you won’t receive virtual badges or winner certificates. “However, anyone who participates is eligible for the prize of having written 30 new poems,” Thorson concludes. “And, of course, there is an awesome feeling of a job well done.”

Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of the novel Daisy Woodworm Changes the World (Jolly Fish, 2022). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart.

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