Creative Genius and a Few Words from William Stafford

American poet William Stafford (1914-1993)
American poet William Stafford (1914-1993) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So let’s get back to that topic from a few days ago about where creative genius comes from. I was conflicted a bit by the message in Elizabeth Gilbert’s presentation. I like the idea of the artist going outside of himself a bit, getting away from all of the arrogance and self-absorption to find what a poem really wants to be. But I am aware of how mystical that sounds, and I’m not sure I buy into the hocus pocus of it. So as balance I linked you to the presentation by Jill Bolte Taylor. You see, I like that idea, that the human brain is more complex than we imagine, and the fact that we can be connected to inspiration from places our intellect cannot quite fathom is no less mysterious and wonderful for it coming from our own mind.

And that sort of left brain/right brain talk helps make the mystical, magical vood doo of inspiration make a little more sense for me, without having to over-define and disect it. It’s enough to know that there is something beyond my feeble thought, and if it’s deeper inside me or in the sky, who cares? The point is to get away from the idea that we can beat out a good poem or piece of art just because our intellect is somehow stronger and more clever than the average bloke’s.

There is something to the idea that art is a journey, a discovery process, learning, searching for some truth. And why not inside instead of outside? And why not in others, or in the way the rain falls on the walk or the wind shakes the road sign? It’s a lot more interesting to tap into something in the world that is bigger and that binds us, than it is to prove how smart we are.

And that’s where the William Stafford quote I was looking for comes in, or at least it would have had he actually said what my faulty memory thought he said. Still, I think I am not far from his way of thinking when I say that being a poet, a good one, is not so much about possessing great intellect, or genius, so much as it is about being able to tap into something in the the way of the world that is bigger than us, something already going on, and hitching a ride on it the way a surfer knows how to press his toes, hold his balance, bend just so at the waist and ride the wave exactly as it wants him to.

Human brain
Human brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still too mystical for you? I don’t believe in muses and fairy dust, but I believe there is more to the world than can be measured in a test tube, and even if the secret is allowing your right brain to whisper secrets to your left brain, where skill works to craft them into language, well, it’s still inexplicable, and as Colin said in the previous post’s comments, I don’t want to have it all defined and understood. I’d like to keep a bit of the mystery.

Here are two quotes from Mr. Stafford that give some evidence that he and I are on the same wave length. I sincerely wish he were still alive, selfishly I suppose, so that I could still have the hope of someday meeting him and soaking up some of that calm and unassuming wisdom.

William Stafford From his National Book Awards acceptance speech:

At the time, the writer is responsible for everything, and at the same time he is simply lost. He has to be willing to stay lost until what he finds — or what finds him — has the validity that the instant (with him as its sole representative) can recognize — at that moment he is transported, not because he wants to be, but because he can’t help it. Out of the wilderness of possibility comes a vine without a name, and his poem is growing with it.

And from A Way of Writing: “

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him a whole succession of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays, laws, philosophies, religions…

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Bruce Ruston says:

    Really liking your ideas today and how you present mental process rather than magical entities invisibly inspiring


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Thank you, Bruce! I am happy to know that I got it out of my head and onto the page in a way that rings true to you.


  2. PB Rippey says:

    Wonderful WS quotes. For me, intuition plays a great part in writing poems, guiding, I suppose, rather than “staying lost” in the wilderness? Although maybe it’s the same thing.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Interesting that you mention getting lost, because there is another quote by Stafford that I almost posted, sort of finding yourself, or maybe the poem, by getting lost and letting the poem find you. Interesting. Perhaps I’ll follow up with more Stafford in the morning.


  3. slpmartin says:

    In part I would say that the poet sees what is common and presents it in an uncommon way…synthesizing elements of what is with what might be…oh just a random thought fed to me by my Muse.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      And I would not presume to dispute your muse. 🙂


  4. Then again maybe there are little undetectable fairy elves inside our minds feeding us inspiration through tiny tubes. It doesn’t really matter in the end. If I wrote something I wrote something and there’s nothing you can do about it. I like the quotes.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      I agree. It doesn’t matter in the end. It’s just interesting to think about.


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