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Being asked, "What inspires you when you write?" Or hemorrhoids?
Most writers I know would need a few minutes to consider the two options since both are a pain in the butt. Why? Well, for one, the question allows no manageable, concise, consistently accurate, or easily understood answer. Even more fundamental, what does the question really mean?
After all, we live in a culture that thinks in simple, linear causalities and functions as if anyone, whatever their experience and level of personal integrity, has a valid opinion. We live in a culture that wants simple answers, not the answers it takes lots of work, and maybe a lifetime, to understand.
In other words, inspiration has different meanings to the writer who struggles with it and the observer who, sometimes with genuine interest and sometimes in idleness, asks for inspiration to come clean and explain itself.
For my part, when I give public readings and the dreaded question emerges, I sometimes quote a jazz musician friend and say, "Everything, man!"
Or, more often, I will resort to my hypothesis of the inspirational ping, one that contends we receive inspiration of many kinds, each with varying impact, in several areas of our psyche. Some unannounced and uninvited inspiration goes ping and the poet in us, usually surprised, wants to do something with it.
Sometimes we feel we know how the ping affects the poetry we write but more often we donít. We just sense that some change in what/how/why/when we write owes some gratitude to this moment of insight or connection, this moment of aha!
Iíve had a whole bunch this week -- unexpected pings that I sense might in some small or large way affect the future writing I do. Or maybe they will affect how I experience my life. Or maybe, though I doubt it, they will prove themselves to be just a momentary thrill.
Take reading novelist Milan Kunderaís Testaments Betrayed (Harper Perennial), a passionate book that demands unwavering respect for an artistís underlying intentions for each artistic creation. Itís potent stuff to read and, as a result, one feels compelled to demand more of oneís own integrity, personal truth, and responsibility to writing.
Or re-reading British psychiatrist Anthony Storrís The School Of Genius which was re-published in America as Solitude: A Return To The Self (The Free Press). In our relationship-obsessed society, Storr refreshingly sees solitude not as neurotic but as a healthy and productive option to seeking fulfillment through others.
For Storr, creativity needs space to do its thing, but the reader who writes must then ask," Do I have the guts and the creative goods to be alone." As with Kundera, Storr holds up a mirror that reflects the existential responsibility of a writer.
As it demolishes confining definition as country music, Rodney Crowellís CD Fateís Right Hand (Epic) proves as much an unrelenting existential re-assessment of self and surrounding as it proves a consummate artistic achievement.
What more can an artist do than go looking for the truth and then tell it, as Rodney does, with art and without compromise. No surprise: one of Rodneyís songs describes "a man in the mirror." Each cut could be a book and thatís a ping.
The ping of Andrea Menardís CD of her one-woman musical The Velvet Devil (Spirit River) is the disarmingly genuine clarity, both artistic and spiritual, at the heart of it. Quite natural in several idiomatic directions --I first heard her on a CD titled Jazz Divas-- Menard, a Metis born in Manitoba, Canada, achieves what many singers like Streisand et al cannot seem to do.
Menard caresses both heart and ear with solid, richly flexible and nuanced singing that never succumbs to mannerism or affectation. She also co-writes her own songs as unique worlds full of grace, full of humanity, but also ripe with earthy kick-ass truths of living.
One ping of Crowell and Menard is what they imply: be true to your life and your art.
An inspiration to any writer, poet or otherwise.
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