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ODU Professor Luisa Igloria’s New Book Drawn from Daily Poetry Writing Exercise

Photo of Luisa IgloriaLuisa Igloria

Since November 2010, Old Dominion University English professor Luisa Igloria has challenged herself to compose at least a poem each day as a writing exercise. To date, her portfolio of completed poems totals nearly 1,000 and has provided her manuscripts for at least three books, the first of which will be published this summer.

Igloria is the director of ODU's M.F.A. in creative writing program and an award-winning author. Her most recent book, "Juan Luna's Revolver" was published in 2009. Her latest book of poetry "Saints of Streets" is being published by the University of Santo Tomas, in the Philippines. Igloria is still in the process of polishing and sending around the other manuscripts for publishing consideration, she said.

Igloria recently completed her first term as the M.F.A. program director and says the pressures of that position, coupled with being a full-time mom, challenged her ability to write regularly.

"It's hard to squirrel away time for your own interests," she said. "Between then and now, I've been trying to find the dedication, discipline."

A shift occurred over Thanksgiving break 2010 when Igloria was "stuck" in her writing and inadvertently stumbled upon the work of Dave Bonta, a conservationist and birder who writes about nature-related topics on his micro blog "The Morning Porch." In particular, that day, Bonta had written about a woodpecker, and he used the word "pawl" to describe its ratcheting motions in a tree.

Igloria borrowed the word as a trigger for a poem and then found herself going back to the blog each day to see what else he had written.

"I began to see some (topics) were really quick ways to get into a snippet of writing. I used them as prompts and then he started noticing," she said, of Bonta. "Part of it, too, is the exercise it provides. Working with the voice in your head, the ego, that tells you, 'what the heck are you doing this for?' Unselfconsciousness is really a great way to flex up writing muscles. It gave me a way to realize that I could actually clear time every day and do this."

Igloria says she no longer believes in writer's block. She likened the process to the way an athlete focuses before a sporting event.

"I realized at any given time of day that I want to work, I can drop down fairly quickly into that space and not feel so much the artificial constraints - the laundry to do, grading, class preparation, a meeting tomorrow. When I decide I'm going to go work on writing, no matter how long or short a stretch, I can now tune out the noise," Igloria said.

She generally tries to commit about 45 minutes each day to the exercise.

"A lot of what I've written is not in those manuscripts," Igloria said. "I'm lucky when I have something that feels like a poem. It may need more work, but it's there. That's very freeing for me. I've stopped worrying so much. It's not that I don't care what people are thinking. It's liberation. I don't have to save the best poems for the best journal."

Igloria says her only goal is to write daily. She has not set an end point for the ongoing poetry writing exercise she is hesitant to call a "project," even though others have characterized it that way.

The poems Igloria has produced over the past couple of years have run a gamut of topics, many of which were spurred by the moment. One of them, a "tweet" poem of 140 characters about the Boston Marathon bombing was picked up by National Public Radio and featured in the "Muses and Metaphors" special feature. Listen to it here.

"It's important to be able to write and respond in the language of poetry. Poetry has been my main genre for many years now. It's liberating," Igloria said. "I don't feel pegged into a particular hole or category like when my last book came out.

"It (Juan Luna's Revolver) is very much about aspects of Filipino post-colonial history and what it feels like to be a writer/artist of color in the 21st century world but still burdened by a lot of historical relationships and cultural contexts that predefine wherever one is at in a particular moment," she said. "Some people kind of expect that, since when you write so much on a particular subject they expect to see you write about that forever and ever. I don't necessarily think since I'm a writer of color I have to address that in such a pointed way all the time. I think, because of who I am, those things will come out regardless of what I turn my interests to. But I don't want to be stereotyped as a writer."

To read Igloria's poetry, go to Via Negativa, a literary weblog where Dave Bonte has archived all of her daily musings.