A young poet had posted a question on one of the poetry boards I follow, asking how people find inspiration for their poetry. I though it an odd question and began looking at the comments below, because I too have often wondered how some people decided to come up with the things they did. Was it life experience? An inner darkness? Did they pick a topic out of nowhere? As I read I found myself disappointed at some of the comments, others I realized had a great deal of depth, but most of them agreed it was usually something involving empathy. Emphasizing with a person or with themselves.
I didn’t realize so many people had methods to focus their poetry. It made my methods seem chaotic and annoying. Often I just feel it happen. I narrate my life in my own head considerably, and often not down ideas for poems or verses and run with them. Other times, I find books at rummage sales and thrift stores that seem really intellectual or boring, then I use them to make blackout poetry. I can’t tell you how many hours I spend pouring over phrases and tracking the ones that work together with different kinds of pencil marks. Sometimes they just become heir own poems when I take one line and run with the basic idea of that phrase. Other times, I can make a small poem out of a page or two of text.
Of course, I avoid using poetry books. It’s too easy. Usually I find romance novel paper backs, old text books, informational books you know are outdated beyond reason. Occasionally a magazine article can provide a humorous context for a poem, since most articles are witty and humorous, seething in sarcasm and cunning as most writers tend to lean. Political commentaries have become a wonderful challenge to creat poetry from, and often give a sense of tension and anger when I use them for the exercise.
I have had a book since I was 13 that I have been giving black out poetry a try in. When I was young I began my own Altered Book. An altered book is a kind of scrap book of life, but it is terribly unorganized and random. Some people have really cool things they do with altered books, like creating entires art installments, but mine is just a bunch of collected pieces of paper, poetry, candy wrappers, ticket stubs, brochures, etc… Things that have represented events in my life.
Anyway, the book I have is called “Inside the U.S.A” by John Gunther published in 1947. I bought it at a library sale when my aunt was taking me to a Paper Source for a class on altered books. I enjoyed myself greatly at the class and I still keep trucking along on the book, though it is quite full now, and I haven’t used that many pages (starting to think I ought to start hollowing things out). But now I find myself trying to make poetry about the political climates it refers to. About the landscapes and agriculture it references. I often find myself wondering about the people and names described and keep them highlighted for character ideas were I to ever get around to writing more short stories.
This book poses many interesting challenges. The first being there is little to nothing poetic about this book. It’s blunt and informational. Telling of political corruptions. Faulty infrastructure. The over all climate of the Mormon culture and it’s politics. Things I don’t find relevant to my life, or much empathy for. But what I find fascinating about using his method is how out-of-the-box it makes you think about certain phrases. Phrases like “the climate changes” out of context can mean so much. Another, “political corruption” can become a metaphor for a broken relationship or some kind of disturbance in nature.
My method isn’t really as astounding as the methods of some, but it like how it feels. I like the research. I like the puzzle of finding the words that piece together. I like the tidbits of perspective I get from reading those paragraphs over and over. I like putting things down on paper and feeling them out.
Mostly, I just like to write.