Monday, August 25, 2008

How to Get Ideas For Poems

Occasionally, persons who are not, or who do not see themselves as, writers of poetry, fiction, drama, and the like ask persons who do write such stuff, "How do you get ideas for [poetry, fiction, drama, etc.]?" I can't speak for all or really any of such writers; nonetheless, I suspect some of them might agree with my sense that a lot of writers find it fairly easy to "get ideas." It's the writing itself that is sometimes, maybe even often, the difficulty. It's one thing to have a good or great idea for a short story. It's another to write that short story, and it's still another to make that story as good as you think it needs to be.

In any event, a while back I wrote a poem about how to get ideas for poems. Perhaps the title is too obvious. I'm not sure.

How to Get Ideas for Poems

It's surprisingly easy. Since you're already in
your mind, even if others claim you're not, just
look around in there and see what's on the shelves
and prairies, in the tunnels and trade-shows::
sharks, appliances, jeans, turnips, primal scenes.
Maybe foaming dog-mouths full of teeth.

Scan acres and acres of words--native, transplanted,
farmed, found, pilfered, grafted, milled, mulched. It's
a little known fact that poems are made of words.

Allergies and outrages are good. Grudges, too.
Love? Sure. Why not? Do what you have to do.
You and your mind are already in the world,
in spite of jokes philosophers tell, so you don't
have to make special trips to peaks, Paris,
bull-fighting rings, deserts, or dance-halls
to find what advertisers call inspiration.

If you want inspiration, just keep breathing.
(If you want anything, just keep breathing.)
The poems will follow. Some ideas will cling
the way stickers stab socks when you walk
through brush and grass. Others will settle--
shadow, soot, silt, and shock. Some will pound
on the mind's door like a drunken neighbor
who came back to the wrong house. Some

will whisper and mumble like spies, gossips,
gamblers, and prophets. Basically, just
let it slip that you're a poet. The news
will get around your mind, and there will be
no end to the ideas. You'll have to
fight them off with poems.

Hans Ostrom

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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