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On Beginning My Days With Poetry

Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

With days full of rituals — morning, writerly, and nightly — I reflected on my bookish ones. From revisiting snippets of beloved collections in my writing space, to zooming in on a screenshot shared on social media, to rereading poems taped to my bathroom mirror, I can say with confidence that I, at least during fleeting moments that elude my reading logs and trackers, engage with poetry daily. And yet, I found myself wanting to arrive at the genre with and on purpose, too.

As August approached, only 16% of my finished books consisted of poetry. I suspected a couple reasons. In March, I started saving titles for The Sealey Challenge, when participants read a collection or chapbook every day during August. Also, I vowed to strive for balance across the genres in my 2022 reading. Anticipating I would gobble poetry soon, I indulged in prose.

As expected, August was a whirlwind of words, lines, and stanzas. Before the Challenge, I averaged 16 books a month. In August, I read 39. I spent the first two weeks, as people say, filling my cup. By the third, words of my own arrived. I started a poem and maybe finished one. I scrawled down another. Letting phrases and sentences collect, I kept reading. I studied book covers, and the moments unfolded like museum-time: staring and feeling and thinking. I marked lines and poems that moved me then selected excerpts to share. I read and repeated those until I could recite them. They sounded like spells.

In the last days of August, I found myself juggling five books twice. It may sound chaotic, but it felt glorious. Poetry on my nightstand. Poetry in my ears. Poetry in my reading nook. Poetry piled at the foot of my blue spinning chair. Poetry next to the living room loveseat. Poetry in my purse. Poetry tucked in the truck door’s side pocket.

book cover of Virgin by Analicia Sotelo

I read poems at home. I read poems while waiting in the Chevy during errands. While traveling to Seaside, Florida, I read my love Leila Chatti, and we wondered over the highway and “My Mother Makes a Religion.” Between watching waves break and jellyfish wash ashore, I read Horsepower by Joy Priest. Some mornings and some sunsets, I read on balconies: Virgin by Analicia Sotelo and My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long.

Like previous years of The Sealey Challenge, I alternated new books and rereads. This August, my third time participating, I finished 27 titles. Of those, I finished 24 in a single day.

Originally, I entered the Challenge thinking I would simply spend time, maybe 30 minutes a day, with poetry. I envisioned easing into several pieces then scribbling read poems on a single line of my weekly planner. But a competitive side of me emerged, and I finished a title a day until August 23.

In September, my reading speed wanes. Settling into a sipping pace, it takes me seven days to finish the Challenge’s remaining four collections. I scale back to my original goal. In my calendar, I pen in my daily half hour Sunday through Saturday on repeat.

book cover of Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen

There’s so much about August’s intensity that I adored and will return to, but I carried a few things over into the following month with a devoutness. For my reading sessions, I set a timer so I don’t glance at the clock. To never be without poems, I keep a title in my bag. I continue collecting collections. With my new-to-me poetry cache down to three books, I preorder Chen Chen’s Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency and Jenny Xie’s The Rupture Tense.

As quoted before in an earlier post (so I know it’s been swimming in my brain and playing out in my summer, which I’m oh-so-grateful for), Nicole Sealey, poet and founder of the Challenge, states: “I hear that it takes just a few weeks to form a habit, and if that’s true I’m optimistic that #TheSealeyChallenge can become part of our routines all year round — not necessarily requiring the reading of an entire book each day, but just the practicing of daily reading, of making poetry part of our daily lives.”

Again and again, I reach for poems first. After sleep, I listen to poetry podcasts, The Slowdown and Poem-a-Day, bridges from dreams to waking life. Before work, I sit down with a poetry book, often with a mug of tea and my pup, for those promised 30 minutes, which have become holy, something just for me that brings me joy. I understand, now, these patterns have become rituals.

book cover of Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

When the calendar switched to September, poetry accounted for 46% of my finished titles. In my reading nook, the final stack of chapbooks and collections from The Sealey Challenge rests. Almost a third of those, including There Should Be Flowers by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, I revisited for a second time, and some as many as a fourth, Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz, and fifth time, Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey.

While sitting on the floor, I pull down the stack and assemble more: one to organize alphabetically in the poetry bookcase, one to add to my “want-to-reread” shelf, and another for possible book recommendations. I flip through some titles, revisiting lines I sticky-tabbed and pages I dog-eared. While rereading “Beauty” from Solmaz Sharif’s Customs, a couple lines — “Morning I am still new / Still possible, I’m still possibly” — pause my little world.

If reading about literary habits interests you, check out The Bookish Rituals That Keep Me Grounded, On The Importance Of Reading Rituals, and Reading Rituals.