Write a poem a day.

That’s the directive that instructor Harry Youtt, co-winner of the Department of the Arts Instructor of the Year Award for 2004, gave to his students in his recent poetry course, Becoming a Plain-Speech Poet: A Workshop.

The exercise started as an intensive one-week experiment over email, something done outside of class time as a way for students to become inspired–and it worked.

Five students rose to the challenge, generating not only a poem a day, but over 120 emails, a ton of ideas, more confidence in their writing, and a passionately supportive network of other writers. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Harry said.

The group had instant chemistry, which Harry believes was helped by the method of “workshopping” that he uses in his classes.

“In creative endeavors, we grow best from learning from others the things that are working in our writing, the parts that are most effective. We can figure out for ourselves the things that aren’t working as well. All we have to do is step back and figure out the things people aren’t commenting about. With this ground rule in place, everybody feels safe.”

For the students, finding the time and inspiration to create a poem a day was challenging, but rewarding. Some of them couldn’t believe what they got out of it: gems of writing to expand upon and the simple affirmation to keep going in their craft, despite their very busy lives.

“The main thing I learned about my own writing process was that I was not only capable of meeting this challenge, I loved it. Even as I was working with my clients through the day, I never quite stepped away from my ‘poetry mind,'” said student Nancy Weiss. “During that week, the poems seemed to ‘choose’ me. They came without struggle, which is not always the case. The writing process seemed easier and more fluid than I often experience it to be.”

Student Dagmar Muthamia said, “The pressure to write everyday is really helpful in developing the habit of writing on a regular basis, which all serious writers of prose or poetry say is necessary.”

Anna Alves added, “Poetry often seems so mystical to the uninitiated–and overwhelming. (Yikes! A poem a day!) But it can be a truly transforming and connective experience. It feels like a tiny community of creative expression, lively and learning together, that opens up a wonderful exploration into your own creative capacities.”

The exercise of daily writing–whether it be poems, working on a chapter of your novel, or even journaling–doesn’t always come easy (just ask any writer who has tried). Often, writing each day is an exercise in discipline. Still, for this group, something just clicked.

Said Anna, “Working with poetry, and especially Harry, really allowed me to focus and be still. Writing a poem a day forced me to produce daily, to find a working essence or story in every moment — in fact, just to slow down and ‘see’ moments, mull over them, capture and crystallize. Slowing down allowed me to ‘steal’ stories I would’ve never thought were right before my eyes.”

Harry put it this way:

“There’s something about the power of just letting things flow and then seeing where they’ve taken you. There’s nothing prepossessing about this practice. You don’t have time to tighten up. You’re writing a poem before you can step aside and say to yourself: Wait a minute, I’m a poet. I should be taking all this more seriously. You just have to begin writing, and off you go.”

You too can participate in the “writing a poem a day” experience. Sign up now for Harry’s upcoming spring class, Becoming a Plain-Speech Poet: A Workshop, beginning Tuesday, April 14. To Enroll, click here.

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Recently, the UCLA Extension Department of the Arts held its annual ArtsDay LA which included free spirited lectures and panels from some of the Writers’ Program’s top instructors, including author John Morgan Wilson.

During his panel, John shared with attendees his compilation of a comprehensive list of national writing organizations in a variety of disciplines. The list is available here (thank you, John, for sharing). If you’re interested in finding a community of writers, the Writers’ Program–as well as any of the organizations on the list–are great places to begin.


Mae Respicio is the Program Representative in Creative Writing (Onsite) and Screenwriting (Online). Write to her at mrespici@uclaextension.edu.

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