I’m a very, very slow writer. I am glacial. I move at the pace of lakes “making” ice. I don’t write every day. I don’t even write every week. I definitely don’t do a poem a day in April. I hate free-writes. I don’t dislike, but am wary of, prompts. I never attend workshops where I need to produce new work overnight or in class. I’m not a poet who gets “an idea” for a poem—a phrase will come into my head and I’ll walk around with it for weeks until I’m finally compelled to put it down on paper and begin the journey toward a poem.
So, when my poetry group collectively decided they wanted to do 10-minute free-writes at the beginning of each group session, I balked, protested, and, finally, gave in, certain that nothing would come of it for me, that I could just use the time to mull over my day.
One night the poet who hosted our group put a big, clumsy rutabaga in the middle of our circle of chairs and said, “Here’s our prompt.” Really? I stared at that rutabaga for what seemed like an eternity. Then I started writing, just describing the look of the vegetable and pretty soon the 10 minutes were up. It wasn’t until at least a week or two later that I pulled out what I’d written and stared at my description of that homely vegetable for what seemed yet again like an eternity.
When I was a child, my grandmother used to make what she called mashed turnips. I hated them. They had the consistency of baby food, the color of pumpkins, and tasted awful. Along with wonderful other foods like paczki and fried dumplings and potato pancakes, they were a staple in my German-Russian household, but I could not eat them. Only now do I realize they probably weren’t turnips at all, but rutabaga, a very common confusion—turnips are smaller, have a smooth skin, and have white flesh.