Today, I steal time to write between breakfast and lunch.
I have a desk in a room I call mine but it is our guest room, our linen closet, and a cosy art gallery for my daughters’ artwork and for the notes they slip under my door to tell me they miss my attention.
I book time to write at least once a week. I actually book it in the calendar at our family meeting. By announcing my intention, everyone in the family-- including me— takes me a little more seriously as a poet.
I sit to write at a small teak dining table that wobbles: probably the reason I found it on the street ten years ago. I fold Stickie notes over Stickie notes to make a Stickie pad that I place under the pedestal leg and this helps make things more stable.
I write longhand, for at least my poem drafts, using lined Stickie Notes from Staples, a Papermate 2HB pencil and a Tombow eraser. I like how cleanly the Tombow erases. Because I draft repeatedly in pencil on the same document, it’s important that things remain as clear as possible. I love my yellow Stickies: I use them for ideas, lists, words I don’t know, or words I might be misusing (loads of these) as well as my poem drafts. Some people think that’s why my poems are structurally small-ish; I don’t think so: I run the poem up the sides of the Stickie if necessary.
If I have no time to work on an idea, I write the words down at least, then toss my Stickie onto the inevitable pile of Stickies on the desk. There are five Stickies here this morning. In the interest of transparency—which we need so much more of these days—this is what’s here today:
1) The trees are dropping fledglings like crazy-- I’ve stepped on three birds this morning.
2) The aloe had a brown jasmine flower in its pot this morning; therefore the Jasmine fell in love with the aloe last night.
3) I want to forget you, first love. I’d like to move on now that I’ve been married twelve years. And you were such an asshole anyway.
4) Can you make a taco lasagna with tortilla chips?
5) I despise lying in others like an ex-smoker hates smokers. I sneak lies on the back porch--
Some of these are not going to make it into poems (Taco lasagna and first love, you two go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief). But I don’t throw anything out.
This morning, I read through the Stickies, turn on the air conditioner (to cool down the rest of the house) and walk out. I feed my daughters some granola and send them to read or play with Lego in the living room. I feed our old blind dachshund and carry her out to pee in the backyard. I go for a short run. I go back to my table and pay MasterCard. I read a poem from Poetry magazine. I take one Stickie—the one about the Aloe—and write a first draft of a poem. It’s as terrible as it sounds like it might be. But it’s a first draft.
Halfway through a kind of okay revision, I hear something floats under the door on a current of air. It’s a telegram: my daughters want me to come out. Olive is eleven years old. Alice is nine and I’m conflicted about their interference. But mostly I listen to the words of my mother that are this voice in my head since she died ten years ago. And she says to me: the girls are yours for a short time; poetry is here for good. So my time at the desk ends for today. We bike to the pool and hike trails by the river. We go to Claire’s to buy earrings that don’t hurt sea creatures! This is an important and difficult hunt (if you’ve been in Claire’s, you’ll know what I mean) but Olive is obsessed with the plastic island in the ocean which she has seen in a magazine. Wherever we go, at my girls’ insistence we search out the translucent yokes of beer can packs and break them apart with our hands. Olive hopes to save porpoises by doing this. I hope she’s right (the irony of the Lego she loves also causing harm is not lost on her: it’s something we just can’t face yet).
Before bed, I read course material for my day job or I read the New Yorker. Using my Stickies, I write down words that I like, or descriptions or ideas. And I go to sleep hoping tomorrow will give me the moments I need before my daughters’ next messages float under the guest room door.
Sarah Venart used to write under her initials, S.E., but screw that. Sarah's writing has been published in Numero Cinq, Concrete and River, New Quarterly, Malahat Review, Fiddlehead, This Magazine, Prism International and on CBC Radio. She is the author two books: Neither Apple Nor Pear/Weder Apfel Noch Birne and Woodshedding. A new collection, I am the Big Heart, is coming out soon-ish. Sarah lives in Montreal and teaches at John Abbott College.