Dusting Off a Poem

I often draw inspiration for picture books from the present: things I see and experience now. When I go through a dry spell of fresh ideas, I’m sucked toward an inspirationless black hole. I resist that pull by reminding myself that stories aren’t limited to current life events. This seems obvious, but I often forget it in when I’m in a slump. Sometimes I’ll dust off an old piece of writing to see where it leads me.

I recently revisited this poem I wrote in a poetry writing course taught by the late Barry Spacks at UCSB. He was a wonderful poet and professor. Read some of his work if you get a chance—it’s wonderful. This poem captures a moment when I watched my grandma play with her great-granddaughter:

Light blue chiffon drenched
with pool water and laughter.
That skirt hugged your legs,
creased by years and sun.

You waddled like a penguin
along submerged specked steps
and made water fly
by the tips of your old toes.

Anything to tease a chuckle
from the drooling mouth of a toddler.

I was once in Ella’s place,
soaked with the attention
of a grandmother.
Your love isn’t gone

only made heavy
from my growing
too big
for your arms.

I’m not sharing this poem because I think it’s an extraordinary piece. In fact, I see multiple things I should fix. But I’m not in the business of revising old poems today. I’m posting it because revisiting it helped me when I was low on PB ideas. This poem captures a moment in my life. Reading it took me back to a specific day and rustled up emotions I felt in a span of seconds. These forgotten feelings inspired me to write something new.

Writers weave their work from the threads of their lives. Even a story as silly as two pickles falling in love at a relish factory captures pieces of its writer. Stories come from somewhere, no matter how far removed they seem from human emotion or how little the writer knows about a subject. We fill our stories with inspiration from life. And when current inspiration dips so low that the “check engine oil” light blinks awake, memories can refill our tanks.

This poem instantaneously rehydrated the feelings I felt that day. Did I reread it and write a story about that moment? No, but those emotions led to another story that I’m working on. The point is that old memories, whether written, filmed, or tucked away in your head, can restore your writing motor to purring status.

Vroom vroom!


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