For the past 16 years, poets and writers around the world have celebrated April as National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). As part of this, many take on the #NaPoWriMo challenge, an annual project in which participating poets attempt to write a poem a day for the whole month.
The tradition began back in 2003, when Washington-based poet Maureen Thorson started sharing her daily poems in April on her blog. Since then, the project has inspired thousands globally to try their hand at poetry, experiment with formats, appreciate the vastness of the medium, and share their poetry with a community of poets and readers.
In this month of creativity and discovery, some poets from India whose #NaPoWriMo approach and work has us smitten tell us about what the challenge means to them.
“As a person (and writer), I tend to get consumed by feelings and textures of words so they get repetitive in my writing. I could talk about carnations and fresh figs in every poem, no matter whether the poem is sorrowful, empowering or devastating. But this time, I’m focusing on detachment. I crave a newness in my poems, so my word choices are more careful and I’m attempting different themes irrespective of the prompts. I also believe that I become a better reader for one whole month and that I’m nurturing myself as an individual too.
I’m following prompts by a number of people and communities. A few of them are Project VOICE (by Sarah Kay and Phil Kay), Srijan D, Poems India and otherwise taking inspiration from poems I relish. But writing a new poem everyday is exhausting because I want to constantly flesh out the good ones. And I’m literally breathing poetry – there are poems on Instagram and Facebook and stories and mails.
The best part is that there is SO much love on the internet (despite the elections being around the corner). It pops in the comments section, in upper case, emoji reactions, sliding into DMs, and everyone’s sharing and embracing poetry for just being itself. It’s outrageous, exciting and empowering. And this inevitable feeling of belonging stays, the intimacy of writing with another (and so many others) is in itself thoroughly rewarding.”
I want to pull you closer, here
as if we’re sitting intimately on this couch
comb your hair with my hands, caress you into this poem
I have a thirsty keyboard, thirstier tongue
I can taste you as I type, kissing you is like eating a fresh fig
(there are so many ways to eat figs)
bits of you leak into my pages – the flare of your nostrils,
your long fingers, groggy laughter in chorus, our late Christmas,
(lip bitten) I cannot do this, I can’t write you to make material
I wish poems (we) didn’t die, as if we could lie awake, cuddling in this one
looking at the wonder in our eyes, cooking up clichés
(and nibbling, nibbling on fig tarts)
“Writing a poem a day in April has made me coax poems out of thoughts that I usually wouldn’t think of sharing. For most poems, I go through several quick rewrites and lethal edits until they finally come together. Writing and posting everyday does mean that there is a bit of a time constraint, so at the end of April, I plan to go back to re-read my work and edit it.
I’m doing it again this year because I couldn’t finish last year and it was a big blow. This time, I am more invested in improving as a writer and also more disciplined, I hope. I wouldn’t do it if not for Daily Riyaaz, the most supportive practice space filled with amazing poets like Anannya Dasgupta and Giti Chandra. I learn from them and everyone else every day. And every poem feels like an accomplishment. I’m not going to be able to write thirty great poems, but I know that by the end, I will have improved and tried new things. That is more than enough.”
What I don’t want to be when I am older
It is a summer evening in the past.
My brother and I are playing badminton
a man appears with his sons and asks us
to take our game to the tennis court. We are
small so we acquiesce. Like fools, we try to play
but the net is too low, we are not dressed for clay,
and after the shuttle falls he tells me: let’s go home.
We never speak about it and we do not tell.
But this habit of agreeing to what reduces us
remained, and over the years accrued. I resign
myself to poor deals on the regular and make
myself scarce on demand. Sorry for taking up
your time and thank you for reading.
“NaPoWriMo is my quiet space where I can condense all that is troubling, fascinating, or delighting me at that moment into a neatly tied-up package of a poem. This is my third year participating. The first time in 2017 marked a breakthrough moment for me as I discovered that not only was I able to write poetry after a decade, but that it was resonating with those who happened to read it. Poetry since then has played a significant role in influencing how I see and write about the world. NaPoWriMo’s structure has made it an important annual ritual of self discovery, both as a poet and person.
Writing a poem every morning is my meditation for now. And the most gratifying part of this project is when the poem resonates with you as a writer and the reader. One of my central writing beliefs is that the first and ultimate reader for your work is you, and if the work does not resonate with you, how then can it do so for other readers? There is this almost spiritual quality to finding the right words and phrases to explain an elusive moment - and then finding that it is those very words that a reader is identifying with too.”
Grief Is A Frozen Lake
that I tiptoe around,
afraid that if I fall,
I will keep on
until I reach
a dark country
from which no
And so I tiptoe,
wary of breaking
There are fishes probably
playing at the bottom,
spring will arrive
and all will be
light and liquid soon.
But I never think of that.
“NaPoWriMo has always been incredibly rewarding for me, not just because you end up with thirty new poems by the end of the month, but because you’re constantly creating. It makes you push yourself, experiment and try things you haven’t tried before. Sometimes you fail, but that’s a part of the process of creation. I keep saying this to people: I feel better when I’m writing bad poems than I would if I wasn’t writing at all.
Apart from the immense writerly growth, a lot of my friends also do NaPoWriMo, and getting to read their poems daily is always so wonderful. April makes poetry-writing less of a lonely, solitary thing and it consistently makes me very grateful for poetry, but also for poets.This year, I’m using prompts by @letsescapril, run by poet Savannah Brown.”
It begins when the fridges aren’t yours anymore –
filled with leftovers from meals you didn’t eat,
rotting fruit and half-cut onions.
Your hair isn’t what’s clogging the drain
in the third bathroom stall
where the water is always slightly off-temperature.
When you think of growing older,
you do not think about noisy college pools
and tomato-stained hotplates.
Nostalgia looks different from outside,
it resembles rewinding old tapes
and saris from decades ago,
but it feels like something else entirely –
the pinching of your chest,
the pull of Facebook memories,
or losing a biscuit in your chipped cup of chai
and being back home all of a sudden,
fishing it out with a spoon.
I almost see my mother waiting by the pool,
as I finish my laps
and it’s clear she isn’t here,
just a boy towelling off his hair
but the harsh silver of artificial light
kissing the blue of the damp tiles
at seven p.m. looks about the same
if I squint hard enough.
“If not for NaPoWriMo, I don’t consciously sit down to write poetry. Inspiration strikes in the most unusual spaces, and I succumb to the urge. But every time it’s Poetry Month, I have a renewed drive to discipline myself everyday to write.I really love the energy during April. Everyone is reading poetry, discussing each other’s poems, critiquing, supporting and giving prompts. The poetry community for me really comes alive during this time and the constant exchange of poems, poets and styles broadens my understanding of poetry as a subject in itself.
The challenge is to dedicate an hour or two every day to just reading and writing. I’m currently working on a lot of individual projects so managing time can get really stressful. Another big challenge is ensuring that your poems are not repetitive because if you are writing one poem a day for a whole month, sometimes, the poems for day one, two ,three may end up just being one long thought that you’ve subconsciously broken into three poems. I’m trying hard to avoid that and be more experimental in my approach this year.”
Memories we tied like ribbons on our necks.
there’s so much I want to say
to you, how is mother’s knee?
Is she still bruised from when she flew
towards the white wall, her body slowly
sliding down like the bee we squat
in the summer house you took me to
and I sipped lemonade and kissed your
wine mouth. We used to dream so much
sometimes, the wind took notice
and touched my waist like scattering fireflies
sometimes, the wind tasted pain
and huddled close in the pits of my stomach
only your mother understood
with her half smile, the other side of her
mouth still scorched from the heat
of the chai you splashed on her face
like you were an experimental painter
and you could color us all red
and you did,
after I left you
my eyes only opened
to the inky stain of the sky
my lights leaked out of the
cracked half of my spine
my back still tingles
when I think of you
I can’t look into a mirror
because my face still has
your fingers mapped out on it
There are places I visit
and your memory jumps
at me and I’m getting mugged
in a dark alley but I’ve already given you
everything I had, which is to say
I don’t know how to love myself anymore
because I collected all my love into stars
and put it in your fists
I want to say please don’t release
them just yet, I don’t have my light back
but you shake your fists at me
and there goes my light
What is it about firsts
that you let your knees
kiss the dust of the street?
“I might not have been writing today at all without the confidence that NaPoWriMo gave me four years ago – both internally, through sticking to the challenge, and externally, through feedback from the community of poets writing together. Since then, writing every April feels like a return, like a month for regularity and dedication.
I end up writing either early in the morning, before the business of the day begins, or (more often) right before going to sleep. If an idea turns up in between, I send it to myself on my personal Whatsapp group and write it properly later. Being forced to write every day often results in surprises – things I wouldn’t write about otherwise begin to turn up in poems, and those are usually the better ones. Riyaaz is like any other kind of exercise – just a few consecutive days make the process of writing so much more deft.”
Questions I Want To Ask Poets
what makes your fingers bleed?
do you use notebooks like handkerchiefs?
or type in word documents?
or notes swipe-texted in your phone, middle
of the day, on the go?
what must one have done
to call themself a poet seriously?
do your words always come
fierce and sudden as unseasonal rain?
how many operations do you conduct
extracting shards from your brain
only to lay them upon the table
and throw them away in disgust?
how many do you choose to tend
till they fend for themselves and fly?
about the black box in your heart
like that in the gut of an aeroplane.
does your writing ever lead you there
or forever away?
“I check the official Napowrimo prompt some time in the morning. Then I let it linger in the back of my mind through the day. Sometimes an inspiration strikes; at other times, I simply start writing and words follow. Once I begin, the poem unravels itself like a parallel being nesting within me and it is a beautiful feeling. I feel like each poem is a new discovery.
For the past few months, I’d been speculating ideas for exploring new dimensions with my poetry. Every once in a while, I feel one must unlearn and commence on a new learning process to discover the unearthed territories of the self. Prompts, I thought, would be a good way of achieving this.”
Quietly the wind comes,
trespasser. It is she who knows.
I have watched the black flowers
alone in the secret corridors of time.
When I turn around, an entire life
stares. So, I don’t. I look at
the garden of black flowers.
I look at them. The white light on
their heads. Its quiet pulse imitates
my slowing heart. In sleep, I can hear
the murmuration. My ears ache and
curl to it. I feel it descend into a waltz,
the curtain of music in my large chest.
Slowly, steadily, like a window being
buried in night. In sleep, I can hear it,
the most distinct sound,
the pitter-patter of arriving death.
“For NaPoWriMo, I’ve been scribbling thoughts, ideas and sentences in my notepad, and using these notes to write every day. I usually don’t end up writing on the subject I started with, so that works as sludge material for later. On other days, when I am writing poetry more deliberately, I write many drafts of a poem until I feel it’s perfect to my eyes. It generally takes weeks to get a poem done. But whatever be the case, I’m always focused on creating a mental image of my poem. I believe that if a reader can’t ‘see’ my poem, I haven’t done what I set out to do.
In the NaPoWriMo setting, I feel that a poem is never finished. Before I have given a poem the chance to settle and simmer so that I can sift it, it is time to write a new poem. My biggest challenge is having to move on from a poem too quickly.”
It is a new moon tonight.
At eventide, the cycle will begin again. In a few days
all of us will find ourselves crouched in pain –
the men in their chests, the women in their wombs,
the children in their stomachs, the seas in their hearts,
the forests in their roots, the skies in their eyes.
Every lunar cycle, bound by our connected origin,
all of us receive our dues. One by one.
Remember that we were born from the pain of Eve,
from the howls of her birth pangs bestowed by G-d,
such that they still ripple through the passages of time.
You feel it, don’t you?
The indescribable pain that comes from nowhere
every time the moon waxes and wanes?
All the women that came after Eve,
buried their agony in this world, too.
It was the only way they knew how.
And you wonder why the planet weeps?
When you feel this Earth sagging under your feet
it is these women’s lives crushed under your weight.
And you, being governed by the moon are under theirs.
We are not the children of Lot, we are the children of Lot’s wife.
One day all of us will turn around and the rain will come.
Until then, I want to be blasphemous in my poetry,
being faithful in love is enough.
“I begin the writing process by thinking about an idea, try to translate it into words (cue frustration and irritation) and then make the structure more tight and concise. I think prompts and assignments push me to discipline myself, and despite the often bad, rough-hewn poetry I churn out, there’s at least a few good ones here and there. The one-day deadline also makes me a lot more productive as a writer.
Apart from this, I love the community created out of the process - the people who you get to interact with, the new poems you get to read. It’s a space to really experiment without the pressure of writing ‘good’ poems. You can write about everything under the sun, from pencils to heartbreak to politics, from pastorals to haikus to ghazals and honestly, it’s just good fun.”
stop in the name of the three-headed god!
in heaven all the traffic lights glow sharp-toothed saffron
the glass distorts my body until it bends in half
draped shut in spools of the finest saffron
tell me, how you speak, with those fingers on your neck,
or is it that all the songs were always written in saffron?
the city stumbles dazed, forgetting its own name
its veins suckling needles dipped in the softest saffron
tell me, saints and sinners, as you spill your bodies into water,
will the ganga surrender its brown in the embrace of your saffron?
the borders grow jagged, wild grass leaping tall
drunk dizzy on blood more water than saffron
i watch the sun drip violent and greedy into my mouth
i think of how blood-orange seems more fitting than saffron
“Every month is NaPoWriMo for me, but April is when I actually share my poems publicly. These poems are like scribbles I make while commuting or brewing a cup of coffee. I doubt any of them took longer than a couple of minutes to compile, followed by some basic grammar checks.
April reminds me that I must keep hustling and working on my craft regularly. I love these sprints, these poetic runs towards the verbal sea, while watching sentences foam over the sand. Some Aprils have given me more nostalgic poems, others have given me non-fiction. There is no predicting this pattern. NaPoWriMo is in that sense quite introspective, where my poetry reflects what my subconscious is fermenting in the background while I carry on living.”
curtained by sudden steam the window wears
a new robe and watches tea become
tea like the way it must be brewed, consistent
and fragrant like the memory of a former flame’s
lips wrestling to confine yours, fermenting
into moist responses and the aroma
of collective breath, the thrilling occurrence of teeth,
eyes viewing surfaced inner ordeals; rising vapour
breathes its own story
into an air now recoloured, the culprit –
Darjeeling first flush, astringent enough to
cut the blandness of its light body, it rivers
down your insides like the rain you opened
your mouth to at age seven, your arms caught just
the essential – nothingness and futureless joy