In Answer to Your Questions about Inspiration

So, it’s been a while since I posted. I’d make excuses, but I don’t have any. This morning, I read an email from a high school student working on a project about inspiration and asking if I would be willing to answer some questions to help them out. I asked my artist friends on Facebook to offer a comment about the one thing they would want someone to know about inspiration, went to work, and mulled over my answers most of the day. I think I might have this all wrong, but the answers seemed worth sharing, and it had been, you know, a really long time since I posted anything over here. So double thank you to the high school student–once for making think this through and then again for giving me a blog post. Here goes:

What is inspiration to you? And where does your inspiration come from?


Inspiration is not a thing. It is a moment. I can’t predict what is going to inspire me, but I leave myself open to it at all times. Sometimes, it’s a particular shade of a particular color in a sunrise or sunset or a woman’s dress or a man’s eyes. Sometimes, it is deep internal reflection about something. Sometimes, it’s a chord in a song or a series of words in something I’m reading or a poignant news story or the tears of a friend. Sometimes it comes from my students: their stories, their triumphs, their epiphanies, their relationships with one another and with me. Often, it is loss. That can be a personal loss–a loved one, a change in major plans, a rejection of some kind–or something I perceive as a societal loss–the failure of a bill that would help people in poverty or people with disabilities, for example, two subjects that I care about deeply. For me, the only way to combat grief and loss is to make it worth something, to bring something out of it that is worth sharing.

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Poetry for Publication: The Quality Question

One of the best moments for me when I’m instructing a workshop is the moment when a participant asks a question that challenges me to think through my own assumptions and ideas. While teaching a workshop on theme in poetry at the Northwest Poet’s Concord this year, I had one of these experiences. After a discussion about the importance of developing theme when writing poetry for publication, a particularly astute participant asked, “Isn’t publishing poetry really about quality?”

We’d love to think so, but my answer is an emphatic, “No!” There are several reasons for this answer. Here are 5 of them:

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A Kinda-Sorta Christmas Poem

I don’t usually have a lot of trouble writing from a prompt, but this year, as I sat down to write my annual Christmas letter to go out with Christmas cards, I decided I’d try to write a Christmas poem to go with it.  Perhaps because this year has been so full of trials, I had a hard time getting any particularly Christmas-y words down.  Not because I don’t feel the holiday spirit, but because I’m thinking so much about what that really means to me.  The villanelle that arose wasn’t what I expected, but perhaps will offer a little hope to someone during a difficult holiday season.  Sometimes we forget to be thankful for the trials in our lives, but without them, there would be no life to remember.  Enjoy, and happy holidays:

Caveats for Hope

Harken well each tribulation
without which we could not know glee.
Heralds of joy and celebration,

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