Where Does Your Poetry Come From?

Hi all!

I was reading through all the responses to my ‘found poetry’ post – lots of great stuff going on there. It lead me to think about where we find inspiration for our poetry.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written a poem – the one I shared last week was written freshman year of college (three years ago for me!), and since then poetry has been kind of a non-existent thing for me. I remember I used to get inspiration for my poetry at the Slam Poet Society; I would listen to some incredible performances in person, get a prompt, and off I’d go, full of ideas. We talked the first day in class about finding inspiration in music; and in my last post, we discovered a poet who found inspiration in other’s words.

As I work on regaining my poetry skillz, I wonder where I’ll be able to find my inspiration. Largely, so far, I’ve found it in the words themselves – words I’ve been desperate to use, to say, to love. With the writing exercises, I’m struggling to ‘fit’ in the box of the prompts, wanting to spill my words all over the place, with no organization, even if I am somehow feeling ‘inspired’ to write at that moment. It seems like, however, that kind of inspiration is going to lead me nowhere new, and so I’m seeking different sources. Are there different kinds of inspiration, that will lead to poems of different forms, shapes, pun-i-ness, etc?

What do you all use for inspiration? How do your different sources lead to different poems? What do you do to get past your ‘writer’s block’ – which I find especially difficult when attempting to write poetry? If we listen to music to garner inspiration, should we credit that music for all it gave us?

Lastly, I’d be really interested in hearing what inspiration feels like to you. Is it a collected focus, a will to work and research and refine? Is it vague, crazy, disorganized passion on the page? How do you make the feeling of your inspiration ‘work’ for you? Do you even need to feel inspired to write poetry? Is the source, and the depth, of your initial passion an integral piece of the work that will never disappear, even with extensive revision?

Thanks for your thoughts!

3 Replies to “Where Does Your Poetry Come From?”

  1. Hi Meghan!

    There are moments when I feel as though I shouldn’t be a writer because I’ll have this sudden urge to write something great and then I’ll sit at my computer with a Word document popped open and nothing will come out. But there is still something there in my chest kinda waiting to be written and I could feel it, I just can’t find the words. That’s what writer’s block feels like to me. That becomes undone when I go to workshop and listen to other people speaking about poetry and when I dissect poetry. But there are other times when that becomes undone. These times are random, sometimes when I read a good book I feel inspired because I want to be as good as said author, other times I’ll be walking in the afternoon or in the morning and the breeze will hit a certain way which will make me want to describe it. And of course, there are, the inevitable troubles of the heart and of life which will carry me sleepless to my laptop. I find though, that one of the most effective ways through which I reach inspiration is through the conversations around me. Sometimes, I’ll be creepily sitting at a desk studying and listening to everything around me, and someone will say something interesting or thought-provoking to their friend and I will feel the need to write about it. And then there are ideas, which we learn in class or in general conversations with our friends which seem shallow or superficial but are in fact deeper than we all acknowledge. I tend to get inspired at parties, while everyone is drunk and I’m drunk but leaning against a wall watching the world pass me by.

    But when I do have writer’s block, I resign to it. Choosing not to force a poem for the sake of forcing it. I have a theory that this is how bad poems are written (though that’s probably not true). Instead, I read other poets and philosophers, or learn about some obscure thing which I find repulsive, strange, or interesting. I spend a lot of time alone and take long walks. Sometimes my writer’s block leaves in the middle of the day and I’ll have a poem that must come out at exactly that moment, but I won’t have the time. I’ll jot down the word or the idea quickly and go about my day, then later I am able to flesh out the word and the idea into something long and raw that has been hiding inside of me for days and has chosen to take form in this specific idea for some inexplicable reason.

    I’m not sure if this answers your question at all, but this is how I go about writing a poem.

  2. Hi Meghan!
    I really enjoyed reading your post!

    I think that inspiration comes from pretty much everywhere, but I think it comes mainly from obsession. I’ve been interested in combining math and science in writing since senior year of high school. I just declared a Geology as a second major, and I’m taking Mineralogy as a class for that major. I am sooooo obsessed with minerals and how they work and why they’re important in Geology right now, because of that class. This interested transitioned into a poem last week. I wrote a poem about Halite, it started off with the phrase “Sodium-chloride crystalline cubes,” but transitioned into a poem that focused on the feelings and imagery associated with snowplows going down the neighborhood roads before five o’clock on a school day morning. I think that going off of some obsession (especially one that it’s English-y in nature) can be the very best prompt. For science creative writing, specifically, I think that finding scenes and metaphors that relate to what you want to write about is the best way to approach it.
    A new prompt that I’ve been trying is kind of word focused. It’s very much a “I have no idea what to write” sort of prompt. Usually in instances where I’m not sure what to write, I have a word running through my head, like tired or hungry. I write that word repetitively in my notebook until I get it out of my system. (Last time I did this prompt I ended up with eight “tired”s in a row). Then I come up with a word for each letter (tepid, intelligence, putrid, elephant, delirious). Then I make a poem that uses all those words.

    To me inspiration is this feeling of intense excitement. During freshman year I accidentally gave myself a sugar/caffeine high around eleven o’clock at night from eating Oreos and drinking too much tea, and I ended up rolling around on the floor for a good six minutes. It was just this state of happy insanity. I think that’s what inspiration feels like for me most of the time. When I’m writing something I love, I’m excited and constantly talking about it.
    On another lesser level, I feel like inspiration can sort of feel like this gum-chewing, red lipstick, clipping high-heels on tile, sort of confidence, where you know that you’re the boss and whatever you’re doing is going to work. Other times I feel like writing, is just writing. And that it’s going to be done whether or not you have the inspiration to back it up or not.
    Sometimes writing feels like a cup of tea, comfy socks, and a bit of nervousness as you stare at the page. I wouldn’t call that feeling inspiration, but I would say that it’s as much a part of the process as inspiration.
    Thanks for writing this post! I really enjoyed thinking about inspiration!

  3. Hi Meghan! You’ve posed so many great questions here. Attempting to answer them has done two things for me. One, forced me to delve into a level of introspection about my work that I haven’t explored since last semester’s poetry workshop. Two, helped me to realize that I need to spend more time in this introspective space to come up with some answers to these questions.

    I agree with Lizzie. Inspiration, indeed, can come from anywhere, and obsession (even passion) is definitely one way in which I draw inspiration for my poetry, as well. But I find it isn’t always that obvious; it doesn’t always hit me over the head. To explain: I’m obsessed with the ways in which the human body can present itself or be presented via language. Thus, my poems are (perhaps, too) often body-centric, and inspired by my observations of the bodies that surround me on a daily basis. But sometimes, I draw inspiration from things that surprise me: a song, a joke, an overheard quote from a Freshman during a fire drill, a website I stumble upon, a video I can’t stop watching, the list is pretty much endless. I think maybe if I were to try to put into one phrase “what I am inspired by,” I would say “things that distract me.” A song that gets stuck in my head, a joke at which I laugh a bit too hard, an overheard quote that draws me out of conversation, a video that prevents me from getting my work done. These are things I like to (try) to write about. Though, usually, I don’t end up writing about these things, just using them as frameworks or jumping off points for poems that almost always become inevitably more personal.

    Thanks for getting me into this thought space again!


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