Sunday, March 23, 2014

Calling to the Muses

"Where do you get the inspiration for your [insert chosen media here]?” is an inquiry often heard in the “question and answer” portion of any typical artistic event. I heard it tonight at a poetry reading on Lakeland College’s campus, where Stephanie Lenox, a poet from Oregon, read from her debut collection, Congress of Strange People, as well as some of her newer, not-yet-published work.

The poems that Lenox chose to read are characteristically odd in their subject matter. They’re monologues of world-record holders (Dean Sheldon for example, who holds the world record for holding both the largest scorpion and the most scorpions at one time in his mouth). They’re odes to the ampersand and the word um. They’re poems about what bosses and secretaries would do in heaven. They’re weird in the best kind of way.

“How the hell do you come up with this (awesome) stuff?” seems like a natural enough question. “Where do you get the inspiration for your poems?” is probably a more appropriate one. Lenox answered this by saying something along the lines of “I start with things that frustrate me—that I can’t figure out or that I need to know more about.” As an example, she explained that she kept getting mad at herself for using the word um when she’s speaking. Upon trying to figure out why she (and most of the general population) does this, she decided to write about this frustration that turned into an ode to the word um.

Now there’s something. If I wrote a poem about all of the things that frustrated me, I could probably fill an entire library.  Jokes aside, listening to all of this inspiration talk tonight got me thinking about the things that inspire my writing. I tend to write about things that just won’t leave my mind—the things I obsess over or dwell on endlessly, no matter how mundane. For example, when I moved into my first apartment, I became obsessed with candles. I always had (and still have, honestly) one or more candles burning in my apartment. They’re always around, and consequently, in the months I’ve been living here, I’ve written multiple candle poems (Yes, candles to me are like cats to a cat lady—sadly, there are no pets allowed in my apartment, or I might be writing more cat poems).

In the end, though, I think I like Lennox’s method better than mine. I believe that the quest to know stuff, to figure things out, should be at the heart of writing. What’s the point of writing about something if the very idea of it is set in stone, unmalleable, unchanging? All in all, I think getting a little frustrated and seeking to understand that frustration is a great starting point for any creative work. I’m going to try it, but don’t be surprised if my next poem is titled “Please Drive Faster or Get Out of the Left Lane.” 

-Katie Amundsen 

1 comment:

Sig. said...

Someone famous (I can't remember who) once said, "No discovery for the writer means no discovery for the reader." That's a horrible paraphrase, but you get the idea. I've found that it's true. My best work is the stuff I struggle with -- the stuff that I keep turning over and over in my brain until, eventually, I can begin to understand it.