“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” This quote, often attributed to T.S. Eliot (many feel erroneously), does recognize one truth about art: that nothing is ever completely a new idea. Making a familiar image, idea or experience feel like something new is the job of the artist. And sometimes a little good-natured (and properly attributed) thievery can light a spark for a brand-new piece of art.
Find a book of poetry that you have been recently reading. (Or, if you don’t have many poetry books at home, then use the internet to search poets.org for some poems to read.) Choose three or four lines that you particularly like and write them down.
My lines are from Sakura Park by Rachel Wetzsteon:
“where were the clouds/like camels, the fresh day’s difficult red riddles?” (from “Sunrise Over Low”)
“I hoard excuses like coins” (from “Saturday Night”)
“I’m private enough/to wrap my secrets in veils of frilly/banter, thick webs of gauzy bravado.” (from “But for the Grace”)
“Into the heavens/flew a breathless legion/of impossible crows” (from “Blue Octavo Haiku”)
Decide on one of the lines to use as an epigraph to inspire a new poem, or choose a title from one of the lines. Be sure to attribute the line to the original poet, but take that image, mix it around in your own melange of experience, and create something completely new.
Here is my first attempt:
Close to the Vest
“Into the heavens/flew a breathless legion/of impossible crows”
– Rachel Wetzsteon
Promises fly from my lips like a legion of crows,
their eyes glinting in the glare of my intentions.
One by one, their iridescent feathers helicopter
to the ground, burdened with my many failures.
Purloin a line or two of your own and give it a try.
*In case you haven’t noticed, the names of my posts often come from song lyrics, today’s from the title of a Jane’s Addiction Song.