What inspires you?

Poetry can be about anything, from outdoor fountains to Candy Crush to depression to lunch. Sometimes life is so hectic I can’t come up with a single idea for a thing to write about, even if I am surrounded by potential subjects. So I think it’s useful to keep a mental list of things that inspire me. Things like good photography, abstract art, news stories that make me mad, walks outside, or poems by my favorite authors. When I am short on ideas, I look for them in these places. And when I’m looking to write a poem, I let anything that pops into my head onto the page, no matter how unimportant it might seem. Because poems have a way of growing out of the most unassuming piles of dirt.

Poem idea: Think of a favorite song or movie, and write a poem starting with a quote from it. Like, “We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams,” from Lorde. Only borrow one line–the rest is up to you.


One comment

  1. scottlowerywriting · October 19, 2015

    Here’s Ken’s response…

    When I am stuck for something to write about, I may just copy down the words in the book I’m reading—in this case The Cartographer in No Man’s Land, by P.S. Duffy, a novel—such as ineffable, salt bankers, windlass, estaminet, belfry, relegated, cots (you notice that if you rearrange the letters, cots becomes cost)—or a phrase such as “how vast the ocean, how small the boat” or a quote from a the poem “Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson:
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

    and I look to see if these strands conjure anything up from my own experience. If I get the first line, others may follow its lead. Or a scene may coalesce and then my “camera” will zoom in and out on the details. Or I may see the face of a beautiful old man or woman on a bus, and store that image in my head for later. Or I may look at a draft of a poem written to my 21-year-old son when he was an infant and discover a more lyrical or more powerful way of saying it.

    Often, all I have to do is look out my window and see our two old horses in the pasture, or stop and listen to the symphony of sounds a squadron of starlings makes in the old maple in our front yard. All I need to do then is report what I see and hear. It may stay much the same or it may get plowed under to resurface next year in a wider perspective. Recently I took a short reportorial piece about burying a coyote I had found that had been hit on the interstate ten years ago, and added a second part about listening to coyotes at night down by our catch pond (written eight years ago), and a third part, of recent observations about how coyotes fit into my life. The three parts worked together, but one can hear three distinct voices.

    These days, now that I have been around a long time and finally have some distance on the past, I will start in on an incident from my adolescence, for instance, and build on it. Since I moved around a lot as a kid it is easy to recall these incidents, as they took place in a specific setting that may have been new and heightened to me. Adolescence was new and heightened anyway—revisiting it is like watching a movie you saw once a long time ago and now as you are watching it again, some of the details are more clearly defined, others not so much.

    Often, my wife will point out something to me that I hadn’t noticed, like an amazing sunset, or a double rainbow, or icicles on tree branches jangling together like wind chimes.

    Poetry is a solitary activity, but sometimes you are asked or compelled to write something in response to an event that has happened in your family, your community, your nation. The voice in which you speak is now not just “I” but “We.” You may be a private poet by nature, but part of your duty is to be a public poet when you can make a difference.

    –Ken McCullough


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s