On the occasions I’m asked to characterized my poetry, I give two descriptions: narrative poems that reflect heavily on my childhood in the Rio Grande Valley, and poems that have a more surreal quality to them, apt to incorporate odd and impossible images, as well as language that draws inspiration from myths and folklore. Like a sports season, I alternate writing between both styles, spending about seven to eight months on each. Regardless of what mode I find myself in, my routine stays relatively consistent, at least within the overall sense that I write and revise every day. Weekdays yield between 15-30 minutes of writing/revising, never, however, in one sitting. I’m a high school English teacher, so some days can be a bit more hectic than others, but what follows is a generalized outline, one I try to adhere to faithfully.
4:20 a.m. My alarm goes off and after the five to ten-minute struggle of regretting my decision to stay up late the night before, I get ready and head down to my apartment’s gym. In the elevator ride down (which last no more than 20 seconds), I reread whatever poem I’m working on (I write nearly all of my poems on my phone’s Notes app). I might add or delete a word here or there, and if inspiration hits, I might write a line, try to push the poem forward.
7:40 a.m. At work, I sit at my desk and, if I’ve already finished making the copies for the day’s lessons or tweaking the PowerPoint for the lecture and assignments I have planned, I look at the poem again, adding, subtracting, questioning where I’ve placed my commas (or semicolons if I’m feeling syntactically bold). My students begin to stagger in at 7:45 a.m., so five minutes is not enough time to make significant progress on a poem, but I do find that under the pressure of a deadline (in this case my students arriving), I create lines that I’m satisfied with long after.
1:20 p.m. My lunch break is only 30 minutes, and when I’m not watching mindless videos on YouTube to decompress from work, I’m most likely reading. Reading for me is writing because it allows me to see different styles, techniques, and perspectives, all of which I can add to my own. If I can spare a minute or two, I will go back to my poem and write.
6:45 p.m. After cooking dinner, I sit in the living room and read. My wife usually watches British crime dramas, and I occasionally tune in as well (there are some shows that I do love and watch). I will pick up my phone every now and then and write. Over the years, I’ve found that I don’t have to rush a poem, and nights such as these, I get what I can done. My goal, however, is always to write one poem per week, so there are occasions when I later come back to a poem and revise an ending that wasn’t satisfactory.
9:30 p.m. Before my wife and I go to sleep, I will look over what I wrote one last time and try to come up with a few lines. Again, there is no need to rush, so more often than not, I will abruptly stop what I’m writing and go back to reading, knowing that when I wake up tomorrow, the poem will be waiting for me.
Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press 2019), (Dis)placement (Skull + Wind Press 2020), and the micro-chapbook Soledad (2019). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor at the EcoTheo Review and is a regular reviews contributor at PANK and Heavy Feather Review. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.
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