Living Sources, Dead Sources

Hi all!

I’ve been thinking about the deceased as a source for my poetry lately. Grace’s source showcase last week made me think about how we use living people as sources in very specific ways: their movements, behavioral quirks, noises, the way the walk or move their hands, etc; versus how lost ones would inspire poetry: more distilled, more in memories, etc.

Living sources are easy to write about because their behaviors and physical qualities are right in front of us. However, it’s obvious that we have all lost people in our lifetime, and I don’t think any agency is given to the way in which the dead can inspire a living poem; specifically, how the distance that death grants us from people (literally) is healthy for forging a new poetic space in which that person is reassessed.

Writing from the dead is important because it allows us to practice writing about people who aren’t physically present: which is especially useful when your ‘living’ sources are not in your immediate space or when you have been distanced from them long enough that their behavioral quirks aren’t fresh in your memory, your poetic mind’s eye. For me, personally, I’ve found that there are certain people I haven’t been able to ‘write in’ to my poetry until they were dead. Yes, I realize this sounds aggressive, or maybe that I was waiting for these people to die my whole life. Of course that isn’t the case. I’ve just never written them into my poetry while they were alive, because the feelings I had toward them were so complicated. I never wanted to dwell on it. Of course, death doesn’t just eradicate complicated feelings for people. But it does make you question the way you are going to store someone in your memory. And for me, the problematic figures in my life that have passed away are essential to my upbringing and roots, and so I am aware that as a poet I must fossilize them in my work in some way, so i can acknowledge more closely how I became the person i am today. This awareness of the other person grants me a higher awareness of myself.

The people that I haven’t been able to write about until after they died have been problematic people in my life. But of course, problematic people are also worth writing about, perhaps moreso than ones that aren’t.

Grief recharges our memory, brings to the foreground of our brains events or images we thought we had forgotten. It’s painful to relive the experiences you had with a person when they were alive. Having lost a very problematic figure in my life recently, I’m realizing that I am writing about him more. Or at least I am sparked to write about him, I feel like I have to, and I’ve been wrestling with this impulse for the past few weeks and trying to satiate it. But then I thought–My brain is telling me to write about this person. It might have the right idea.  In a way, grief is a good way to break writer’s block. Ironically.

Any thoughts on living vs dead sources? Are any of you guys specifically motivated or inspired by grief or deceased persons in your life? Maybe a deceased celebrity?


Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend!






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