Fishing for Expression

As poets we perpetually feel the need to come up with suitable subject matter to express our emotions, ideas, and experiences. So, how do we arrive at a golden idea that will create our master piece of expression? Ideas may spring from various life experiences and may come to us when we least expect them, such as walking along the beach or recalling a memory of a friend or family member.
It can sometimes take a great deal of patience, as casting your reel and only catching a small perch, but if you are patient enough, you may catch a large bass. It can also be pure inspiration from our subconscious as some ideas will simply appear without having to dig. This makes every poem unique because it is the story of one’s personal encounters. As poets we strive to turn the status quo into a new and exciting way of looking at things, and sometimes it takes a little bit of exploring when searching for the idea you are trying to convey.
I asked two respected poets, Matthew Brennan and Miriam Pederson, who are featured on the website, to share their thoughts on the subject. Matthew Brennan, writer of The House with the Mansard Roof, shared his thoughts. One of the questions I asked was how a writer goes about coming up with a suitable poem idea. Matthew responded, “Sometimes I just follow the associations of my memories, or the promptings of the unconscious. These kinds of poems sometimes lead nowhere but other times lead into surprising avenues.” It really depends on how deep you get involved with a memory or experience and if it provides an opening into another dimension.
He also gave great insight into what kind of process to use when arriving at an idea. “Keeping a journal can be a great resource, as can reading lots of poems, both new and old,” said Matthew. “We always need new poems on love, death, coming of age, nature, the people around us.”
Matthew has a great point, as our inspiration comes from real life experiences and makes it relatable to the reader. When we share our emotions through poetry, it creates a pathway for our readers and may even give them inspiration to write their own poem.
Miriam Pederson, writer of the chapbook, This Brief Light, also shared a few thoughts on the pitfalls to avoid when writing a poem, and what a young poet should not do when settling on a subject. “The poet Richard Hugo in his book The Triggering Town has helped me understand that often the subject that initiates the poem is merely a trigger that begins the writing process, but that the real subject of the poem evolves from this,” said Miriam. “The pitfall to avoid would be to feel tied to the triggering subject, not allowing the poetic process to take you to where the poem really lies.”
There are many pitfalls to avoid when writing a poem and when settling on a subject, but the best thing to remember is to deflect the topics that have no meaning to you. The writer simply needs to let what inspires them to flow out of the pen and onto the paper.
Another question I asked the two of them was, “Do you begin writing and have the subject choose you, or do you choose the subject?” Matthew says, “My most recent poem—or start of a poem—began the other night when I lay awake around four o'clock and found myself trying to describe the environment and my impressions. I think the subject chose me as much as I chose it; but it is just a triggering subject at this point. Perhaps I sometimes choose the triggering subject, but I must depend on the deeper subject to reveal itself.”
No matter where your inspiration comes from— whether it’s from hope, struggle, love, alienation, or anything that sparks your imagination— these are the subjects that will connect with your reader and make a lasting impression. The idea may not come when you want it to but if you are patient enough, you are more likely to strike gold.

Works by Matthew Brennan

Works by Miriam Pederson

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.