07 February 2013

Reliable inspiration... by Ann E. Michael


The PQ editors were asked to write about their favorite non-poem inspiration, and here’s the first installment.  We’d love to hear from our readers as well, so give us a comment about your favorite way to be inspired.


Inspiration Series: #1
by PQ Contributing Editor Ann E. Michael

 
From where (or whence) does inspiration spring? Hasn’t enough been written on this topic already? Does inspiration really require further ontological exploration on the part of poets or other artists? Let’s say, for the moment, “Sure, why not…”
 
Personally, I have always been intrigued by stories of what sorts of experiences, readings, observations, and sensations inspire other writers. Mostly what I learn is that those things do not work for me; nonetheless, I admit a certain fascination with what makes the lightbulb go off in the minds of creative people. Here’s an example from the internet, quoting an anecdote I heard long ago regarding the German poet Friedrich Schiller:
 
Friedrich Schiller, as described by fellow poet Stephen Spender:
“Schiller liked to have a smell of rotten apples, concealed beneath his desk, under his nose when he was composing poetry. Walter de la Mare has told me that he must smoke when writing. Auden drinks endless cups of tea. Coffee is my own addiction, besides smoking a great deal, which I hardly ever do except when I am writing.”

 
How that idea resonated in my mind, those useful, rotten apples under the desk! I felt I must try it. But alas, while fresh apples evoke strong memories, even sentiment, for me, rotting apples have never inspired the composition of deathless verse.

Reading poetry inspires me and is probably my most reliable jump-start for writing poems of my own. I recommend that all poets read poetry for inspiration and elucidation, but there are many non-poetic encounters that can inspire as well—different for each writer. Here are a few that work pretty reliably for me.

• Science texts, particularly those written by experts for the layperson or armchair scientist. I never exactly excelled at chemistry or physics, but books on those subjects (and the New York Times weekly section called “Science Times”) have elicited many poem ideas.

• Jargon. I don’t care if it is business or psychology or multi-player online gaming jargon, the metaphors are rich and the juxtapositions with everyday language are often funny.

• Grammatical or spelling errors and “malclichés” such as show up in student papers and, more and more often these days, online and in news headlines. Think of Bishop’s misreading, “Man-Moth,” and move on from there. The real challenge with poetry inspired from such errors is how to avoid being derisive, to transform the error into something compelling. A great prompt!

• Art, of the visual or plastic/sculptural variety. Yes, ekphrasis has a long and storied history among poets. Long may that influence and inspiration reign!

In general, I am inspired by the world around me, which is rural-tending-toward-suburban, Mid-Atlantic, temperate, geologically ancient. When my surroundings fail me, though, the sources above often provide images, experiences, and reflective “rooms” for developing poems.

What works for  you?


Ann E. Michael is a poet, essayist, and educator whose most recent poetry collection is Water-Rites (2012). She lives in eastern PA where she is Writing Coordinator at DeSales University. Her website: www.annemichael.com.

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