Emily Perez has never believed in “waiting around for the muse.” Instead, when it comes to writing, the Upper SchoolEnglish teacher believes in a consistent regimen of hard work and dedication. Author Peter De Vries puts it another way: “I write when I’m inspired,” he once quipped, “and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”
A strict writing regimen is one of the things that attracted Perez to her most recent project called Tupelo 30/30. As its name suggests, Tupelo 30/30 is a challenge by the not-for-profit literary Tupelo Press that encouraged writers to produce 30 poems in 30 days. The poems were then featured on the Tupelo website each day for one month.
“I knew this kind of challenge could invigorate my writing and help me generate exciting work,” says Perez.
The English teacher, who also serves as Tenth Grade Dean, decided the accountability was just what she needed, and so she got to work producing a poem a day for the month of December. Perez prefers to work days in advance, starting first with free writing, then shaping the free writing from the previous day, and shaping it again for a final poem on the third day. “This is what happens in an ideal world,” she says, “but during this project, my regimen differed every day. I was teaching poetry at the time, so sometimes I’d start a piece at school based on a prompt designed by my students.”
Perez, who is in the process of finalizing her forthcoming book of poems, House of Sugar, House of Stone, which is due out in March, says she found other ways to inspire poetry.
“I knew this kind of challenge could invigorate my writing and help me generate exciting work,”
“Sometimes I’d pre-designate my inspiration, as in, ‘I will listen to this podcast and use whatever it’s about in my next poem.’”
Her husband coined the term for what she learned from it all: “Nashville Style.” Or in other words: showing up every day and cranking out work. “It’s not always elegant or inspired, but you learn to forgive yourself for that because at least you are writing, and that’s better than not writing,” says Perez.
The result is a collection of 30 poems that taught Perez how practice allows one to both improve one’s strengths and develop new ones.
“I learned to not be too precious about my work, to let it be looser and less polished. I learned to recognize when something could become a poem early in my drafting, and when it wasn’t headed in that direction, I abandoned it.”
She also learned ways the experience could inform her own teaching by gaining empathy for her students who often have to produce work quickly without a lot of time to reflect on it before submitting it for evaluation.
“At the same time, this project underscored for me that surprising innovations can arise from constraints — in my case, time constraints — and I will continue to call my students’ attention to that phenomenon.”
A New Mother Discovers Emptiness
That winter I resigned my role as hope—
with only two hands, smaller always than I’d needed,
and twice as many yearning mouths to fill.
I concocted stories, songs, and spells,
and once we’d sucked the marrow clean
from words, I spun, I wove, I kept
conniving to confect,
but there’s only so much sweetness in the world.
I poured pity on the two of them,
just children still, all their pleasure flown.
In each other’s faces we reflected want,
so I sought solace on my own.
I found it first within the darkness of the woods,
which rendered me invisible. I found it next
within the distance of the stars,
whispering how miniscule,
how meaningless my sorrows.
Who insists on being heard
when faced with all that space? What is
when perched upon the lip of a black hole?
I tried to teach those little ones to see,
I pushed them toward the door.
And when they would not go,
I locked them out myself.
Here is a pathway, here is bread, I said, you’ll learn
these walls were never real. Make a new home
inside your head. To those who ask me:
What if they are calling in the woods?
I say, at least they’ve learned to sing
and to those who wonder what if
they’re trembling with fear?
I say, then at last they’re full.
Spring-formed, honed, run-ready,
I was a switch, almost thrown,
I was a pulse, quickening.
I asked the wind, what do you know,
I asked the wind to warn me.
My shuttered eyes grew sensitive
to figures framed in doorways.
I slept with one ear always up
attuned to nighttime’s yawn and creep.
I slept with shoes upon my feet.
I learned to dream of get-away
so even if but half-awake, I’d move
and move precisely. I kept the burner on.
I was coiled, I was quivered, I was cocked.
I was a sudden summer storm
gathering, ready to rage then blow
myself to droplets: diffuse, ungraspable.
“A New Mother Discovers Emptiness” and “Verge” are from House of Sugar, House of
Stone, forthcoming from The Center for Literary Publishing. Copyright 2016 by Emily Pérez.