I don’t believe in muses, yet I believe in setting the table for your muse. That is, creating the right conditions for creativity. For me this tends to consist of four things: (1) consuming materials, (2) writing notes down, (3) setting aside time to write, (4) connecting with my poetry communities.
Consuming materials for me includes books of poetry, of course. This is probably the most obvious source I can point to. So many times when I am mid poem in a book I am absolutely loving, some idea will get triggered by a word or an image and I’ll have to set the book down immediately to start writing—even if it’s just one seemingly random line. But even books I dislike or disagree with or think are just plain boring can still ignite some creative spark in me that propels me toward some thought I’d never had before—whether it’s an interesting thought is another story. But consuming material also includes novels, nonfiction, films, etc. Basically anything that introduces new thoughts into my mind. I like to carry a book of poetry with me in my work bag because they don’t take up much space and I can easily read a couple of poems in a ten-minute break, at lunch, in my car in the parking lot. Perhaps my favorite place to read is on a hammock. This used to be reserved for the spring and summer time between two maple trees in our backyard, but during the pandemic I installed a hammock in the library and there’s no going back.
I also like to write down any random ideas, phrases, interesting words that pop into my head as soon as they show up because I know they will escape me. Even if I think, “I will definitely remember,” I won’t. So I write them down wherever I can. On work papers, on the backs of envelopes, on scraps of paper, on sticky notes, on books, in a search engine text box, in the Notes app on my phone, in a text message to myself, in a voice message if I’m driving, in the margins of a playbill in near darkness at the theater. Because I know ideas evaporate. After a while, sometimes these notes start speaking to each other and seem to want to become a poem. Sometimes a note will sit forgotten in a drawer and I find it years later and think “oh, this could be something.” Or maybe “good God, what was I thinking.” Sometimes I won’t know where something belongs for a long time but I know there’s something there. This was especially true for the first line in “Ode to the Corpse Flower.” I didn’t know who was speaking yet or how it would change the direction of my book, but it was important for me to write it down: “in the language of flowers // I am the one who says // fuck you.”
Making time for your writing is so important, especially after undergrad and grad school. Once you enter the workforce, there is no one at your job cheering your writing career on. If you want to continue, you have to fight for every hour you can get. I was told by a mentor that I should carve out at least one hour a day for activities that nurture my writing. If I could do that, and keep doing it, I would be okay. And she was right. Submissions, and emails, and non-nurturing writing stuff doesn’t count. But writing, reading, and some research does. I would say that checking out hot guys on Instagram doesn’t count, but then I wrote an ode to Adam Rippon’s accomplished glutes. So, be open to your muses, I guess.
Building a writing community was especially important in my first couple of years working a regular nine-to-five job. After grad school, no one ever *has* to read your poems. So that when someone does, they are essentially gifting you their time. So a group of poets and I decided to create a small reading/writing group where we would gift each other our time. This was not a workshop. We would simply get together, read some shared books every month, and share some poems we had written in that time. No feedback. Just sharing. It was wonderful. I could just be excited about what I was working on and be excited for my friends and their poems. It created a kind of accountability based on excitement and friendship rather than shame or obligation. Of course workshops can be helpful, but this was something else entirely. We called ourselves the Iron Clad Medusa Collective because we were all queer/femme/nonbinary poets that met in our friend’s tiny studio apartment and read each other poems on their bed in front of a fireplace with the coolest Medusa head plate cover. I don’t know that I would have my first book without them. Thank you, Mandy, Liza, and Emily.