In all of my creative writing classes, I give students a writing prompt in which they must eavesdrop on conversations in a public space to trigger a poem or short story. This illustrates the importance of paying attention to language and using one’s surroundings as inspiration. Whenever I assign this prompt, students return to class with an idea for a new story or poem. Last summer, I applied this prompt to my own writing while vacationing at Cape May, New Jersey.
While I sprawled out on a beach blanket and sunbathed with my girlfriend, a crowd of teenage surfers obstructed our ocean view. One by one, they lined up on the beach with their polished boards. We sat up and watched them successfully ride the foamy crest of a wave, or crash hard. I immediately pulled out my notebook and recorded some of their phrases, specifically “Dude got wrecked so hard” and “I wish this wind would just chill.” As a poet, my ears perk up when I hear interesting language and mangled phrases. I used their surfer lingo to draft a poem about that scene and how those surfer boys remained on the beach until sunset.
As I’ve told my students, there is inspiration everywhere, in bits of conversations we hear and scenes we observe. We just have to open our senses to the world around us and keep a notebook close.