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Karin Miller

We are honored to introduce Karin Miller, writer and editor of The Cancer Poetry Project. Karin has generously offered to share a bit about her personal experience along with practical suggestions to help inspire us to Write Now!

Just begin

Our eldest daughter is turning 13. Unfathomable. Time has flashed by so quickly.

That also means that my husband is about to observe his 13-year anniversary of successful cancer treatment. Thank God. Thirteen years and nary a blip on his health charts suggests he ever had anything seriously wrong with him.

At the time of his diagnosis I was four months pregnant; and dealing with both - expecting our first child and watching Thom endure his many long chemo days, plus surgeries - often seemed overwhelming. After his diagnosis, almost instinctively, I wrote a poem about our situation. It started like this:

   I write the words that are true:
   My husband has cancer.
   I write the words that may be true:
   My husband is dying.

Writing those words was terrifying - and therapeutic. Even though I was a published poet, I had fallen out of the poetry habit. But pregnancy and cancer turned on the tap: And poetry offered the best way to crystallize my feelings and, sometimes, cope with the unimaginable. Shortly after my husband ended his treatment and our daughter was born (the same month!), I launched a national cancer-related poetry anthology, inviting patients and survivors, spouses and partners, family members, friends and health-care practitioners to submit cancer-related poems.

At first, receiving a few envelopes in my mailbox was thrilling, but as I returned again and again to a mailbox packed with envelopes, I was awed by how many of us write poetry to cope with and surmount cancer. From 1,200 submissions, my editorial team selected 140 of the best. Since then, rarely a week goes by that I don't hear from Cancer Poetry Project readers about how particular poems touch them and how often they feel moved to write their own.

Perhaps you already write poetry. If not, here's my advice:

  1. Read poetry, lots of poetry, and reread favorites. Poems by Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, are a great place to start if you're new to writing poetry. His plain language and often quirky take on everyday happenings make his poems favorites to return to again and again.
  2. Write a poem or three. Several months ago I was beginning a blog and asked a fellow blogger for advice. "Just begin," she advised. And she was right. I would say the same thing about writing poetry. Just begin.
  3. Don't edit yourself - at first. Just let the words flow. You can always come back and edit later. Rarely is a poem finished in its first inking.
  4. Now set those poems aside. Have a cup of coffee and then write another. Or take a walk. Or go to work. Or watch a movie.
  5. Then, eventually - an hour, a day, a month later - come back to one of your poems and read it. Maybe it's done - congrats. If not, play with the language. Look for stronger, more meaningful words. Rewrite. Then repeat #4 and #5.

Karin B. Miller is a writer and editor, best known for editing the award-winning anthology, The Cancer Poetry Project. She also writes "AttaGirl, circa 1900," a history blog (attagirl1900.blogspot.com) that celebrates girls and women's lives. Today she is launching a new effort to collect cancer-related poems for a second volume of The Cancer Poetry Project. For more information, visit www.cancerpoetryproject.com.

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