So yesterday I attempted to write 100 poems in a day – and succeeded! Boom.
It was a weird experience. The night before, I’d done my classic thing of feeling nervous and excited ahead of a big day, so I stayed up until 4am playing a Japanese RPG and reading Ted Hughes’ Crow (which I reasoned might give me some inspiration by osmosis). A few hours later, my alarm went off at 8:25. I put it on snooze, and ended up getting out of bed at 8:35, just enough time for me to pop across to Tesco.
Outside it was one of those cold, bright days that make Winter great, except I was knackered from lack of sleep; I hallucinated someone calling my name, and it felt like all the pedestrians were part of some intricately choreographed performance for which I’d missed the dress rehearsal. At the supermarket, I dismissed food that required cooking time as too complicated – my schedule didn’t allow for extended culinary activities – and instead bought a packet of crisps, three half-litre cans of energy drink, a bag of peanuts and a Kinder Bueno. When I got back, I made myself a bowl of All-Bran, (the most complicated food preparation I had time for all day) printed out the list of suggested titles so far, then sat down at my laptop with all of three minutes to spare, just enough time to log in to my blog and Twitter, before typing my first title into Twitter and getting started.
Originally, I’d planned to be clocking off by 11pm, but I thought it’d be sensible leaving the extra hour until midnight as a contingency period. 15 hours is 900 minutes, meaning I’d have an average of 9 minutes to write each poem. That is, 9 minutes, assuming no eating, toilet breaks, or doing anything a normal human being would do. I hadn’t really thought about the practical limitations of what I was getting into. No, don’t worry, I didn’t just sit there and wet myself. Catheter.
No, obviously I got up for loo breaks, and to stretch my legs, which ate into my overall time. Thanks to a sneaky tip off, BBC Radio Cambridge got wind of what I was doing and phoned in the morning to ask if they could give me a title suggestion then speak to me in late afternoon. By the time I went on air, I was delirious from caffeine and still less than half the way through the hundred poems, which made me feel a little fraudulent, but the fear of failure was a good boost.
If you look across the day, despite any mounting feelings of failure, in terms of delivery schedule I was boringly consistent. The first poem appears at 9:00am, and, at 16:43, poem number 50 comes almost exactly at the midpoint of my attempt, with the final poem landing at 23:30. While I was writing, however, my brain was too frazzled to do even simple maths, so I remained convinced throughout that I was considerably behind and destined for an ignominious crash and burn scenario.
And so, to the poems themselves. I realise it would usually be rather crass and self-regarding to do critiques on one’s own work, but a) I’ve already proven myself to be rather crass and self-regarding by attempting this cheap stunt and b) kind of the point of this whole thing was to get myself and others thinking about some of the mechanisms behind writing a poem.
I had more than 100 suggestions for poem titles, and I received a whole bunch more via Facebook, Twitter and by text over the day, so I had a certain amount of latitude to pick and choose what I was going to do next, balanced out by the need to get on to the next poem and not waste time deciding. Looking at the poems as a whole, even when there are a few good lines, what tends to suffer the most from the speed poetry process are the endings. The poems either finish abruptly, having made no discernable point, or they go for some try-hard punchline in an attempt to justify their existence. I think Fuck Denmark is a good example of this – a couple of nice images around the middle, in my humble opinion, then right at the end I obviously thought ‘shit! I have to tie the two concepts together!’ and finished with two rubbish lines which have all the subtlety of Jeremy Clarkson.
Thinking about it, endings are usually quite hard in performance poetry too. How many performance poems can you think of with great endings? (off the top of my head, the two I’ve come up with are both by John Cooper Clarke) Now how many can you think of with weak or indifferent endings? For me, it’s a lot, lot more. If you know any great endings in page or stage poems, please forward me your suggestions. I’d like to do a whole blog entry on the thorny problem of concluding a poem, and different ways poets have approached it (successfully or otherwise).
One little accident I quite enjoyed was the spontaneous appearance of a couple of poetry sequences. Death and otters seem to be the two key themes in the work of Tim Clare. I’m pretty pleased with that. But overall, it was interesting how I found myself returning to characters as the day went on, and building up a little story.
Here’s the ‘My Affair With Death’ sequence, in order:
Sleeping Myself To Death
Okay, So I Didn’t Invent The Superbowl Jetpack, But
Deception Sex Triangle
Okay, But There’s A Tram Coming
Gulliver, Nifty, Patience & Otter
The Bible Distilled
City Road Bus Stop
Honourary members of this sequence are It Feels As Tight As A Drum and Granny In A Bag (And Heading For The River) which introduce the poet’s boss, Kit, and Otter Chaos, which introduced otters into the whole mess.
Of course, if it’s real literary merit you’re after, then this duet is where it’s at:
So, did I produce anything I actually like? Well, yes, but I think the ones I’m fond of are the rather silly, fatuous ones. I guess I have a soft spot when it comes to stupid for stupid’s sake. Oh well. I quite like:
The Hump (mainly for the middle stanza)
Galactic Combat Battle Pony Ride
Christopher Christopher Christopher Christopher (for the ending)
Why So Many Blank DVDs?
Why I Can’t Accept Your Friend Request
I Would Like To Take The Opportunity To Introduce Myself
And that’s me. If anybody who had a go at one of the titles fancies emailing me the poem they wrote, I’ll stick it up on the blog as a bonus track.
All in all, I enjoyed the experience, although I reckon it’s the kind of thing I couldn’t do more than once a year. I’d recommend it to any other poets who fancy stretching themselves or trying something a bit fun and different – failure’s built into the mechanics of it, it’s expected, so the only pressure comes from wanting to get through the full ton.
It’d be nice to extend the life of the project, though, maybe by handing it on to a new poet, and so on, getting a series of people to attempt the same thing, and seeing the different ways they try to put poems together. If it sounds like something you’d like to have a go at, drop me a line at my email (in the sidebar of this blog) – not because I get to personally sanction all attempts at writing 100 poems in a day, but just because it’d be nifty to stick all versions up on the same blog. Just a thought, anyway.
Um, thanks to everyone who made suggestions for poetry titles. Sorry I couldn’t get through them all. The only genuinely brilliant thing about yesterday, creatively-speaking, was the titles, which I’m sure you’ll agree are awesome and inventive and make fun reading in themselves. I’m sorry if I used one of your suggested titles and made an absolute hash of it – I hope, if you’ve not been inspired, then sheer irritation will push you into working on some pieces of your own. You cultureless bastards.