Running dragons, and other mascots for a busy life

There are stories that keep me coming back to my small-scale writing practice in busy times, rather than "waiting till things calm down." One comes from the wonderful poet Marie Ponsot, who shook me awake in a workshop at the 92nd Street Y when she described how she continued to write during the years she was rearing her children—six boys and a girl. I picture her with a pen and a scrap of paper, baby balanced on her hip as she tries to calm a 4-year-old who’s chasing a toddler, the ambient chaos of blooming, moody, needy beings filling her household. That’s the rough version of the scene, if you double the number of little ones.

In the midst of this, she wrote in a Chinese form called "running dragon," which uses two- and three-line stanzas, small bursts of description as the “dragon” leaps from stone to stone. She built her pieces two or four or six lines at a time.

'It's easy to keep writing ... in whatever time you have.'

Ponsot wasn’t visible to the publishing world as she was tending her tribe, but she was writing all the while. Here’s a bit of a 2003 interview she did with Bomb magazine :

Bomb interviewer Benjamin Ivry: “There was a span of a quarter century in which you didn’t publish a book. Obviously you were very busy taking care of your kids and working, teaching English in the SEEK program for disadvantaged students at Queens College as well as translating and scriptwriting.”

Marie Ponsot: “I was very busy. It’s really that I was entirely out of all those professional poetry loops. That’s worth saying, because it’s easy to keep writing without tremendous agitation in whatever time you have. If you don’t imagine yourself as a career poet but rather as a person who writes poems, you can just go on doing that.”

We writers with busy lives are all “people who write novels” or “people who write memoirs” or “people who write poems,” and all of us can tap the wise impulse to keep writing in the time we can grab. Small scenes, “sudden fiction,” bits of dialog or description—they’re all available to us in short spans of time. And from there, we build, no tremendous agitation required.

I summon my own form of “running dragon” during weeks like this one when I’m spinning in busyness—starting projects, nudging others along, doing research for what I hope will become a book one day, oh, and doing my taxes. In the midst of it all, I grab 10 or 15 minutes and make notes, do my observation practice and write down lines, or shape a couple of paragraphs.

The dragon keeps running. The work takes shape.

(The Bomb interview with Ponsot, who turns 92 on April 6, is full of treasures for poets, fans of the Beats, women looking for inspiration and writers who occasionally fear that “it’s too late to start now.”  The blog item that describes the running dragon form is also rich with insights from Ponsot. And if you missed them, you can see suggestions for trapping wild bits of time here, and tips for making good use of them here.)

Image by Steve Loya via Flickr.