“One of the most important pieces of busywork that I do as a poet is to keep a running anthology of my favorite poems. I have an actual manila folder where I gather these poems, and it contains, at any given time, up to a hundred poems. It’s vital to me to have a hard copy of each poem, even if I own the poet’s book. In this way, at any moment I can sit with the folder and leaf through the poems. The collection in the manila folder feels like an ongoing representation of my poetic affections.
In this online exclusive we ask authors to share books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired them in their writing. We see this as a place for writers to turn to for ideas that will help feed their creative process.
“When I hit a wall in my writing, my first impulse is to try bashing my way through. I hunch and grit my teeth and commence an endless cycle of writing very laboriously, then cross out everything I’ve written and start anew. This is my initial tendency when I encounter most problems: I worry and waste a lot of time and energy trying to fix them, even if they can’t be solved right then and there, even if the situation is out of my hands.
“When I am stuck, I walk. I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I walk, nor when I travel by train or bus, because I want all of my senses to be centrally alive to what’s around: the music that lurks in the crevices of city sounds, forest sounds, desert sounds.
“I walk along the beach and look at the sea. I call a friend. I take a train journey and sit by the window. I drink a small glass of red wine. I go to the cinema. I ride my bike fast, so that my hair streams out behind me. I cry. I read Eimear McBride. I make soup. I listen to Nick Cave. I go swimming. I sit in the sun with my eyes closed. I wash dishes. I read Jenny Offill. I write in my journal. I dance to Northern Soul. I drink coffee. I have a long, hot shower. I read Hannah Sullivan poems. I call my mother. I take photographs of different textures of light. I make a shopping list.
“It can be hard to show up to a long-term project on a difficult topic. Who wants to dive into grief and mourning and loss every day for years? To experience grief and write about it is to exist in two cities—one in which you actually live and the other in which your previous life exists and your dead are still alive. Writing can sometimes feel like floating somewhere between these two spaces without being able to materialize either landscape fully.
“In the past decade, a relationship formed between my living and my writing. Over the years, I questioned and tested this relationship—for its reality and then its boundaries. For example, right now, I am stuck in my writing. Whether it’s poetry, translation, or prose, the next words won’t come, and if I try to force the words, the doom will grow with ferocity. It’s not that I’m stuck in my writing; I am stuck somewhere in my living. Then I do what I fear doing.
“When I’m stuck writing fiction, I sometimes take a walk through my neighborhood—the Garvanza section of Highland Park in Los Angeles. I’ve lived here for more than thirteen years. What inspires me? Kids having birthday parties, adults playing baseball, and a ranchera band performing in the park across the street. The slope at the edge of the parking lot of the Korean church, where teenagers make videos of each other doing high-flying skateboard tricks. The man and woman who set up a grill in their front yard and make carne asada tacos, which they sell to passersby. Ice cream trucks.
“My problem isn’t writer’s block—it’s writer’s doubt. I sit down but I often doubt that I can finish what’s in front of me. So, I’m not a writer who typically experiences dry spells—a block, for me, is an overwhelming number of pages and little idea which direction to go in. If I feel overwhelmed, I listen to William Basinski’s ‘dlp 1.1’ from The Disintegration Loops, the 2012 reissued box set released by Temporary Residence.
“For a jolt of creative energy I often leave my small apartment in Harlem and ride the subway to an area of New York City I have not previously visited. Some days I find a spot to take in an expansive vista—a long canyon of buildings in Midtown Manhattan, the wide East River running toward one of the ancient bridges. In Brooklyn, I might study a piece of outdoor art or the weathered front of a two-story clapboard house.
“To me, the way millennial distractibility has been cast as inattentiveness is unfair. Distractibility gives me access to experiences I wouldn’t have without the internet, and these varied experiences make up the foundation of my writing. Being distractible allows me to encounter things that I wouldn’t with a higher attention.