The Work of Inspiration: Five Pieces about Poetry

How do you write? My best friend might look at her old poems and draw from those. My former newspaper advisor tweeted at me: “Nulla dies sine linea,” or “Never a day without a line.”

“Write something every day,” my English teacher wrote, in blue marker on paper in the shape of a pencil. The best artists of any kind–poet, painter, performer–will inspire awe, not envy. They will make you want to make things of your own. When I’m feeling stuck, I’ll read about poets who inspire me/who are new to me, and today, I’ll share a few with you.

1. “Open Letter: A Dialogue on Race and Poetry.” (Claudia Rankine, Poets.org, 2011)

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric has garnered lots and lots of (well-deserved) praise. Here, several years earlier, she analyzes a poem by having a conversation with Tony Hoagland and through Hoagland’s hostile reaction to (well-deserved accusations) of racism: “I begin to understand myself as rendered hyper-visible in the face of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that I am present. My alertness, my openness, my desire to engage my colleague’s poem, my colleague’s words, actually demands my presence, my looking back at him.”

2. “A Conversation with Patricia Lockwood.” (Molly Minturn, The Awl, June 2014)

Patricia Lockwood is weird and fun and serious and surprising: “I have an old-fashioned tendency to focus on characters—like Edwin Arlington Robinson except with lake monsters, and the thing they shoot themselves with in the end is profundity.” (Also: she’s working on a memoir.)

3. “Spitting Verse and Slamming Barriers.” (Caroline Rothstein, Narratively, 2014)

Meet Team Nuyorican 2014–Roya Marsh, Katherine George, Amy León and Jennifer Falu–the first all-women (all women of color!) slam poetry team out of New York City. “In this day and age, there are women banding together to confront the racial injustices of Ferguson, there are women creating publishing groups and it feels like the time is now. Combined, our voices are so deafening, it feels like a change is coming.”

4. “Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980): The Forgotten Woman.” (Laura Passin, The Toast, November 2013)

I couldn’t believe Muriel Rukeyser evaded me for so long, even if she is “the forgotten woman.” Rukeyser traveled as an investigative reporter, created WWII propaganda posters, and wrote poetry about the uncelebrated lives of working, troubled and brave women. She won the Yale Younger Poets Prize at 21. Twenty-one! Thank goodness for Laura Passin’s introduction to this fascinating poet’s life and work.

5. “Hero Status: Dorothea Lasky.” (Eileen Myles, Rookie, January 2015)

Take one amazing poet (Eileen Myles, whose work I encountered at the advice of my best friend–thanks, Lindsey!), add her thoughts on another delightful poet, and you have the latest, greatest installment of Hero Status at Rookie Magazine: “Dorothea Lasky is a teacher … She wants to start a school. She is a school … The poetry she produces is kind of a punk rock pedagogy.”