How I wrote this week’s poems: I turned 31!

Photograph of two stacks of books.

Hi folks,

I’m completing a 30/30 challenge with Tupelo Press this month, and each week I’m writing a blog post about how I wrote the week’s poems.

As I’m doing this 30/30 challenge, I know that I’ll have to actively maintain the well of inspiration from which I draw my words. Your donations can help me finish the month strong–there are even a few rewards you can redeem if you donate certain amounts!

This past week I turned 31 and celebrated with dinner with my partner, birthday wishes from friends and family, a cookie delivery from my sister, and the restless dread that always accompanies getting another year older. I’ll admit to banking a few poems late last week to schedule through the early part of this week to give myself the gift of a break. But like many ex-overachievers, I have a rocky relationship with the concept of rest.

And so in between relaxing at home and talking with my partner about the anxiety of getting older (his birthday is actually the same as mine), I did two things: read A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (which is a book on my recently-approved reading lists for my comprehensive exams for my PhD), and planned the summer class that I’m teaching.

I wrote this week’s poems, then, with the idea of learning in mind. I’m 31 and there is so much that I feel I don’t know. So I made a list poem of things I am still learning, starting with the line “How to bite bullets.” The rest of that poem is a list of sayings, mostly about hard work or self-improvement (How to eat a frog, How to make hay, and so on). I wrote a poem using some of the reflection prompts I give to my students (“Imagine yourself five years back and five years forward,” that kind of thing). I wrote a poem about my beginner efforts to learn Tagalog, one of the languages my parents know, by using English for Tagalog speakers in Duolingo.

Learning and unlearning are all over my poems this week, and they’ll be all over my poems in the future, I’m sure. This year so far has been a somewhat prolific year in terms of poem-writing, and I’ve already started to put some poems together towards a new poetry manuscript. It’s too early in the process of putting together that manuscript to say for sure what the book is going to be “about,” but learning is a central theme–specifically, learning as a way of honing an instinct, making it razor sharp.

Here are some poetry prompts, then, along those lines:

  • What is something you’ve learned recently? Write it into a poem with constraints: rhyme, meter, etc. (Basically, all of the parts of poetry that you might have learned in your early schooling, and might not pay attention to now, depending on your style.)
  • What is something you’re worried you won’t have learned at the end of your life? Write the poem using a cyclical form (pantoum, villanelle, etc.) so that the poem keeps returning to this worry.
  • Write a poem in three parts, answering the following questions: What was your previous birthday like? What do you hope the next one will be like? What’s your relationship to birthdays–to yours, or to the concept of birthday celebrations in general?
  • Write a poem that is a gift for someone else. What do they like in poems or other kinds of creative writing? Try to write the poem in situ; if you imagine gifting the poem as a handwritten note, or in an email, or as a broadside, try to recreate the scenario of making and giving the gift. In a sense, make a mock-up of the gift you would give to this person you’re writing for.
  • Write a poem that is a letter to your future self.

Thank you for reading! Please consider donating to Tupelo Press and redeeming a donation reward from me!

Published by Caroliena Cabada

Caroliena Cabada is a writer currently based in Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her writing has been published in online and print journals and anthologies, and has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021.

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