I’ve had to do some hard thinking about what it is that inspires me since the idea of dedicating an evening to the theme of inspiration first came to me as a topic for our open mic evening this month. Many are inspired by travel, including my partner. I’ve tried to write poems about travel and usually have ended up with poems that fail.
The fact is I am a bad traveler. I like being in new places once I get there, but hate the getting there, and simply am not comfortable in the going. Though train travel is my favorite mode, and there is something in the rocking of the train that is comforting and comfortable, I have yet to produce a good train travel poem, though I’ve tried. I tried last night after our trip out to see my daughter and family out in Ohio. It did not make it into the “inspired” category—at least in my judgement.
So now I’m taking a good look at what it is that does inspire me, and the source of what I consider to be my good poems and stories. It most often is place, but what warms my heart and soul is familiar place—the place where I grew up, the same place I live now, the place that owns my heart and always will.
Although some very traditional things like love or its lack have inspired me at times, certainly nature has been a source at other times, the loss of loved ones at others, a connection with the earth, putting my hands in soil still other times. It is the place poems and stories that come and reside in my very essence.
My first story was a childlike fable written when I went back to school in my forties, about a rosebush that was taken from her home with other rosebushes in the greenhouse, and transplanted into the garden of a man who neglected her by not watering her when it was needed, until she nearly died from the lack of water. She had been placed in the garden with a bunch of violets that did not care to talk to her, or ridiculed her at other times. In this new place, she was failing to thrive until the breeze that blew whispered to her that he had it on good authority that the rains would come, and when they did, she could finally drink. She did and began to thrive, and finally produced beautiful flowers.
This story, though simple was my introduction to creative writing and what made me know writing was the true inspiration for my life—as if something was flowing through me that wasn’t necessarily me, as if it was coming from a higher source, and I was an instrument for its existence. From there, poems eventually came, and more stories—mostly short shorts–a few of them about love, but the most inspired ones were always about place and often interspersed with human feelings or psychology.
Then I made a major novel attempt, still unfinished, but inspired by a tree that grew near where I worked every day in Watkins Glen. It was about four character’s responses to a beautiful beech tree, that actually does exist in the real world. As I learned more about the place where it grew, I became inspired by the history. It started as a short story that began to evolve as a novel about the history of the place, a history that was completely unfamiliar to me. So I researched the history and felt almost as if I had discovered a completely new world, one of the mid-nineteenth Century. I learned about houses of the era as I researched the family’s history.
I learned at the time about my own house, that it was a classic Greek Revival farmhouse. I then began to research the history of the place where I live. I abandoned the original story that revolved around the beech, though I had 280 pages written, in favor of the new story based on the original people who lived on the property where I live. There was another owner who predated them for a short time, but it is not clear that any of those owners (who only owned it for a short time) ever actually lived here. The Brown family lived here for 60 years, and my family has owned the property here since 1937, making the Whites (or their descendants) the longest owners of the property. This explains my long roots and my inspiration.
I was so inspired by this previous family that I returned to school to get my Masters degree. I did this to be able to tackle better the historical research and the writing of their story, although it is only loosely based upon their family’s historical facts or outline of their lives. The rest is guesswork, and I have even fictionalized their names as well as their experiences.
Prose and poetry are so different, but one important poem for me, which was part of the Poetry Inspired by the Finger Lakes anthology, published by Foothills Publishing, was called “This Shared Place,” which was completely inspired by the property on which I live, my home for 47 years, my Grandparent’s and my aunt’s home before that—77 years of family ownership. It is no wonder that place is my greatest source of inspiration for everything I write, and that local history became a passion.