Hippie Squared: The Year Will Tell


a blogumn by Jeff Rogers

Photo Credit: Natalie Roberts

Photo Credit: Natalie Roberts

So I’m doing this diary in three line poems, for a year, here on this site. You may have seen it—it posts at noon each day, and we’re calling it “Three Line Lunch.”

What gives and why bother?

Primarily it’s a trick to get myself to write every day. I know it works, because I’ve done it once before. From 9/1/93 through 8/31/94 I ran the same game on myself, and happily that turned out to be the year that I met and courted my wife Elise; my brother Ray married Erica; and OJ Simpson led the police on a slow speed chase—all of which made it into the work.

Though I’ve only done them occasionally since that project ended, I love the form. I find it incredibly versatile. Conducive to snapshots of events; character studies; painting a scene; philosophy; nonsense; lyricism; easily serious or silly or both.

It’s quick to read and it doesn’t take too long to write. The fact of having to write one every day attunes me more to my own life and the world around me. I can work on each day’s poem all day long in my head, carrying it around up there where I gather impressions, write lines, tinker and revise in that squishy little echoing workshop in my skull.

It’s not haiku. I ain’t countin’ syllables. It’s not even Kerouac’s more flexible “American haiku,” though I’m reading a book of them now and like them very much. In this I’m more inspired by Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”; Brautigan’s lyrical brevity in poems like “The Winos on Protrero Hill”; and probably even J.P. Donleavy’s chapter-ending snippets, than I am by Basho or any of the haiku masters.

(And I first did three-line poems under the direction of the reclusive genius M. Bernard [formerly Mira-Lani Oglesby] for a five minute play written by Barbara Romain and Shelley Sachs put on by Gray Pony—but that’s another story for another time.)

There’s only one rule and it’s simple: three lines. And the line is defined not by a certain number of words, syllables or characters. It’s defined by the software: WordPress. If it displays as three lines on the blog, then it’s three lines. If the software formatting wraps it to four lines, I’ve got to trim it until it fits.

So why now? A number of things came together recently to inspire me to do another yearlong journal in the form, while changing it up in an “of course” kind of way by posting it on the blog every day.

I’d been trying to get back to some sort of daily writing practice. I’ve discovered over the years that if I’m not writing on a regular basis it seems that I gradually go insane. That’s how it feels anyway—not that anyone outside the circumference of my own head seems to notice necessarily. But I become unsettled. I notice.

Also, I’d been reading more poetry lately and remembering how much I love it—both the reading and the writing. When I’m doing either it makes me want to do the other.

Meanwhile, Elise recently urged me again to revisit the previous set of “three-liners” and assemble them as a book. I know she’s right that I need to do that if only for myself, but over the years as they’ve become less current I’ve found it harder to make myself believe that anyone else would care. Though there are some strong poems in that group—a few of which have been published on their own.

It may have been after we saw Julie and Julia that Elise brought up the old diary. The parallels are obvious. As she remembers it, she said then that I should revive the practice and blog it. In my version, that comes later and it’s my idea.

Then one day almost two weeks ago I got a choked phone call from Elise, sobbing, doubled over on the floor with a gallstone attack. I rushed her to the Kaiser emergency room. Many hours later they checked her in for what would prove to be a three night stay. I left her there on morphine for the night and driving home at about 10:30 pm I found myself writing a three line poem about it in my head.

I had it nailed down by the time I got home. I logged onto the back end of Fierce and Nerdy and posted it as a draft. Then e-mailed Ernessa with a proposal: run my diary for a year in three line poems; check out the sample I posted, and if you like it and want to do it, let me know. She did; we set about trying to name it. We tried “Gringo Afternoon,” but it just didn’t quite feel right, so we settled on “Three Line Lunch” instead.

And the rest
Is future history
That only the year will tell.