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!)