Here I am again, between projects and while deeply satisfied with my last collection of poems, “Let the Scaffolding Collapse” (Finishing Line press, 2012), I also find myself deeply unsure if there is new inspiration that will emerge for me as a writer. I’ve spent a few years shedding the lexicon of the previous collection but the fresh vocabulary of new work still eludes me.
In the best moments, I use the imagery of a fallow field to acknowledge the fact that when I sit down to write, there is a dark silence in my mind and nothing appears to grow from it. I contemplate emptiness not as a deficiency, rather a space for unlimited potential. In moments of panic, I believe I’m washed up and that my best work is behind me. This leads to avoiding the writing process altogether— a big mistake I believe (though it’s difficult to see why spending time in an empty field is of any consequence in this in-between state). It’s at times like this I draw on the wisdom of mentors and role models.
Author and photographer Christina Nealson is a person committed to inspired living. At a writing workshop she facilitated, she emphasized the idea that when one creates the space and intention to invite the Muse to dine with us on a daily basis, there is a greater likelihood for it to show up. This makes sense. My general approach has been to wait until I’m struck by inspiration, then pull to the side of the road, step out of the meeting, or leave the dinner table to start writing frantically, not wanting to lose that sudden spark. That hasn’t happened for a long time now, so I’m trying the sure and steady method for a while. Every day I write a few spare lines of mostly personal journal babble, filling in the gaps with collage or doodling. I believe something will emerge from this effort and in any case, it's fun.
Intentionally making space for beauty is a value that another inspirational person in my life, artist Sonja Horoshko, impressed upon me. I’ve watched her studio, Art Juice Studio, move from place to place over the years. It even existed as a “cardboard” studio in her back yard one summer in which deconstructed appliance boxes made walls that held space for remarkable student and mentor work to emerge. Art Juice “Studio” in the end appears to exist not as a single address but as something that permeates the moments of her daily life. I learned from her that a life imbued with generativity exists in small creative gestures: using beautiful cloth napkins and colorful dishes at every meal, placing one stem in a vase, or rendering one small pebble from a vast landscape. These offerings add up to a life constantly filled with creative moments (rather than mundane tasks) and they are the stepping stones to keeping creative inspiration alive.
In the end, it may be that the process counts as much as the end product. In his essay “Virtue Aesthetics” Steve Neumann describes a poet’s process as one that supports a life of “flourishing” which involves an integration of personal process and art. He states “to live the good life, one has to incorporate certain experiences, traits or tendencies that dispose one to act in certain ways, just as a flower absorbs light and water, and nutrients from the soil, and then manifests its particular “virtues” of color and form — in other words, it thrives as a flower.”
He draws on the poet Levertov’s idea that writing poetry requires a “faithful attention”. According to Levertov, “What many people don’t recognize is that poets write poems from the same impulse that others read them. People turn to poems (if they are aware poetry exists) for some kind of illumination, for revelations that help them to survive, to survive in spirit not only in body. These revelations are usually not of the unheard-of but of what lies around us unseen or forgotten. Or they illuminate what we feel but don’t know we feel until it is articulated.” The poet’s process encourages an openness to experience, sensitivity to the nuances of experience as well as creativity and these virtues support a flourishing life.
I found myself this morning contemplating the image of a hen scratching for corn in the dirt as a metaphor for my brain searching out new words. I was about to jot it down in my journal when I remembered that I had used this image already at some previous in-between time:
When the muse dies
words rustle and break
under the weight of ordinariness.
The breath catches
at the sudden expanse
beyond the peak
of a mountain trail,
sighs at heading downhill again.
The pen scratches like a chick
looking for corn.
The mind is a dog
hunting prairie dogs or baby rabbits
in the burrows and dens
-from “If There is a Center, No One Knows Where It Begins” (Art Juice Press, 2008)
It’s still a good image. And somewhere a new image, a new topic, a new process exists. In the meantime, onward with the endeavor of not so much to write a good poem, but to be invigorated by the creative process – every day.