Monday, March 18, 2024

Poet Anique Sara Taylor discusses Inspiration in Poetry

Welcoming today Anique Sara Taylor, the poet behind the new collection, Civil Twilight.

From Inspiration to Exploration

Inspiration, from the Latin “to breathe into.” The subject of inspiration has followed many concepts through many centuries.
  • The Greeks believed it came from the Muse.
  • The Nordic peoples considered it the voice of the Gods.
  • Israelites deemed it an overwhelming need to share God’s voice.
  • Christians thought it was a communication from the Holy Spirit.
     The Romantics considered the poet a willing receiver of inspiration because of developed inner sensitivities.

     More recently inspiration has included ideas of courting visions, mystical winds, the inner psyche, a divine fury. Endless discussions continue about connecting with inspiration as a form of ecstasy and fervor. Even frenzy and madness. Or being transported, as if this were something the writer hadn’t asked for and couldn’t resist or control.

     In searching for an open connection to creativity, writers have utilized Ouija Boards, meditation, automatic writing, various substances, all in the pursuit of open access to inspiration, and therefore genius. This has inspired philosophers, theologians, psychologists to write many books, with a variety of viewpoints.

     Growing up, I remember teachers referring to creatives as having inspiration, as if this was a magical gift given to only the lucky (or perhaps insane) few.

     I used to wait for the thrilling rush of inspiration, the burning trigger to tell my story. I loved riding the crest of that wave. But in my studies, classes, reading and friendship with other poets, I’ve observed that inspiration doesn’t always swoop down reliably, in full and complete usable form. Working on craft that deepens over time, is a less romantic version that’s often ignored.

     Many serious writers come to learn a more sober, and perhaps more deeply fulfilling mode of working: Read. Study. Research. Have a daily writing practice. Ask questions. Follow threads of completely new and unfamiliar resources. Delve deep into various crafts, professions, and sciences. Write down what comes to you in dreams and meditation. Make friends with phrases. Compose and refine phrases. Explore with curiosity to discover what can be built. Thoughtfully combine materials that have been gathered.

     Welcome the uncut, the wild and the unvarnished parts. Let in what’s unsettling and what’s on fire. Take your time. Sort it out in the rewrite. Then rewrite again. And again.

     Below I’m sharing ways phrases can begin. These are both the tiny lighting strikes and the nuts-and-bolts of inspiration. I hope these will give you insight into the endless ways you can shift from inspiration to curiosity and exploration.

How a Poem Can Begin

• A poem can begin in confusion or passion. A wild inspiration that pulls you away from everything that needs to be done that day.

• Phrases can begin with lines in disarray that you’ve gathered in notebooks where nothing connects. You don’t know what to do with them, or where they’ll go.

• Words come to you while you’re driving or cooking, taking a shower, answering the phone, or stirring the oatmeal.

• A poem begins with the way morning light glitters off the telephone wires.

• Writing begins when someone tells you they have Lyme Disease and you research lists of symptoms and causes, and then you wonder what it’s like to be a spirochete.

• Memories topple in when a phone call comes from a childhood friend. You flash back to a rock ’n roll party in her driveway. Records. 45s spinning on her portable record player, a B-side slow-dance, and the sweet boy who swayed you to the music on a June evening.

• A poem begins when you finally have time to write, and you can’t think of a thing to say. And you feel everything you write is wrong. But you write anyway. On the day you finally had time to write.

• Phrases come when you’re walking the unpaved circular mile around the town pond in early morning, when everyone else is still asleep.

• Words tumble in quickly with a workshop prompt, in the class you were afraid to sign up for. You don’t know where it’s going, and you feel exposed because you’re afraid they’ll ask you to read it out loud.

• Phrases come to you when someone on TV has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and you search websites, and then your life, for a vocabulary of obsessive-compulsive traits.

• Strange dream-words flood in from blurred clouds on first waking up. You feel they’re trying to tell you something, even though you don’t understand. But you write them down anyway.

• Images rush in when you’re stopped at the red light, and you have less than a minute to capture words for the scene at the intersection.

• A poem begins with your journal when you’re sad and alone, and there’s no one to call.

• Phrases pour out over a collection of seashells. A list of first times, last times and turning points. A history of places where you’ve lived. Shoes you’ve worn. Cars. Jobs. Past loves.

• An elegy begins when you write about one loss as if it was a reflection of every other loss.

• A poem begins when you research snakes or frogs, or how you learned to walk. Or how the rocks below you were formed billions of years ago.

• Imagery begins when you catalogue all you see around you. Or hear, smell, taste, feel, touch.

• A poem begins when you’re reading someone else’s poem, and it sparks an idea in you that continues on your own tangent.

• A new thought opens up when your cousin calls to say she’s taken the kids to Arizona’s Saguoro National Park. And although you only know New England forests, you read about the cactus that take 50-75 years to grow their first arms.

• A project can start when you make a date to meet a friend at the mall for tea. You sit and write together quietly.

• Poems begin when you enter your daily writing practice and continue the work you'd left unfinished and breathing from the day before.

• Writing begins with a wild body-surfing wave, or on thin ice. With too much time, or not enough time. With what is disconnected, broken, messy and uncertain, But begin in any way you can.

A Poem Begins With Possibility

     With these possibilities, I bring you back into the little world of my own beginnings and disconnected phrases. These lines are from unwritten poems, slips of paper and old computer files. Maybe someday, some will grow up to become poems.


Bass sax threads a warm perfume around the slow dancers.
Another Lucky Strike between her red lips,
she inhales with a magnet of breath until embers glow scarlet.
Thistles, nettles and thorns of night where owl shadows
and hawks gather, where no one has ever been so alone.
It was the year of seven monkeys and the structure of dragon kites.
As shimmering fish intersperse with ruins and castles,
soaking up the sadness of shipwrecks.
White noise ripples in my ears, I can no longer hear the angels.
Spirochetes dive into my tissues, I ask for grace.
Even with theories of atonement, the deeper difficulty remains.
Among the sand and mud of protected bays,
submerged lilies sway with pond grass.
a similarity of corresponding mouth parts
its nature smoother than glass, rounder than pearl
Just before the roses bloomed, just before you left me
memories of ten thousand cigarettes
beside discarded J&B Scotch bottles
Birds swoop past unaware, their music first urgent, then tender
The silver planets of my thoughts

How a Poem Grows

     Early writers often try to tell their personal story. But magic can happen when they loosen their personal grip on the story and consider the limitless possibilities of the universe. If we open our senses to the cornucopia of material ceaselessly seething all around us, we might find that all we’d wanted to say would still follow us.

     When you gather phrases of possibility, when you combine them, you might discover something you’d always wished for, but didn’t know how to find.

What are the silver planets of your thoughts?


Anique Sara Taylor’s book Civil Twilight is Blue Light Poetry Prize 2022. Where Space Bends was published by Finishing Line Press 2020. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her chapbooks chosen Finalist in 2023 are: When Black Opalescent Birds Still Circled the Globe (Harbor Review’s Inaugural 2023 Jewish Women’s Prize); Feathered Strips of Prayer Before Morning (Minerva Rising); Cobblestone Mist (Long-listed Finalist by Harbor Editions’ Marginalia Series). Earlier Chapbook Finalists: Where Space Bends (In earlier chapbook form 2014 by both Minerva Rising & Blue Light Press.) and Under the Ice Moon (2015 Blue Light Press). She holds a Poetry MFA (Drew), Diplôme (Sorbonne, Paris), a Drawing MFA & Painting BFA (With Highest Honors / Pratt) and a Master of Divinity degree. Follow her on Facebook, X, Instagram, LinkedIn, and her blog. Sign up for her newsletter.

Add to GoodReads:

civil twilight

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the book:

Anique Sara Taylor’s chapbook Civil Twilight is the winner of the 2022 Blue Light Poetry Prize.

As the sun sinks 6 ̊ below the horizon at dawn or dusk, it’s 5:30am/pm someplace in the world. In thirty shimmering poems (30 words/5 lines each), Civil Twilight probes borders of risk across a landscape of thunderstorms, quill-shaped mist, falcons that soar, the hope of regeneration, a compass to the center. Tightly hewn poems ring with rhythm and sound, follow ghosts who relentlessly weave through a journey of grief toward ecstasy. Spinning words seek to unhinge inner wounds among sea shells and hostile mirrors, eagles and cardinals––to enter “the infinity between atoms,” hear the invisible waltz. Even the regrets. The search for an inner silhouette becomes a quest for shards of truth, as she asks the simple question, “What will you take with you?”

Advance Praise:

“Taylor’s award-winning collection is mesmerizing. 30 poems, 30 words each shimmer with a refined intensity at once both taut and expansive … her emotional richness is as lyric as it is restrained.” ––Leslie T. Sharpe, Author of The Quarry Fox and Other Critters of the Wild Catskills

“Experience each poem, woven [with] great intimacy and rare musicality … Read all 30 poems aloud in sequence and feel yourself transformed.” ––Sharon Israel, Host of Planet Poet, Words in Space Radio Show and Podcast

Civil Twilight is a stunningly crafted sequence of small poems … keenly attuned to the language of the natural world and all the mysteries that come with it.” —Sean Nevin, Author of Oblivio Gate

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