Where Do Poets Get Their Inspiration?
We polled Pulitzer Prize winners, poet laureates and professors to get their thoughts on where poems come from."Poems come from ordinary experiences and objects, I think. Out of memory—a dress I lent my daughter on her way back to college; a newspaper photograph of war; a breast self-exam; the tooth fairy; Calvinist parents who beat up their children; a gesture of love; seeing oneself naked over age 50 in a set of bright hotel bathroom mirrors."
—Sharon Olds, winner of the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award for The Dead and the Living
"Poetry for me is a little bit like noodling at a piano, or like muttering or shouting when you play a game or dance—almost meaningless little grunts like oh yeah and whoopsy-daisy, and easy does it and watch-it-watch-it-watch-it and yes-yes-yes (or, no-no-no).
—Robert Pinsky, U.S. poet laureate, 1997–2000
"I'm only half joking when I say a stork brings the poems. They are little creatures I have to train and send out into the world."
—Terrance Hayes, winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Lighthead
"When I least expect it something strikes me. Just now, for instance, we were driving westward and stopped at the West Virginia welcome station, and I looked at the woman next to me who tucked her purse between her legs to wash her hands, and that little action triggered something in me—I suddenly thought of all the things we do subconsciously to keep things neat, and the way women carry purses around."
—Rita Dove, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Thomas and Beulah
"I think I was just born with iambic pentameter in my veins. Writing poetry is an obsession—who in his or her right mind would become a poet?"
—Maxine Kumin, U.S. poet laureate, 1981–1982
Photo: Courtesy of Sharon Olds