20 unlikely places to find inspiration: Part I

Blocked up? Short of ideas? Got a deadline? Or just fancy trying something different, writing-wise? Try looking for the Muse in some of these unlikely places…

1: The Phone Book. The humble phonebook rarely earns its keep. Most people have one - no doubt yours is gathering dust somewhere - and yet few people realise the phonebook’s inspiration-potential. Every home has one, they’re delivered free to your door, and best of all, they’re huge – packed with weird and wonderful information that’s just waiting to be turned into poems. Have a look at some of the strange things that fall side-by-side. Pole-dancing instructors next to plumbers, taxi-drivers next to taxidermy-while-you-wait. What happens when a plumber takes pole-dancing lessons? What might a taxi driver need a last-minute taxidermist for? What kind of bizarre character reads the phonebook?! These situations are poems waiting to happen.

2: Public Toilets. Next time you’re in a manky public loo, try for a moment to forget about the lack of toilet roll or the worrying smell coming through the air-con vents, and cast your eyes around for any graffiti. Chances are that a lot of it will look exactly like the usual Jez-was-ere or Becca-hearts-Gary stuff, but even these things have their own stories. Think about who Jez might have been, and why they felt the need to immortalise themselves on a loo wall. Who are Becca and Gary, and what’s the nature of their relationship? Maybe Becca lusts after Gary from afar, and Gary doesn’t know she exists. Maybe Becca and Gary are in their eighties, and scrawled a heart on the wall to mark their 60th wedding anniversary. Write the story behind the wall-defacer… make them into a poem!

3: Long journeys. No one likes a ten hour flight, a day-long bus ride or an epic trip squashed into the back of a car. And you might think that the time you spend making boring but necessary journeys is just an all-round waste of your life. But not so! For one, these trips provide you with long swathes of time where you have hardly anything to distract you (well, except maybe for the moron on the train who has a polyphonic music phone and thinks headphones are things that only happen to other people). Secondly, even car trips can provide you with an endless supply of human inspiration. Look around at your fellow passengers, or look out of the window at the people and things you’re whizzing past. Where are these people going? What do they do? Do any of them look particularly interesting or crazy? Make a poem for them.

4: Other people’s poems. There’s a difference between plagiarising someone and being inspired by them. Is there a poem with a central idea you’re crazy about? There’s no harm in exploring the same idea yourself. Found a clever line you wish you wrote? Scribble it down and then explore it in your own way. Find a poem that you think misses a trick, or that you think you could have written better, and get your own version down on paper. All poetry-writing involves some form of stealing – and as long as you don’t just blatantly copy, and make sure you give credit where it’s due, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with finding inspiration in the writing of others. Give it a try.

5: Dentist’s waiting rooms, bus stations, and anywhere else where you might find public information posters, educational flyers or lists of regulations. The language that appears here is far from poetic but can provide food for thought. If you stare at the same poster for a long period of time, the formal, boring message can disappear and the words themselves can start to play tricks on you. A friend of mine, poet Sarah Wardle, tried this in a hospital corridor with a flyer entitled “NHS TRUST: OUR CORE VALUES.” After a while the “NHS,” and the “OUR” faded into the middle distance, and the flyer’s new message birthed a poem about being true to yourself, entitled Trust Core Values. So next time you’re mindlessly staring at a billboard while waiting for the traffic lights, plug your brain in and look beyond the slogan. You might see nothing… but you might see a poem.

Part II coming soon!
(Got an unlikely inspiration? I want to hear it!)

Also to read:
Pen Names and A Closer Look at Pen Names
How To Write A Poem RIGHT NOW.
Useful advice from writers and editors
What’s the deal with poetry readings?

(Photo by Dreamer7112)

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10 Responses to “20 unlikely places to find inspiration: Part I”

  1. swiss Says:

    eavesdropping. every time! i still have a nascent collection of ‘conversations on edinburgh buses’

    people. every time. if you’re too lazy to look at phoographs then look out the window. every face tells a thousand stories and the best ones are the ones you make up

    buildings. as above

    cut ups. if it’s good enough for burroughs it’s good enough for you

    ekphrasis. or 4 from above. bad artists copy. great artists steal. if it’s good enough for picasso it’s good enough for you. if you really believe you’re doing something original you’re beyond help

    list poems (see cut ups) go for a walk. set your watch for say 45 seconds (longer if you’re in the country) when it beeps write down the first thing you see. keep doing this until you’re tired/bored/inspired enough to pretty it up. or if you’re a total couch pudding take out your big book of poetry/whatever - every fifth page, 16 lines down, three words in - and proceed

    keep a box full of crap. pull out five things at random. no, really random. make a poem

    the list goes on and on. i don’t believe in writer’s block me

  2. Claire Says:

    Swiss - great comment, loads of good stuff in there. Thanks!

  3. swiss Says:

    no worries. you’re creating a great wee resource here and it’s a pleasure to add a bit to it

  4. Katrina Says:

    I really enjoyed the link you had here about the man who read the entire dictionary. Just thinking about reading the dictionary is inspiring me to want to write poetry. So certainly that.

    Also libraries. There’s nothing like a building full of the thoughts of thousands of people to make you have at least one brilliant original one.

    The weather seems really tacky, but to some hokey degree, I like making up why it’s hot, cold, whatever outside. Maybe even drawing it as a metaphor for something greater.

    Agreed with Swiss, above! No such thing as writer’s block.

  5. Claire Says:

    Katrina - you’re obviously psychic… there will be a mention of dictionaries and reference books in the later parts of this article!

    I don’t think the weather is a daft thing to mention. Sometimes you just don’t feel inspired because it’s miserable outside, right? x

  6. swiss Says:

    okay, seeing as i’ve been bigging you up elsewhere, to prove my point (or really just to have something to do today!) i will write five poems suggested by this thread. it may be i use some of my own siuggestions but i don’t regard that as cheating….

  7. swiss Says:

    done. will tidy up and blog the results later

  8. Claire Says:

    Swiss! 1: you kick ass for mentioning me! 2: you are a million times cooler for writing an ONS-article-themed series of poems! and 3: you are mentioned back in my Procrastination Station this week!

    Can’t wait to see the rest x

  9. swiss Says:

    lurgied up so didn’t get the last one in until this morning but they’re all there now

  10. One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » 20 unlikely places to find inspiration: Part III Says:

    [...] forget to check out Part I and Part II for more weird and wonderful places to find [...]