Claire Trévien on why inspiration needs a warmer filter

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A dreaded question that many poets will be confronted with is ‘how do you find your inspiration?’ You want to answer something glamorous like ‘on the edge of a cliff’ or ‘the top of a mast’ – but the truth is your fingers quickly get frozen or you’re too busy avoiding the dive of a [...]

A dreaded question that many poets will be confronted with is ‘how do you find your inspiration?’ You want to answer something glamorous like ‘on the edge of a cliff’ or ‘the top of a mast’ – but the truth is your fingers quickly get frozen or you’re too busy avoiding the dive of a Skua.

I have written my fair share of outdoor poetry (if it wasn’t instagrammed did it happen?), but honestly, while inspiration can and will strike you everywhere, my first drafts are more likely to get typed up in the warmth of my flat in between Agent Carter episodes. I’ve been playing a game with my poems recently where I tell them ‘I want to write a poem about x’, and I go to x and wait for a poem to happen. The poem hangs about awkwardly and asks me if I’m sure if this is what I want. ‘Yes!’ I bluster, parading up and down the room, ‘this is definitely it’. The poem eventually gives up on me and has a drink, and that’s when I realize that the poem was actually about something I was trying to ignore in the room.

Take the poem ‘Rollright Stones’ for instance – I’ve been obsessed with standing stones for ages and Astéronymes has its fair share of them. Soon before I had to submit the final manuscript, I realized I was living close to a stone circle and made the cold walk to the stones, hoping some last minute poem would appear. I made soggy notes and got annoyed at other people sharing ‘my’ experience with me. Eventually, once I got back somewhere drier and more caffeinated, I realized that I had the wrong subject all along, and the poem now begins:

Men come and stand in its centre:
stubbled, pocked, and pickled,
and interrupt my poem
about unknowable history.

Some poems in Astéronymes came from processing a situation by alienating them: the end of a friendship seen through an index, a traumatic experience debunked through author corrections,… Most of my poems have started with a constraint of some sort, even if the end result has ended up discarding them. It’s a method that works for me, and it’s generally generated from the situation I’m in at the time of writing.

A method found in several poems across the collection comes from taking a word, cutting it in two and placing it on either side of that line. I’m sure someone out there has named that technique, I certainly haven’t. I first used it after standing in a circle of standing stones on Machrie Moor on the Isle of Arran, and wondering how on earth I could capture the place through form. Cutting up the word ‘Stone’ so that it seeped into the roots of the poem kickstarted a whole sequence based on the island. Here is the Machrie Moor section:

Start on the first page, the scone-
coloured path to the croft’s collapsed slates.

Stare under its teeth for a story. One
tree has taken over the walls, fern tentacles

steer through bricks, a chimney of nettles gone
dry; and then, past the loner labels, turn to

stage-struck circles of barnacled bone:
an empty index, a haptic glossary.

Straight-backed bolts in this mix-taped zone,
they’ve weathered the art of echoes,

storing the years, their surface a drone
of initials and lichen dripped lava-like.

Cliché as it sounds then, the inspiration for poems in Astéronymes tend to come from finding a form through which I can translate something rattling around my brain. In the warmth. Later.

Order your copy of Asteronymes online.

 

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