This question – “What inspires you as a poet?” – comes in a number of forms fairly regularly, at least monthly. There are a number of interpretations of the question, and for each interpretation, there are multiple answers. Here are the main ones:
What fills your spirit, quickens your blood, or causes you to sigh in recognition or gasp upon viewing, reading, hearing, etc.?
Many things. So many things. A half-rainbow over the highway, black clouds in the background. Rachmaninoff’s Vespers or Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups.
Not that long ago Frank Gaspar’s marvelous collection, Late Rapturous, drew me in like a fish. And then I got to this poem about a fish (sort of) – “When You Saw the Lightning” – and several lines in, I’m nodding to myself, and my heart’s beating, and I get to this:
I don’t / know why you would even listen to anything in a poem / except that it might stop you for a moment, it might / make you lift your head and look around in just that / lonely hour of the day or night when the world isn’t / quite enough.
My mind and spirit leapt and cried, “Yes!”
Why do you write poetry?
Because I can and because it makes me happy… because I like the process and the product. Is it okay to say that I enjoy my poems? I do. Interesting thoughts go through my mind frequently, and they amuse me, and often I think how cool those thoughts might look written down. And I wonder how they’ll end up, because I know the process from mind to page causes the start and finish to look very different. And all of this gets me jazzed.
I also write because when I don’t write, I feel rather jammed up. It sometimes even feels like hands on my throat, if I don’t take the time to put thoughts and feelings into words.
Oh, and I write poetry in particular because I have yet to have success at novels and short-story writing, though I enjoy reading both. I’ve written several really fun first pages of what could end up a mystery or thriller. But then I get stuck on what should happen next. And I’ve yet to figure out how to get to page two.
What is your inspiration to write a poem?
This interpretation is really about the prompt, the idea that causes you to start writing (which may not end up being what you’ve written about in the end at all, but you have to start with something). The prompt is the sand in the oyster shell. You can search out prompts online, buy a book of prompts, join a group of writers who will give each other prompts. I’ve done all these things.
But lately, for me it’s a matter of being open and listening to my life. This requires time, but really a particular kind of time – the uncrowded hour. Really, an uncrowded ten minutes can work, too, but an hour is even better. It’s opening up the schedule and closing the door to interruptions – both physical and mental.
Ironically, rejection always gets me writing, too. Probably because I’m so darn stubborn and counter-suggestible. You tell me you don’t want my stinking poem? Fine, I’ll write another one.
Kelly Belmonte is Poetry Editor for Literary Life