The Beauty of Collisions
Sometimes you need to bang some very different things up against each other in order to make the sparks of poetry fly. It’s a way of “by indirection find(ing) direction out” (Shakespeare’s phrase) or of “tell(ing) the truth but tell(ing) it slant” (Emily Dickinson’s). Sometimes when you approach a thing directly, without making surprising associations, you find that it’s nearly impossible to say something new, to make discoveries about it. For example, a few years ago I went to India. While I was there I wrote like crazy and assumed I’d be able to come home and turn that writing into poetry. But I couldn’t. Once home, the material seemed to go flat, seemed full of trite imagery and predictable insight. After several months of despairing to get a single poem from the stuff, I started re-reading Romantic poetry, mostly Keats and Shelley. It was a random choice—I just kind of intuited that I needed to find something there, and I did. Somehow the imagery and language of those poems showed me how to frame my India material in a way that created fresh poems.
My advice, or prompt, is this: look in random and surprising places for inspiration. If you’re writing a poem about, say, sitting in the hospital with your father as he died, go (actually, physically, go) someplace new—someplace you might not ever have gone to otherwise—like, say, the zoo, or the Huntington, with your subject in mind, seeing what you see through its lens. And read things you might not normally read—Car and Driver magazine, The Baghavadgita, Freud’s essay on the uncanny . . . .These things will bang up against each other in your head and flow out of your hands in startling poetry.
Biography of Gail Wronsky: Gail Wronsky is the author or coauthor of eight books of poetry and one novel. Her books include Bling & Fringe (The L.A. poems), coauthored with Molly Bendall, Blue Shadow Behind Everything Dazzling, Poems for Infidels, and Dying for Beauty, a finalist for the Western Arts Federation Poetry Prize. She holds an MFA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from the University of Utah. She is Director of Creative Writing and Syntext (Synthesizing Textualites) at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. She is the recipient of an Artists Fellowship from the California Arts Council, and has published widely in journals and anthologies, including Poets Against War. Her plays have been produced by the Sundance Institute and in theaters across the U.S.