“If there is a feeling that something has been lost, it may be because much has not yet been used, much is still to be found and begun,” so Muriel Rukeyser tells us in her 1949 book The Life of Poetry. This advice resonates with me especially this month, since it is National Poetry Month. And because it is National Poetry Month, I give myself the yearly writing challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days. Which is to say that I’ve been looking for “inspiration” (fodder, really) anywhere I can get it.
I’ve talked in posts past about not always grabbing inspiration when it came to me, and because of that, losing the idea, losing the poem. Rukeyser aptly lands on the feeling I am left with after not doing justice to an idea: lost. In other words, I have not used my idea, and it has gone elsewhere. But as quickly as Rukeyser acknowledges this loss, she reminds us that there is much “to be found and begun.” I love this. It’s inspiring!
Right before April begins, I usually think about what I want to write about during my mad dash toward 30 poems. Will there be a theme? Will I write in response to something? Will I just wing it? This being the fifth year that I’ve done this, I’ve found that if I can give myself something to respond to, things go much better. I produce consistent, more cohesive work. (So, for example, one year I wrote a poem per letter from The Dictionary of Imaginary Places).
Alas, this year, I did not land on a particular topic or theme, and so am floundering a bit, which has caused me to draw on the places I have found inspiration from in the past. Here are just a few, and maybe these might spark something in your writing:
- My personal experiences. Ok, this might seem like a no-brainer. Doesn’t much of our writing spring from our experiences? Still, in recent years, I have tried to stay away from confessional type poetry, because I get bored of myself, plain and simple. I can only write so many thwarted love poems. But this April, I’m forcing myself to think about personal experiences I haven’t written about before, experiences that perhaps have been too personal or too tender. I’m going for the jugular this month.
- Tori Amos lyrics. Even for those of us who know and love her music, we need decoder rings to figure out her meaning. Incidentally, her lyrics remind me a bit of the Irish poet Medbh McGuckian, who writes intricate, self-referential, complicated poetry. It’s exasperating to wade through her work, and yet, I love it. This is how I feel about Tori Amos: exasperated, but intrigued. Sometimes just listening to her music or looking at her lyrics will inspire something in me; other times, I’ve tried writing a poem in her style, which means trying my hand at obfuscation, layering, strange diction choices.
- News stories. This worked for me last night, when I was at a loss for something to write about. Finally I stumbled across a short news story about a small fire in Tombstone, AZ, the site of the infamous OK Corral gun fight. The “town too tough to die” suddenly became my muse. It had been there all along (in fact, I had just visited recently, so it was fresh in my mind), but it had to be “found” anew to use Rukeyser’s word.
- Calendars. I believe my calendar reflects who I am, and so choosing one each year is almost a sacred act. I often save my past years’ calendars, and have used them to inspire poems. One calendar that generated a handful of poems was a collection of old-timey travel advertisements from the 1920s-1950s. The art, the scenery, the outfits of the travelers, all proved to be good fodder for poetry.
- Finally, women. As a woman, I am sometimes appalled at the dearth of knowledge I have about influential women in our world. And so, to right this wrong, come April I go in search of women. It’s like Dominoes: I Google a woman I have heard of, perhaps a poet, and I find out about women she knew, and who influenced her, and then I write about them.
These are a few ways that I get the creative juices flowing in April. I realize that all of these topics or ideas are there, have always been there, for me to find. Returning to Rukeyser’s words, these ideas were lost, only because I had not yet used them. I can always find them again, or for the first time. I can always begin, whether it’s April or any other writing month. And so can you.