©2003, Lola Dechant
In poetry, more than in other forms of writing, there is an attitude that you must wait for inspiration to strike. This seems to be true particularly among beginning poets, but I have seen this inclination in those who have been writing poetry for years as well. I believe that there are two problems with this attitude. The first is that you can wait a very long time for inspiration to strike. The second is that when it does strike, it is likely to come from your subconscious.
One of the ways to get around the problem of waiting is to put yourself in a poetry frame of mind, which can be as easy to do as reading poetry that you like, or sometimes poetry you don’t like. Keeping a varied poetry library increases the chances that you will find something to motivate you. Reading poetry that I like moves me to create something beautiful myself. Sometimes inspiration comes from just one phrase and sometimes it is the whole idea. Occasionally I am inspired by the rhythm of the language.
Reading poetry expands poetry horizons. You see the many things that poetry can be written about and it breaks you out of your shell of thought. It also increases the myriad of images and ideas in your subconscious. The number of people who write poetry but don’t read it is astounding, and you can usually tell who they are when you read their work.
On the days that I have started out reading poetry, I see it reflected everywhere. I don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike — I can’t make it leave me alone. There is poetry in the reflection of headlights in the rain, in the feeling of a strand of hair falling across my face, and even in the strange spots that mysteriously appear on the bathroom mirror.
I have heard the argument that reading poetry right before writing may make you sound like the poet you’ve just read. This is possible, but unlikely. We all have a unique voice that will shine through whatever we write. I am not Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost and while I may be inspired and influenced by them, I am still me in my poetry.
However, if you are concerned about this influence, putting yourself in the right frame of mind can be as simple as writing your own poem. No matter how good or bad it turns out, you are now thinking about poetry.
Some might say that the second problem, poems coming from the subconscious, is a good thing. I would have to disagree. Images and ideas from your subconscious are likely to be similar to things you have seen or heard before. There is also more likely to be a recurring theme in your mind. Both of these things increase the chance that the resulting poem will be something that has been overdone, by you or by others. As an example, I have a hand and foot fetish, and I am also fascinated by the wind. My ‘inspired’ poetry reflects this. It is easy and effortless for me to write most of the poems like this. Most are also not very good.
It is good practice to write when you feel no inspiration or even inclination to do so. One of the ways in which I push myself is to sit down and write about whatever object comes into my head, or the least poetic thing you can think of at the moment. Sometimes I look around and write about the first thing that catches my attention. I call this the “I spy” challenge. For example, right now, on my desk, I have some notes brainstorming for a title for a novel. At the very top is a name that caught my attention.
Name caught my ear.
I wondered why
The announcer seemed to say
He is now
A name I know.
A lyricism engraved on my soul.
Proof of music
In the world.
I won’t forget this time.
While this is not a great work of art, it did what it was intended to do. It pushed me beyond my expectations of what I thought I could write. It can be fixed if I feel like it, or it can be thrown away. The most important thing this poem did was to start me thinking about poetry. I am inspired to write more, or just to write something better.
Another way to push yourself to write when you think you cannot is to use the dictionary. Open it at random and point to a word. Use the word in a poem; if you are feeling bold find several words this way and use them all in the same poem. If you want rhymes, get out the rhyming dictionary.
Write with a friend. You can pick a phrase or several words and each write a poem that includes it. Seeing the different ways a person can use words, phrases or ideas can be another form of inspiration. Can you write like your friend? Try it. I doubt you will succeed, but you may find a new well of ideas in yourself.
My most creative work comes not when I take the easy way and wait for inspiration, but when I try to be creative within restraints. You must push yourself harder and find the reserves inside. You can do what you thought was impossible; writing when you thought you had no inspiration, and finding that what you wrote is good. You may even inspire yourself. Inspiration and poetry are like the chicken and the egg. Sometimes writing the poem comes before the inspiration, and not the other way around.