The creative state of mind is built upon the four cornerstones of inspiration, intuition, imagination and imagery. Each illustrates a different aspect and stage of the phenomena of creativity.
Inspiration defines an initial poetic impulse and is characterized by a sudden and dynamic spontaneous awareness, an “Aha!” moment that reveals an idea previously unknown to the poet. The moment that begins the process of poetic composition is like a birth. It is both an opening and a discovery of new thought and feeling.
Openness is central to writing poetry. Indeed, poetry is an instrument of open-mindedness and the expansion of both personal and social awareness. Inspiration is the fertile ground where poetry can spring forth into the light.
Old truths leak from the universal unconscious in the form of updated symbols, images and metaphors. New concepts are built on old foundations, remodeled but not unrecognizable. A poet connects with them, through sudden inspiration.
The linguistic origin of the word “inspire” is “to breathe life into.” Inspiration is also lined to incentive, motivation and desire.
Intuition is like a muscle that can be developed through mental discipline. It goes to the very essence of creativity. An artist of any discipline must develop intuitive confidence in order to create original art. This is especially true of poetry, which can incorporate ideas and techniques from other arts more than any other, using the colors of painting, the harmonies and melodies of music, the rhythms of dance or the craft of sculpture.
This is because the poet’s medium is words, which are symbolic by nature. Words evoke imagery and emotion automatically. Their symbolic function is intrinsic.
Intuition is an insight or perception that is instinctive, which means that to use it, a poet must be comfortable and confident with spontaneity. Mental and emotional flexibility enhance spontaneous, intuitive creativity.
Webster defines imagination as “the act of forming mental images of what is not actually present.” Roget defines it synonymously as “creative thought, inspiration and imagery.”
Creativity and imagination are synonymous. They begin as aptitudes, advance through practice and self-discipline to open a wormhole to the artist’s subconscious and to the universal unconscious too. A poet learns over time to distinguish his or her own degree of originality, to keep a garden free of weeds where flowers can grow. This amounts to developing a self-critical sense to identify the weeds and let the flowers through. Fishermen throw the small ones back to mature. Poets should do the same.
Imagination is also based in a willingness and motivation to be creative. Convergent thinkers are seldom creative. They can’t stop obsessing over the same thoughts, and are emotionally constricted by their rigid, convergent attitudes. Creative thinking is, on the contrary, divergent and non-linear. Divergent thinkers use their imaginations and often perform or create works of art, including the most potentially diverse art of poetry.
The creative process culminates in the image. The image, therefore, might be legitimately called “pure poetry.” An image is a portrait, model, picture, illustration, reflection or vision produced by memory or imagination.
An expanded definition of “imagery” that includes the non-visual allows us to understand that imagery is the essential element of poetry (rather than metaphor). The simple juxtapositioning of images is, minimally, enough to create a poem. The other needed elements arise naturally from the images. Metaphor and simile, which are essentially comparisons, grow from the seeds of images juxtaposed with other images.
When inspiration hits us, we often first visualize it in the form of a half-formed mental image. The initial, intuitive image may be a phrase or line, usually the first or last line of a poem. Or, it may be visual, emotive or even rhythmic. Sometimes, I get an image of the entire poem. Those are the easiest poetic impulses to process into a poem. They seem to write themselves. One can simply copy or take dictation from the imagination in such cases. The confident, practiced imagination produces imagery naturally and easily.
In a way, a poet is childlike in the sense that he retains the natural imagination that we all have as children before we are taught to repress it.
- Stages of the Creative Process
But these generalities, though true, do not explain the stages of the creative process, only the source. Thinking about how the stages can be recognized and responded to by the poet requires that we examine the nature of information itself.
There are answers and questions. Answers reflect introjected, received information. Questions, on the other hand, are creative seeds. One must be willing to question received information and ideas in order to be inspired and thus creative.
An attitude of open-mindedness and tolerance or preference for new ideas is an important pre-requisite to inspiration. Ironically, another essential pre-requisite is restraint. Compulsive writing is usually premature and unoriginal, but when a poet actively attempts to repress the urge to write, the subconscious ideas have a chance to go full-term and emerge in a more original and realized form. Quality trumps quantity every time. If it’s easy, it’s probably shallow.
Often even self-disciplined poets write uninspired, mediocre poems that feel right when they are written. This is caused by the poet giving in to the poetic impulse prematurely. Compulsive writing can dilute the intensity and originality of poems.
Quality control in poetry is often synonymous with restraint. If you have been born with the poetic gene, you can’t not write. You have poetic impulses, but to do the job right, you need to develop standards that will raise your work to the level of the group standards without being held down by them. One reason that poetry is a difficult form of art is that it is under constant expansion and development by its best practitioners. Ideally each poet contributes something original to the art itself, though we know that practice doesn’t always mean perfect.
- Divergent Thinking
The creative process takes many forms. Each artist must discover it for himself, but all are characterized by divergent thinking. The discovery of new ideas is antithetical to dogma and rigid thought.
Where does creative energy come from? I believe it’s largely a matter of aptitude and attitude. Those who are more divergent in their thinking often have a variety of artistic impulses. But, these impulses must be nurtured by experience. A closed system eventually settles into stasis.
It would be ideal if the very act of writing poetry would increase one’s ability to think divergently, and thus become more imaginative, but it seems that many who consider themselves to be serious poets are unoriginal and dogmatic in both their poetry and their lives. They are in danger of becoming weeds or even poisonous plants in the garden of poetry.
The bottom line, fundamental truth here, is that each poet must work on his personality in order to work on the elements of originality, open-mindedness and creativity in his poetry. Poems reflect the personalities of the poets who wrote them. Ideally, in order for a reader to be inspired by a poem, the poet must first have the initial inspiration.
- Dream of a Unified Field
For perspective, a consideration of two seemingly radical and radically opposed poetic movements (Dadaism and Objectivism) and what they have in common, is quite revealing. The Dadaists proposed a completely subjective approach to writing poetry. They attempted to create poems where the words had no connection to each other and no literal, objective meaning. They failed to do it, but instead provided us with the recognition that words are always meaningful because each is a symbol of an idea. In short, “automatic writing” may produce highly subjective poetry, but its readers can still find meaning in it because its parts have defined meanings in and of themselves. The objective level cannot be entirely removed.
Complete objectivity is also impossible. The Objectivist movement sought to accomplish the opposite of the Dadaist movement, and instead they ended up in the same place. A poet cannot leave himself out of a poem, even if he eschews the use of the first person persona. His very choice of images reveals who he is, but the Objectivist poet tried to minimize putting personal baggage into his poems.
- Parts of Speech
Nouns are used for naming. They are primary. Verbs come next, because they put the nouns in action, but they can never be as essential to a poem as a noun.
Boy Leaves Warm Black Girl
warm sky black earth dark night
black warm dark earth night sky
earth sky night warm dark black
sky dark warm night earth black
run girl laugh boy sigh leaves
boy leaves girl run sigh laugh
leaves laugh boy girl sigh run
sigh girl boy run laugh leaves
In Boy Leaves Warm Black Girl I reduced the parts of speech to six nouns, three verbs, three adjectives and one word (leaves) that can function as both a noun and a verb. Despite its deconstructive minimalism, I think the poem still evokes both a narrative and a portrait with their accompanying emotional responses. It also manages (“laugh leaves”) to be surrealistic. I believe it illustrates the basic imagistic components of any poem while it would also translate easily into other languages without loss of effect, due to the simplicity of the words used.
- Feed Your Head
One of the essential ways for a poet to open up his mind is to become truly eclectic. By this I mean both in reading and writing. As noted previously, inspiration is synonymous with motivation. Willingness to accept diverse material from both others and oneself flexes mental muscles and improves divergent thinking, which is the key to creativity.
Eclectic reading means reading outside your comfort zone. American poets should avoid a strictly American diet. The great poetries of the world, of other cultures and ethnicities can nourish and stimulate creative energy.
Although eclectic reading can expand consciousness toward a more creative and sensitive state, it is even more valuable for a poet to practice eclecticism in his writing. Poetic license means the willingness as well as the freedom to experiment, push “the” boundaries, go outside the “box,” etc.
Eclectic writing means trying new approaches, styles and states of mind that produce a wide range of poems and poetic experiences. Going deep requires a balance of both restraint and spontaneity. In a fully functioning poet, the objective and subjective are balanced. Let’s call it poetic homeostasis.
Collaboration and translation are the two primary ways a poet can “get outside himself.” Collaborating with other poets also opens one up to another’s mental processes and images. The more unalike the poets, the more potential for spiritual, emotional and intellectual expansion. Translation of poems from other languages is an effective way to learn to recognize universal elements that are common to all poetry despite cultural and national origin. By “making it his own,” a poet may enter the mental/emotional territory of the original poet, to truly share his vision.
- Liberate Your Emotions
No emotion can exist without an underlying thought. Emotions have to be about something, but the person feeling them might not understand why he feels the way he does because the underlying thoughts are deeply buried in his unconscious. His repressed thoughts have become material for both feelings and art. They are the energy that drives the creative impulse. Like dreams (without which we’d go insane), these deep images are part of the human process of experiential acquisition and reconciliation with our perceptions of “reality.”
– Eric Greinke