The desk was my mother’s when she was a child. When I open the lid, it gives off a particular smell, complicated and faint and charged. The desk houses bottles of fountain pen ink, among other things, and I like to think of them in the dark when the lid is closed, perhaps waiting or resting, seeming sometimes like promises.
I don’t always write at the desk but like to write near it, sitting in the green chair (the fabric covering the back frayed by the cats’ claws) where I can see our garden and our neighbors’. Today: sparrows, house finches, a male cardinal at the bird feeder. Our neighbor K’s roses, salmon pink. A ladder leaning up against a fence. The thick, almost violent green of summer. I also write in the garden, at coffee shops, at picnic tables when camping, in bed, in the blue chair in the bedroom, on trains. I take a notebook with me everywhere.
The walls of the room (also my home office) are pink, a color I love viscerally, profoundly, and am practicing claiming as an adult. The pink often prompts visitors who don’t know us well to ask if we have a little girl.
Like most writers I know, I don’t have a regular practice that’s the same every day. I often try, on Sunday, to think about the week ahead and plan which days I’ll write, and when. But I don’t even do this every week. Sometimes I’ll write for 15 minutes, sometimes more. The poet Carolyn Williams-Noren taught me to recognize 15 minutes as a real amount of time (I used think it wasn’t) in which real things can happen. I try to block off bigger chunks of time on weekends, and often do, and sometimes don’t.
More and more, I think, poetry looks like so many different things, things that might not be readily labelled by someone else as “poetry.” Often, it looks like reading, and I do read poems every day (it’s actually the one easily-identifiable “poetry thing” that I do do every day). Poetry can look like talking to my partner, weeding, laundry. It can look like learning that cardinals stick to the same territory all year long, year after year, and wondering if this cardinal is the same male who came to the feeder last June, or one of his babies. Even some pieces of my day job can unexpectedly feel like poetry, somehow connected, somehow feeding the person who reads and writes and who is me. Which is not to say that I don’t get frustrated or long for more writing time (I do). And also: when I can touch that sense of poetry’s capaciousness and connectedness, there is, magically, enough time.
More and more, poetry feels like a way of being, a quality of spaciousness and of paying attention as best I can. At least it feels that way when I’m able to move through the feelings that muddy and complicate writing in ways I know aren’t true, at the deepest level, but which can seem utterly real in the moment. Like competitiveness and comparison – which, as many people have beautifully pointed out, are constructs of capitalism: not the way things actually are, but stories we are told. Like the stream of “shoulds” I sometimes bombard myself with: I should be writing more, I should be reading more… I should be, basically, a different person, leading a different life. These are stories also. My first Buddhist teacher used to say that Zen “fits the container.” You don’t need a different kind of life in order to practice; you need exactly the life you have. Poetry fits the container, too. It’s a story that isn’t a story, or maybe a story that tells itself, creates itself, as it goes along. I know these things with my mind, and my body, also, seems to be slowly learning them.
More and more, poetry feels like an expanding sense of permission, and my daily/weekly/yearly writing life feels like practicing that permission – permission to read and write in ways that feel most true to me, that allow me to take up space in the world, that help me to move closer (with many hesitations and failures and confusions) to making the poems I most need to make.
Kasey Jueds won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for her first book, Keeper (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in journals including American Poetry Review, Narrative, Beloit Poetry Journal, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, Pleiades, and Crazyhorse. She lives in Philadelphia with her partner, two cats, and many plants.