“The blank page is about the only holy place I understand. I think all writing is inspired—even the worst. It has to come from somewhere and I don’t know exactly where any of it comes from. I do know that it appears on the page suddenly and I am astonished at that fact. It is like getting a note written in invisible ink—there is something mysterious and secret about a first draft and all the subsequent drafts just deepen my surprise.”
Where does inspiration come from? There is something vaguely mysterious about it, as poet Steve Scafidi alluded to in the interview quoted above. There’s no magic formula or algorithm that we can plug into, repeatedly and without fail, anytime, anywhere, when we need an idea. Lawrence Ferlinghetti describes this as well in his poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” comparing the writer to a tightrope walker taking a flying leap of faith in the space between the completion of each poem and the start of the next one, blindly reaching out for beauty like a trapeze in the empty air in front of him, hoping each time his hands will find something to grasp onto. Because of this, when we find ourselves—against any formula or algorithm that would tell us with certainty that we should—grasping onto that trapeze once again, there seems to be something supernatural or divine about it, as if it was the doing of something outside ourselves.
And yet, there’s something instinctual about it too. There’s something that arises from within us that guides us to exactly where and what we need, and what we need to be doing, for good writing to emerge. And that’s part of what makes it seem so near holy, isn’t it? Not only the wonder and mysteriousness of a first draft, but the fact that it seems to come from us, be of us. Perhaps it’s not just happening to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right set of circumstances for an idea to take hold. Perhaps inspiration is living in that constant state of openness to the surprise of the world as a literary possibility, the potential for it to appear on the page like invisible ink at every turn. Not waiting for literary opportunity to strike by a fully formed story or poem falling into our lap, but creating opportunity by treating everything we encounter as potential creative sparks, viewing every experience as worthy of talking about because of how we choose to talk about it, word by word by word. Not waiting until we see the trapeze to jump, but jumping, knowing it will be there because we make it so in our act of flight, for there are trapezes everywhere for us to grasp onto if we simply jump for them.
Activating that instinct is the goal we had in mind in conceiving of Prompt & Circumstance: to provide bits of tinder and fluff and newspaper, highly flammable little things, knowing that you, the writers out there, would know exactly what to do with your hands to light a fire. And we could not be more proud and delighted at the result! Traveling from the intimacy of a conversation in a lazy weekend shower in Marie Abate’s “Poem for a Willow Tree” to the vast expanses of space, searching for connection in an empty galaxy in Nels Hanson’s “Homeward Bound,” from a surprising visitor in Kelly Ann Jacobson’s “Rhubarb Pie” to a surprising turn of events after a night of debauchery in Adrian Mangiuca’s “Daybreak in Soho,” from the heron to the 50-cent gazelle from which Robbi Nester’s and John J. Brugaletta’s poems take their names, the results were outstanding, and we couldn’t be more excited to share them with the world!
So head on over to Promptly and check out the amazing work May inspired!
From us to you, the keepers of the flame, the trapeze artists, the writers of invisible ink.
Brandi & Shenan