“I am very interested in cities and places, and in having conversations with them. Research and lists are big for me. Often, lists I make become poems unto themselves. Notes from my research make some of the strongest lines in my poems, I’ve found, or, like the lists, turn into poems of their own. I began my book The Straits in response to the sparse but lyrical narration in a Russian film, Palms, so I find listening for refrains and cadences—anywhere and everywhere—then responding to them highly evocative.
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.
“I loved that moment at the 2008 Oscars when Glen Hansard closed his acceptance speech with this exhortation to the world: ‘Make art. Make art.’ As a writer, I try to ‘make art,’ but all too often the twenty-first century’s ubiquitous, on-demand distractions interfere and keep me from getting to that place where I can apply a fierce commitment and single-minded focus to the act of creation.
“I need to feel invested in life to write. So I dance to music that compels life into my body: any from the old hippie Broadway musicals—Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair—any Latin ballroom or belly dance, any Jay-Z, Madonna, Run-DMC, George Michael, Black Eyed Peas and I'm at ‘Boom Boom Pow’ with life.
“The first and most visible source of inspiration for my poems is other poems. A less voluble influence is abstract art. I like seeing if I can hear the visual voice in the colored grids of Gerhard Richter and Ellsworth Kelly; in the subtle pink math of Agnes Martin; in the reflective sapphire of an Anish Kapoor floor sculpture; in the regimented presentation of red, yellow, and blue in a horizontal Donald Judd progression. I admire the treatment of Scotch tape by Tara Donovan and Tom Friedman.
“To break from the heavy lifting of writing moderately vulgar dark comedies, first I will turn to Rimbaud’s Une Saison en enfer for some light reading. Then I will wander outside to see if there are any important public gatherings. If there are no gatherings, I return to the house and head downstairs to the basement where I will spend a few minutes adding to my bottle cap collage of the Nuremberg Trial. For lunch, I boil one egg and eat it on dry bread. This is a crucial moment in the writing day, for it is now that I remember the jar of orange marmalade in the refrigerator.
“If you’re writing a book that no one is waiting for, buy the debut album of an indie band—not the latest darlings, but an underappreciated act—a band like Pittsburgh’s Meeting of Important People.
“The best advice I ever got about writing was from Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, in which he talks about the writer’s need to be ‘willing’ to shut the door on the world for a few hours a day. He suggests writing one thousand to two thousand words a day, without editing or planning ahead.
“Lately I’ve been listening to Homer’s Odyssey on CD. Listening to classics on CDs is a part of my yoga practice. Because I am taking in this material while concentrating on breathing and physical effort—and also because I’m listening rather than reading—my mind seems to move into a right-brain, nonanalytic state. This piques my creativity, while it also hones my focus and mental reflexes for the long term, much as meditation does.
“(1) Most important, I recommend patience—which I have to remind myself of all the time. So often, I get excited about a poem in progress and start to spin my wheels, which I do for a week or two until it’s time to set the poem aside. Then, sometimes months later, I find a new angle or approach and the poem begins to move again.
Incidentally, the same is true for reading. How often did I read a brilliant writer and think I disliked his/her work when I just wasn’t ready for it?
“Storytellers inspire me. I listen intently then let my imagination take over. Characters need to be fully rendered in my head before they make it into any story. I try to read new writers, but there are a few books I return to again and again. When I want to analyze ways to portray dysfunctional family bonds and relationships, I revisit Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is full of delightful inspiration.