WHAT INSPIRES ME
by Sibbie O'Sullivan
Just about anything can inspire me. Since the uses of language, especially poetic language, are infinite I try not to limit or judge what gets my juices going. But whatever works, I'm always at the center of it: the world impinges on my take of the world, but it's always my take. Since I'm interested in so many things and conditions of being, what inspires me always exceeds my response to it. Perhaps I've spread myself too thin. A bit of overheard dialogue, a memory of a dream, something I did or read, or an ethical problem I'm stewing over can inspire me to write. I also like to look, and if I weren't so lazy, I might be a good photographer.
But my eye is a thinking eye more so than a recording one, and what I see is just the beginning of what I have to say about what I'm seeing. The transformational magic of metaphor allows me to see the world as an endless possibility. I'm available to the smallest triggers and poetry permits me to set off whatever explosions I chose to create. I cannot live without music, and like to play a piece of music over and over again until something happens. I like to write to music and let its rhythms guide what I'm writing or work in opposition to what I'm writing. I frequently mis-hear lyrics, and these mis-hearings then become parts of poems. I like the accidents of language, how even when I get it wrong it is right. Because of this I like to listen to how people talk, not simply for what they say but how they say it. I like vocal signatures and poems that have a distinct voice.
People I love inspire me, partly because I'm frequently uncertain what love is. Sometimes the need to explain takes over, so I write an essay. Other times, what people tell me or what happens to them is so evocative I try to represent it in a poem. I attempt to translate their experience or emotion, an exercise in both empathy and control; their situation, my words.
But sometimes words all by themselves start the ball rolling, especially words that are not conscious of their effect. "Give me liberty or give me death" does not inspire, but when I read a translation of a medieval witch trial and one of the inquisitors said, "First she spoke of doves," I knew I had something to play with. Sometimes the simplest words are the best: Wallace Stevens begins a poem by saying, "As you leave the room"; Steely Dan describes women as "languid and bittersweet"; Jorie Graham ask, "Shall I rearrange the light?"I want to duplicate the simplicity and evocativeness of this kind of language and so I'm always listening.
I've learned not to censor myself, to try new things and not to think too hard. It's thrilling to realize that the last word you wrote will inspire the next one. It's the little things that count, and you work it till it's right.