The Creative Process: It’s All Greek to Me

Immediately after my final exams were over, and I turned in my portfolio for ENGL 201, I had to pack for a HUMN 220 trip to Greece. This trip was definitely a bucket list trip for me, ever since I picked up D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and read it until the spine almost came apart. As I packed, I wondered about Greece’s imprint in Western Civilization, and how I would walk the same streets as Plato, Saint Paul, and so many great thinkers. It blew my mind. Still does.

However, when I was there, I was overwhelmed by what little came out of my pen. Here I was, in Greece, spending some days in an Athenian apartment with ten girls, one working bathroom, and no air conditioning, and other days in Santorini, where the waters are the most beautiful royal blue I’ve ever seen. I read Dante’s Inferno and St. Augustine’s Confessions and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, some of the major works in the literary canon. Two of my favorite moments in the Inferno were Francesa’s retelling of her love affair with Paolo and Dante’s tutor’s moving response to Dante’s queries.  I enjoyed the Greek nightlife with my friends, and got wasted soon after drinking ouzo. I also experienced several moments of profound spirituality, such as when I visited the Mount Parnassus and the Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi resided. The view of the eroding temple, contrasted against stark dark mountains and a green valley, is a view I will remember forever, and that place contained a mystical energy that kept me silent and reflective on the bus ride back. In Corinth, I stood on a platform where Saint Paul preached, right in the center of the agora. On that platform, there was a plaque with a quote from 2 Corinthians: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal height of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians, 1:17) That same energy that struck me at Mount Parnassus was there as well.

However, all I came up with writing-wise was drivel. All my poems were about the same. Each poem had three stanzas, a female speaker, and a plot about a relationship with an emotionally unavailable man.  I should have been creatively flourishing in a new environment, in a place many people (including myself) dream of going.  On the repeated bus trips, I would stare at my writer’s notebook in disbelief, either losing my train of thought or furious that the poem that I thought was original turned out to have the same pattern.

I spent the rest of that summer in a creative drought, instead occupying my summer with work in a teaching assistant position, visiting friends and relatives, and preparing for my sophomore year of college. I am so excited for this poetry workshop because it will put me into a creative routine, something that I’ve been missing ever since Greece. I became very close with my ENGL 201 class last semester, and I felt affirmed by both their praise and critiques of my work and each other’s work. My work was better than it had ever been before, and I’m so excited to spend the semester in the company of my fellow poets, writing regularly so that it fills the blank page.

One Reply to “The Creative Process: It’s All Greek to Me”

  1. I understand the ‘drought’ completely.

    It seems counterintuitive, because people don’t think of ‘art’ in these terms, but it very often seems like the best things come out of routine, not spontaneity. We think that we need to wait for inspiration to strike, and that it will happen when new and exciting things are going on.

    I’ve come to believe that most often poetry doesn’t happen ‘during’, but in the ‘after’. At least for me. I’ve tried to look at it like drawing – 90% of what we’re doing is the practice sketches. It’s why Lytton’s weekly poem’s are actually really great – even when you feel like your writing is crap, you keep pushing through and eventually you’ll surprise yourself again.

    That said, I wouldn’t feel too bad about having a creative drought now and again. Maybe it means that soon there’ll be a flood.

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