“A work in progress generates its own energy field. You, the artist . . . are pouring love into the work; you are suffusing it with passion and intention and hope. This is serious juju. The universe responds to this. It has no choice.” -Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
When asked what first inspired me to study and write poetry, I tell a story about eight-year-old me absconding with A Concise Treasury of Great Poems (a tattered paperback printed in 1958). Eight-year-old me read Shelley and Stevens and Thomas out loud in a barn, from atop a hay bale to a casual audience of horses. . .
I talk about a high school teacher who assigned for us to choose a famous poet from a list, read several poems, and then emulate the poet. Without that assignment and that dedicated teacher, would I be writing poetry now? Would I have ever “met” Lorca? gained a solid understanding of Emily Dickinson (even though the appreciation came many years later)?
Inspiration, a power that eludes us, seems to always be outside, and there is a magic formula to find or invite it in.
There is one thing I wish I knew when I was getting my degree in poetry: it’s about putting in the work. It’s not about romanticized memories or over-interpreted superstitions. It is definitely not about the stories other people tell you about yourself, and not that other people (or you) label you as a poet. It is putting. in. the work.
I wish I knew this when I was busy making excuses during a 5 year period when I was in a miserable work situation, or afterward when I told myself I didn’t even keep a journal all those years because “I couldn’t”.
The point is to write and not worry too much about what other people think. Learn what works for you, and try to create those conditions as often as possible.
I do thnk it is a writer’s obligation to read other writers, and generally inform oneself about the genre and craft–not to mention learn about a wide variety of subjects outside of one’s own limited immediate “world”. But collective wisdom says to do it because you need to, not to impress others.
Some sources that have helped me include Natalie Goldberg’s books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and a book called Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch.
The epigraph at the beginning of Free Play is: “Paint as you like, and die happy”(Henry Miller)
And, as Steven Pressfield says: “You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”