Habits are habits

In a friendly coincidence,
we pretended not to understand
the fumes of heavy traffic.
We chose to take a ride
entirely on a road to nowhere.
Nothing happened.
We paid for petrol, an absurd sum,
a kind of ransom.


On my calendar, I scheduled in POST for today, meaning come Wednesday I would need to produce a poem for the blog. Last night, I was mulling over possible topics. This morning, after my regular walk in the wood (during which I got pretty soaked) and first set of warm-up pages, I prepped the 11am rocket-fuel coffee, switched on Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ and started scribbling in the pink Poundland notebook. This is one of two Pavlovian routines I use when preparing posts.

Anyone who has tried to implement a habit will second that a trigger, be it music, a particular time or a certain place, can be extremely helpful in prompting a reliable, default performance of predictable outcomes. It is for this reason that I have my writing habits, and this morning there I was with Miles Davies and coffee, so I that I could trigger the course to poetry. Yet four pages in, poetry still wasn’t coursing.

I have mentioned in recent posts that I have been working on a long-form project. At the moment I am typing it up, and in doing so, I am concentrating on ‘finishing energy’. The notion is that once a project is started, one aims to complete it, even if it is not up to the imagined standard one had set for it. In tying up the project, one experiences finishing energy or, in less metaphysical terms, one experiences what it is to complete an endeavour. Similarly, this morning I was determined to access finishing energy for today’s post poem.

All too often I turn to books for solutions (another instance of habit). In this morning’s situation, I pulled out a book on writing poetry from the bookshelf next to my desk. I opened on ‘Cultivate an Anti-writing Ritual’, a chapter based on the following diagnosis: when the routine becomes rut, that’s a problem. Under such circumstances, “you may find your poems continue and end in similar places, creating a kind of cookie-cutter effect.”*

I confess that many of my verses have a particular shape and rhythm. Today’s poem shares some of the familiar traits: eight lines, a journey in the outer world echoed by experiences in the inner, a scene in the narrative past, an encapsulating final line. But please believe me, I tried.

I changed the music to a radio station (and not my usual BBC Radio 3). I wrote out a page of sentences, some inspired by random lyrics. I cut up the sentences; turned the words upside down; laid them out on a page. The result was nonsensical, although I did try to re-shape it. I then moved to seeking out disconnected words, sentences and moments from a book of short stories I had in the bookshelf. I tried multiple stanzas of varying lengths, then three stanzas of three lines. Yet after all that and the revisions, the poem about habits surfaced in a markedly familiar format.

Routine so easily becomes the rhythms of our mornings, middays and nights. It is not by chance that even writing habits echo sitting in traffic, possibly on a road to nowhere where nothing happens.

* Cohen, Sage, “Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read & Write Poetry,” Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio: 2009, p. 119.

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