“I’ve known writers — I think it’s true also of other artists — who thought that you had to put your art before everything. But if you have a marriage and a family and a farm, you’re just going to find that you can’t always put your art first, and moreover that you shouldn’t. There are a number of things more important than your art. It’s wrong to favor it over your family, or over your place, or over your animals.”
I don’t have a farm, although I only have to go a half-mile west to find cattle. I start every day with a walk, and I start it that way because my animals tell me they come before my art.
My dogs, Polo and Clover, are sisters, terrier mixes dumped on a ranch nine years ago. They require daily favor, expressed by hand. My hands scoop their food, refill their water, slip their harnesses around their 20-pound frames, and hold their leashes while we walk in the morning dark. My hands brush, pet, pick up, set down. I snap my fingers to get their attention and slap my own thigh to tell them to hush when they bark at the garbage truck.
And when I sit down to make art — or at least attempt to string together words — Clover and Polo are right there, at my feet or nearby, making sure I remember what’s important.
Prompt Guidelines and Options
1. Do you have a pet? Consider how much you do for them by hand, even if you’re just shaking flakes into a fish bowl. Write about what it feels like to give daily care.
2. The next time you’re feeling a touch of writer’s block, spend a few minutes giving care to an animal and then writing about it. Or write about what you observe your pets doing: What does Polo smell in the rose bush? Why is Clover digging a hole under the fence?
3. Try writing an acrostic poem, using your pet’s name.
That’s it! We look forward to what you create when you do it By Hand.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro