Monday, April 26

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, April 26, 2010 16 comments
Years ago I picked up a gem at a used bookstore, Georgia Heard's Writing Toward Home. The title spoke to my identity crisis of the moment: My parents had retired to Florida, overwhelming me with a sense "you can't ever go home again." Heard's pithy and poetic chapters on developing a creative life are worth savoring. In a chapter entitled "Where does poetry hide?" she includes this poem:

Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to a counter, say "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them....
(Qtd. in Heard, Georgia. Writing Toward Home. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995. p. 10.)

I found tremendous encouragement in Heard's commentary on it. She says, "We don't necessarily need to change our lives around to be writers or to be writing more. We must change the way we look at our lives. By looking at the small, everyday circumstances and happenings, we find ideas to fill volumes."

Where have you found poetic or fictional material hiding in the everyday? Have you ever had a change in perspective--how you look at your life--that opened up a well of ideas for you?


  1. I LOVE this poem. It speaks to me on several levels.

    Yes, inspiration and ideas are everywhere. I am never short of material or inspiration, instead my 'problem' is the overwhelming number of them. Poems, story ideas, intriguing questions... they are everywhere.

    Thank you for sharing this poem with us.

    Please have a wonderful Monday,

  2. Usually, someone's blog post or twitter comment can spark a different perspective. Recently, it's "Be Happy." I have no idea where this writing thing will take me and it might turn out differently than I expect. But I can't let every rejection and the desire to be published affect my happiness. Why should it? So I'm trying to adopt that attitude. Not that rejection won't be hard, but I'm trying to lighten up!

  3. Stumbling on ideas is such a gift. I find haiku prompts in nature, which makes sense since that's what haiku is about. Sometimes I dream of characters for whom I want to develop stories. Occasionally, it's something someone else says or does that is the seed of inspiration. I guess we need to be open so we don't miss these opportunities.

  4. I love this poem (and this post) because it speaks of a shift in perspective. I recently realized from a blog post that "I am a writer" doesn't cut it. The verb "to do" is so much more powerful than "to be." Write, instead of talking about being a writer. That small shift in perspective has opened creative doors for me.

    Great post, Laurel!

  5. I LOVE this poem! I think inspiration is all around us, if we open ourselves up to it - and yes, I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true!

  6. My inspiration came, as cliche as it sounds, the day my daughter was born. I knew the second I held her, my life was never going to be the same again and I would do my darndest to make sure she never lived my life. I was inspired to take my dreams and fulfill them because if I didn't, what was I teaching her?

    I love that poem. It's gorgeous! thank you for sharing.

  7. People, places, moments... all of them offer ideas. And when I started writing in earnest, that changed my perspective utterly. Now I can't stop the ideas, and I wouldn't change a thing. (Except perhaps I'd make more time for writing instead of tweeting and blog-hopping. I might change that....)

  8. I have loved Naomi Shihab Nye from the first time I read one of her poems. Isn't she wonderful?! I love the message of today's post, Laurel. Thanks so much! :-)

  9. I adore that poem. I was always complimented for finding the magic in the mundane (back in the days when I wrote more poetry.) I used to find it hard to come up with plots -- but I've got ideas rolling around. Many of my ideas have sprung from the stories people tell me. It happens in the bank, it happened in the restaurant where I worked as a waitress, and sometimes it happens randomly. I find striking up conversations with strangers is the ultimate way to get material.

    Thanks for this post. Another beaut!

  10. Love that poem. I find working with kids opens a lot of doors into my imagination and the world of wonder and emotion. They're always good for a laugh and a lift :)

  11. Thanks for sharing that, love it! The world holds so many possibilities for writing. My challenge is reigning it all in. :)

  12. Lola: Enjoy the flow and keep good records because dry times can sneak up on you. Then the extra ideas will come in handy.

    Laura: Thanks for sharing that--it's very encouraging. Find joy in the journey, right?

    Tricia: Openness in the moment can bring such rewards. Finding space in one's life for it--now that's where I sometimes struggle.

    Nicole: I'm intrigued with your example. Hope you blog about it soon. :-)

    Talli: Glad it spoke to you. In times of stress, I have to at times be very deliberate about slowing down to listen for ideas.

  13. Anne: thanks for sharing that amazing story--striving to be a living example sounds life changing.

    Simon: The more we shift into writing mode, the more ideas do seem to come. Wishing you the best with finding the right balance for you between writing and networking.

    Shannon: Thanks. I'd never hear of the poet before, but liked this piece and Heard's comments on it and thought others might too.

    Amber: I don't find plot-making the easiest either, but the seeds of great ideas are there in those conversations.

    Jemi: Thanks for the great reminder. I think I need to hang out with my teen friends soon. They do help fill up my idea tank and just make me smile.

    Karen: I know what you mean--harnessing ideas to carry the story, instead of them stampeding. :-)

  14. Very lovely. I found inspiration in an info-mercial once. And sometimes documentaries. One of my most successful flash fiction came from listening to the discovery channel.

    I guess when I'm looking, I'll find it everywhere. I may not have a paradigme shift, but it gets me thinking differently about the people or things I'm seeing.


  15. Donna: I find ideas in pretty odd places too; I guess that's the magic of it, right?

  16. What a great poem. I love NSN. Yes, in answer to your question. In fact, my new script is based on life as I see it. And, looking at my life and not being able to rearrange anything, and accepting I have control over so little, freed me. It showed me that I can write on recipe cards, and office at coffee shops, and listen, listen, listen to all the great stories floating around me.