Invention, Invitation, Inspiration
Some time ago I was asked to moderate a panel on inspiration at the Kauai Writers Conference. No problem, I thought. All the panelists were best-selling authors, all brilliant writers: Christina Baker Kline, Meg Wolitzer, and Greg Iles. This was going to be easy, fun—inspiring even. I had met Kline before; last July she and I shared a stage with Lily King at Poets & Writers Live in Portland, Maine, and in Kauai we picked up right where we had left off, with a conversation about the inspiration for her next novel, Tin Ticket, during which she told a lovely anecdote about a book she had given her father, a book she found on his shelf after her mother died. Wolitzer too opened up about one of her influences—writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron—and how Ephron was one of the inspirations for her most recent novel, The Female Persuasion. Both authors gamely answered questions about creativity. Iles, however, wasn’t having it. The author of seventeen novels, most recently Cemetery Road, he resisted any notion of afflatus, preferring a no-nonsense approach: You show up, you do the work. In other words he made my job as a moderator difficult—and I was grateful. By resisting the premise of our conversation, Iles breathed new life into it and, perhaps unwittingly, inspired our audience by demonstrating how inspiration can take many forms, including a resistance to the very notion that it can be cultivated.
I was reminded of this during a lunch honoring National Book Award poetry finalists Carmen Giménez Smith and Ilya Kaminsky, held a few hours before the fancy awards ceremony (at which Arthur Sze won for Sight Lines). Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic, offered a refreshing perspective on the world of literary competition. “Prizes are like a bicycle,” he said, “You ride to the park, or you ride to the waterfront, or you ride downtown, and then you come home and you keep writing your poems.”
In this issue, in addition to studying the awe-inspiring artwork of Diane Samuels and sharing the energy of ideas generated by our fifteenth annual group of debut poets, we demystify two topics of much consternation among writers—rejection and writer’s block. Generally considered antagonists to inspiration, these obstacles take on a different light in the minds of our contributors, so that in the new year we might consider new ways of understanding old ideas: Writer’s block is an invention, rejection is an invitation, prizes are a bicycle, and everything, everything holds the potential for inspiration.