"I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen" ~ Say Anything, 1989.
The Muses of Poetry: Inspiration and Where to Find It
Poetry Happens. It just appears. No, I don’t think so. Poetry does not happen without an inspiration. Not good poetry, anyway. You cannot make poetry materialize out of nothing. Every poem, every verse, every line, every word was put into motion by an unseen stimulation. From the tiny prismatic dew drops in a spider’s web, to the systematic procession of afternoon rush hour, a muse’s manifestation varies as much as the poets themselves. What inspires poets to compose poetry? There can be as many answers to this question as there are poets.
Ancient poets relied on ‘supernatural’ inspiration when writing poetry. Greek mythology was not lacking its share of benevolent and malevolent forces. The daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (ni móssənee), the nine Muses took pleasure in the affairs of humans. Capable of inspiring a mortal to write, they were considered a significant part of not only the world of Greek mythology, but also the Greek world of reality. Anytime a writer, sculptor or philosopher was motivated to produce a beautiful creation, he thanked the Muses for their blessing. On the flip side, if an artist was struggling to produce a work, he prayed to the Muses that he might be inspired. In the English dictionary, the word “muse” can either mean “an artist’s inspiration” or “to ponder thoroughly.
Without the literary impetus, however, the composer is horribly lost. Like a sail without wind, if there is nothing, the ship cannot be expected to move. This lack of a muse is called “Writer’s block”. “Writer’s block” has been described as a period of time of little or no productivity due to a lack of inspiration. This can become potentially deadly to a poet’s livelihood (or grades) if the problem persists which, in some cases, has lasted up to a week, a month or even years. “Writer’s block” has many different and supposed cures, if you will. People have tried taking vacations, scribbling down thoughts, visiting the Maharishi and sometimes, just taking a time-out from writing.
Those blessed few people capable of churning out poetry have a rare talent not bestowed on mere mortals. These ‘supernatural rhymesters’ are able to immerse themselves so seamlessly into their environments and certain situations only to resurface later with poetry. They are able to find inspiration in anything ~ “the mysterious notes one finds in the margins of used books, lingerie catalogs, houseplants, nursery rhyme characters, music or even a wet dog”. This is a true poet and pure poetry. Not unlike the Japanese haiku writers who wrote simply about nature, the enlightened poets, those who are inspired, write not just about the natural world, but about the human world, through their eyes; a description of their world, fictional or not.
Billy Collins, America’s former Poet Laureate, explains his struggle with writing poetry: “…I used to try to force them (his poems), and they just got worse and worse, like a painter that tries to fix a painting in the wrong way and paints too much until it all turns to mud.” In his poem, How Poetry Comes to Me, poet Gary Snyder writes:
It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light
You may or may not know this, but I am a poet. Yes, a real poet, if being a real poet means you have been published or won an award for writing poetry. It all started with a Hershey’s hug, Mrs. Laustsen, and an eight grade English assignment. ‘Write an ode to a Hershey’s Hug’, she said. I love chocolate and I like a good grade every now and then, and those two things were the inspiration in themselves. As I told you, inspiration can come from anywhere.
Ode to a Hershey’s Hug by Marsh
Foil wrapped hug upon my book,
I am wishing to eat, but can only look
At the shiny exterior with a flag
And the dark brown stripes that zig and zag.
You are forbidden to me as of now,
But when the poem is done, I will say “Wow”.
“What a creamy little thing you are,
You take me away to lands afar!”
But then I realize, I’ve had better.
A piece of Godiva makes my mouth wetter.
This was not the award-winning poem, but it was published.
Poetry, good poetry at least, more often than not inspires it’s readers to read and compose more poetry. In some ways this is how poetry proliferates over the generations. Like pollen from one flower fertilizes the next, so does poetry inspire that which is in the impressionable young minds of future generations of poets. In the poem “The Trouble With Poetry”, even Billy Collins, the current Poet Laureate of New York, admits to poetry’s irresistible qualities encouraging him to write more poetry “More guppies crowding the fish tank, more baby rabbits hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.” It is an infallible truth: excellent poetry begets more excellent poetry.
Poetry does not function or exist without the people and the world that inspires it. In order to properly understand how to write poetry you must first understand what it is made of. Poetry is man trying to describe life to a world without seeing or hearing; instead of using senses it uses feelings. May there always be inspiration for him to do so.