Throwing down: Risk and poetry

By Evelyn Thorne

Max Beckmann, “Falling Man”

The Difference between Animals and Humans

unique human
quality animals
must find insane when comfort is

I was only eight days into the 30 Day Poetry Challenge (30DPC), a worldwide challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days, and I was already feeling the stress of taking on the challenge.

Coincidentally, I had also moved to Portland eight months ago. This was the true motivation of the above poem. I had moved away from my home, with a supportive group of loving friends and a vibrant social life, to a city I’d never been to before and where I knew no one. Part of the reason I had moved to Portland was to challenge myself. My life had become too comfortable, too easy. I wanted to prove to myself that I could start life over again in a completely new place.

But eight months into this adventure, I started to see my life back home in a different light. I began to wonder: what could possibly have driven me to leave somewhere I felt so safe and comfortable to move to an entirely foreign place completely alone? No animal would ever decide to purposely put itself at risk simply because it was bored. That is not survival instinct. From an evolutionary standpoint, this seems self-destructive.

Or maybe not. In an article for The Dana Foundation, Brenda Patoine writes: “Home sapiens were the only group of early hominids to emigrate over the entire world, which entailed great risk… and those who were willing to take risks were likely to be more successful hunters, so a certain degree of risk-taking behavior—fueled by the promise of reward—may be programmed into human DNA.” Of the five kinds of dopamine produced by the human brain, the levels of the two linked to impulsive risk-taking behavior became drastically higher as we migrated out of Africa (Aria Pearson, New Scientist Life). So, it turns out that moving to distant lands is the original reason we developed the ability to respond to great amounts of risk. Thus, to challenge oneself is to follow survival instinct.

But in this “there’s an app for that” world of constant technological innovation, the neurological response to extreme challenge has become the appendix of the brain. We rarely need to be extreme risk takers, but we still feel that drive, to such a degree that we view an unchallenged life a wasted one. And thus, the reason people like me will move far away from home in search of novelty.

Or the reason a poet would choose to write 30 poems in 30 days.

A creative challenge: the quest for personal edification. But is it also survival instinct? According to a 2010 survey by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, creativity is the top quality business executives look for in their employees (Frank Kern, Bloomberg Businessweek). Developing your creativity is now a matter of survival of the fittest in the economic world. We have come full circle.

But maybe this is all just my own personal justification, after the fact, for accepting the challenge. So I talked to eight local poets who participated in the 30 Day Poetry Challenge about the benefits of taking on a creative challenge and the difficulties of reaching this goal. And along the way, I harvested a poem from each of them.

“…I have a motto that I live by. It’s to do something scary every day.” — Elizabeth Stansberry

Day 1: The First Step

By Elizabeth Stansberry

This is april, I say quietly to myself, you have made it through the winter. With multiple sclerosis comes multiple scars, multiple stares of confusion. As I stretch to find my balance, many suns rise above my head. Many suns float through my memory, as healthy people slide and gloat, past me. oh the spring days of being alive. I want to feel that again. I. will. feel. that. Again.

 “Some days, I would wake up really sick with ms symptoms, have to go to the emergency room for hours, and still have to come up with a poem for the day.” — Elizabeth Stansberry

Day 2: Hospitality

By Andrea Hope

all of my possessions are wrapped in cotton linens
to prepare for the hard fall of your secrets

still they find their way through

tiny mosquitoes piercing into my veins
my blood runs warm with the breath of words unspoken

I know that you too fear the risk

that I may not be the good host you have always expected
that ladylike and courtesy are cornerstones in poorly built houses

loot me
take all that you want from me

i will turn up the heat and replenish the furniture to make fuel for your feeds
fill your body with my nutrients
with my hospitality

just promise me when I am left
with a few more scars
and a few less proteins

you will
once more
find motive
to fly

 “…you don’t have to force the process; try to write about subjects that you haven’t dared put into words yet.” — Andrea Hope

Day 5: Jacob

By Christi Krug

This place where the moon has caught me
Trapped by desert rules and my own timing
Holds no crevasse where I can wedge closer to your heart
After the sun has dropped cold

My neck is in knots
Potsherds leach my dreams
A stone will never be a pillow no matter what you call it

My will coils
Around you like a birth cord
But bless me
You have no choice

My head weighs like a century
I lay it down, hard and low, under the stars

“The very nature of the event encourages you to break out of your normal style, by making you less attached to the poems…” — Matthew Y. Yasuoka

“…the best advice I’ve ever gotten about writing…don’t get it right, get it written.” — Reuben  Nisenfeld

Day 14: A Wolf At The Door

By Erik Rice

Sometimes I wonder if my dogs remember
their previous owners (even the puppies), if I am
Rag Doll Retro, the solo album that hasn’t

happened yet, tenth born and type cast. Sometimes
I wonder if I am a Thief in a thrift store
vinyl, a sequel in someone else’s clothing.
Sometimes when you look at me like you
are now, standing over you, black hair curling under
my red hood, I wonder if it’s true. If back

doors keep photographs and souvenirs can live
inside of bodies. If I remind you of someone else
you’ve loved.

“It’s all about prioritizing your endeavors to strengthen your creative skill, and if you’ve done that at the end of the month, I’d call it a success…” — Leyna Rynearson

“I have heard people say that just one honest poem they got from the month was worth the challenge, and I feel the same way.” — Andrea Hope

Day 15: Journal Envy

By Tracy Blom

I’ll admit I’m jealous.
Your notebook sees you more than me
I see the way you hold it
Caress the pages underneath
Smooth edges filling the lines with secrets
I’ll never be a part of.
Your eyes light up with firecrackers when
You skim the body over
Admiring the spine you share,
Milestones you’ve crossed together
she lets you scribble, lets you play,
fold her back to little planes
If it had thumbs, lips or tongues to
Grip your hands
She would. She does.
She’s seen you die and then revive
Landscaped mental mountain slides
in a bag but by your side
It will always hold more weight than I
Gazing at you from across the room
Moonstruck, just admiring the ways
Your cradled arm forms a grave
Filled with tales of every leg you’ve spread
Flowers spilled with intricate patterns
Only she can understand
I bet she can name your favorite ice cream
And decode all of your videogame dreams
Both of you worn, covered with ink
Understanding what each tattoo means
You fill her lines with all the time
you spent telling her about me
I admit I’m jealous
only if I can get a copy

 “It struck me as a great exercise for strengthening several creative muscles; writing every day, starting something, finishing that thing, and moving on.” – Reuben Nisenfeld

Day 23 : Traffic

By Matthew Y. Yasuoka

How strange the seconds look
scattered across the intersection
like broken glass

I read the word nearly
as the ambulances lie

 “When I first started writing I thought everything had to rhyme.” — Tracy Blom

“I think I would have eventually written that poem, but just needed a kick in the pants to do so.” — Leyna Rynearson

Poem 24: Toast

By Reuben Nisenfeld

have a piece of toast, wheat toast, if a crumb falls on the counter inquire about its state of mind
tell the crumb the story of your weird day with the uncle who went crazy
take the crumb somewhere nice
it is ok not to be sexually attracted to the crumb
but maybe one time after some champagne on a particularly lovely evening
the crumb treats you well
it talks about wanting to settle down and when was the last time you heard that
your dad always said if you dated a crumb you might as well not come home but that was a long time ago before the divorce before he got sober and got weird about god
the crumb has some money from a settlement and it could last a few years
but the crumb doesn’t ever pay for things, goes Dutch sometimes
you don’t really love the crumb but at some point you look at the crumb and
maybe it’s the way the light is coming through the trees and catches the crumb in just the right way
but you allow yourself to feel for the crumb
you’re too old for this you know but why not risk it, there’s only so much life in the world
just then a squirrel runs off with the crumb
and now your uncertainty is full on passionate desire
that’s why carbs are so bad for you

 “Every time I write a poem or visit a new idea, I am sure my process changes, even infinitesimally.” — Christi Krug

Day 26: Notes on Poetry for Young Poets and Groupies

By Leyna Rynearson

Do not pick this up because you want a quick bang.
We are matches, not fuses, the explosion comes long after we are dead.
You are not a timebomb.
at best,
a science fair volcano.
The most you can hope to achieve is where any of your moderately talented
or insistently persistent
musical friends will start out,
touring four of you to a sweaty desperate van,
except that you are fighting each other for sales.

A book release is not like an album release.
Your friends,
your lovers,
your fucking family
will not come to your shows.
You will make allusions to authors no one has ever heard,
and it will not go over the same as obscure taste in music.
Your everyday conversation linguistic acrobatics
will go wasted, or unwanted, or unnoticed by most.

They will call you a revival,
you will know you are an unsuccessful resuscitation.
Even a slam winner,
the closest we get to celebrities,
you will walk away from the venue,
get on your damn bus,
and not a single person will know your words,
or even maybe your face.

It’s not all bad.
Sometimes, we’re funny.

 “…makes you think about how much growth is possible if we all treated every month like Poetry Month.” – Erik Rice

Day 31: Another challenge begins…

Artist Bios:

Elizabeth Stansberry is a poet and tutor originally from Phoenix, Arizona, and has lived in Portland for two years. You can find more of her work on under the name ariel29 or on the Portland Poetry Month ’12 facebook group.

Andrea Hope is a slam poet, activist, and world citizen. You can find her work at and keep track of all local poetry events and open mics at

Christi Krug is the creator of Wildfire Writing courses, a Pushcart nominee and has appeared in everything from Sunday school pages to horror anthologies. She can be found teaching for Clark College or blogging at

Erik Rice is a poet from the Twin Cities and a co-founder of the Portland-bred Sparrow Ghost Collective & Press (check them out on Facebook!)

Tracy Blom is a humanitarian, creative writer, and soon to be author of her first published book “Whats in my Pants?” More of her writing will soon be available on her upcoming website (currently under construction)

Matthew Yasuoka loves arguing, the news, good books, and semiotics.

Reuben Nisenfeld is a Portland based writer/performer with membership in several comedy-like organizations including Brainwaves Improv. His writing can be found at and in the forthcoming issue of Unshod Quills.

Leyna Rynearson is a community enthusiast and poet. You can find more of her poetry in the Sparrow Ghost Collective Anthologies; Anthology II will be published Summer 2012 and will be sold at bookstores all across the country.

Evelyn Thorne is a community organizer, creative writer and urban explorer. Check out her events blog Portlandia of the Free (or Cheap) for free/cheap events to do in PDX or her personal writing blog for more of her poetry.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of the stories written by members of the  class in writing at the Attic Institute this Spring. More to come soon!

One Response.

  1. hi evelyn good job on the article could i get a link to the article please? thanks:}

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