Inspiration in Unlikely Places, or The Relative Merits of Eavesdropping in the Library

I was in the library earlier today, a few hours before class, sitting at one of the awkwardly triangular tables. I was alone until a girl and her friend sat there as well. I couldn’t complain, seeing as I had chosen to sit there, but they were – in my opinion – being louder than necessary. I ended up hearing snippets of what they were saying, and although I was struggling to follow along with their conversation, things they were saying taken out of context were surprisingly poetic.

I began discreetly jotting down some of the things I’d overheard, and by the time I was ready to leave, I had a pretty substantial list of things to turn into a poem:

  • “Put acid on everything, even the things you don’t think need it…”
  • “It’s just this, and this, and that’s empty…”
  • “It kept slipping out of my hands…”
  • “It’s creating a new coastline…”
  • “It doesn’t crack when you abuse it, only when you…”

Those were all verbatim, or at least how I heard them which may not have been very well over the chatter in Milne, but that got me thinking about whether or not my mishearing things into something more poetic is poetic in and of itself.  Which then made me think of one of my favorite quotes, by Lauren Zuniga: “Every moment is a poem if you hold it right.”

There’s also a good chance these phrases only seemed interesting to me at all because I was listening to them while procrastinating my homework.

Anyone have any thoughts on inspiration in unlikely places? Or eavesdropping on (loud) strangers’ conversations to find things to write about?

2 Replies to “Inspiration in Unlikely Places, or The Relative Merits of Eavesdropping in the Library”

  1. I think it is a common habit–no–an obligation of writers to eavesdrop. The only way to develop an “ear for dialogue” or an understanding of character is through close observation of real people. Dialogue and character may be more prevalent in prose writing than poetry but they bleed into poetry as well. And, of course, eavesdropping also yields an abundance of insight into cultural patterns of speaking; How many times do you hear “like” in a day? or hear a sentence fragment followed by a grunt of frustration and an extravagant gesticulation?

    I’ve been eavesdropping from a young age and I think it’s only gotten worse (or better, depending on your point of view) as the years go by. In senior year of high school I would jot down things I overhead in the halls and cafeteria but I’ve since stopped. I always think I can store what I hear in my head but I’m wrong. So I’m glad you posted this because now I’ll be sure to get back to recording the things I hear and implement them (or not) in my writing somehow.

  2. Great post, Kallie – and response, Ethan! I love the idea that we’re OBLIGED to eavesdrop. Back in the day I used to assign writing exercises based around Overheard in NY. But then that website got overtaken by people making up what they’d heard, so became useless for said purposes. Glad to hear (pun intended) you’re both recording away…and that coastline phrase is very appealing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *