20 unlikely places to find inspiration: Part II
6. Shopping lists
Or receipts. Or notes stuck to the fridge. Or train tickets. These things can all provide poetic fuel, particularly if they belong to someone else. Next time you spot a receipt blowing along in the wind, grab it and take a look! Who dropped it? Look at what they bought and figure out what kind of person they might be. Who served them? How did they interact?
And how about shopping lists? What was on the mind of the person who scribbled their list? Why does “flour” come first, for example… were they planning to bake cupcakes for a birthday party? Mix their own chemical-free wallpaper paste? Make a flour-bomb and play a prank on a friend? Make papier mache animals? You decide!
7. Reference books.
Billy Collins once wrote a poem about how interesting it is to just read an encyclopaedia, cover-to-cover. But it’s not just interesting - it can be inspiring, too. Reference books contain all sorts of information, which can be translated into poetry - you can learn about people, places, inventions and objects that you might never have known about otherwise. You can learn about the meaning of words - any word, even your own name. Susan Wooldridge loves biology reference books that list the scientific and informal names for fish, birds, trees and flowers:
“I brought wildflower books on family hikes in the park until I realised my obsession with the name of each flower was ruining our walks. For better or worse, by then we could recognise fiddle neck, stork bill, butter and eggs, gold field, yellow carpet, brodiea, seepspring monkey flower, Indian paintbrush, tidy tips, popcorn flower, shooting star, birdseye and owl’s clover, among others… [Before,] the woods were just kinda green.”
- Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words.
Why is a pansy also called Kit-run-in-the-fields? Why do we use the expression “a kettle of fish”? Find out, or just speculate, and make up a poem as you go.
8. Nursing homes.
Here’s your chance to make a difference to your local community, AND to open up a goldmine of inspiration. This applies to hospitals, day centres and daytrips too - anywhere where the awesome elderly can be found. Think anyone over 70 is out of touch with the world you live in? Think again - those people built the world you live in, for better or worse. So get volunteering - or even working - with elderly people. Chat to them - they have all the best stories, and all too often they’re in need of someone to tell them to. In my many conversations with these lovely people, I’ve heard from a 94 year old lady who worked as a paramedic in World War 2, with only a few days’ rushed medical training, and I’ve met a guy who reckons he made his fortune smuggling diamonds. My own crazy grandmother has been the subject of many a juicy poem. In short, most young people = yet to get interesting, while elderly people = living, breathing poems.
Put yourself anywhere where you can sit comfortably and listen in to other people’s conversations. I know it’s nosy and very un-British, but even a throwaway remark picked up on the breeze can make a great poem title or ending line. Next time you’re at the hairdressers/supermarket/whatever, tune into the background chatter. Pick up the tiny dramas of people’s lives while you grab a cup of coffee. And if you really can’t stand the idea of being a total nosy parker… ask. Strike up a conversation with your local newsagent, or ask the taxi driver who picks you up how their day is going. Either way, all you have to do is listen… the ideas are there, you just need to receive them!
10. Classified ads.
Unless you’re on the lookout for something, chances are you never really pay attention to those little ads in the back of your newspaper. And frankly, it’s time you did! Personally, I like the “desperately seeking” ones best… you know: “you, striking blonde with your arm in plaster. Me: the guy with the black bag who helped you in Tesco. Can’t forget you.” They sound ridiculous, but they’re full of potential! Who’s the blonde? Why did their have their arm in plaster? What was in the black bag? Why so unforgettable?!
Even the buying/selling ads are interesting. Imagine the possibilities of “locked strongbox for sale, offers considered”, or “wanted: photographs of British expatriates in India, early 20th century.” Next time you buy a paper, find an ad that appeals, or check out classifieds online. Mess around with them. Make poems.
Tell me your unlikely inspirations!