Art & Inspiration

Art & Inspiration

September 21, 2011 1 Comment

Those who know me know that I am undoubtedly a book nerd. I love books, love working with books, love discussing books--I even went so far as to organize my bookshelves by color last winter. So it should be no surprise that I've recently started a book club among our friends in Charlottesville. Longtime readers of this blog may recall some of my past gushings about my poetry book club back in Boulder, and I've been missing the sense of community and the fulfillment that I take from discussing (really discussing) books with people.

Our first book was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, followed by All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. The first book was engrossing but long, and the second was difficult to access, though both were very worthwhile in the end. Still, we agreed that something lighter and more fun was called for for the next meeting. We settled on The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson. Simply put, the book is about a family (whose last name, yes, is Fang) of two parents who are performance artists and their two kids who are used as pawns in the performances until they escape to their owns lives as an actress and a fiction writer.

The book offers much for discussion, including parenting consequences, family dynamics, and above all, art. The nature of art, the extent to which some artists will go for the sake of their craft, and the inspiration that artists draw from are all strong themes in the book. Caleb and Camille, the parents, craft chaotic spectacles in which the audience doesn't realize they're the audience—this, says Caleb, is the only true art. Meanwhile Camille secretly paints odd oil paintings, fearful of being discovered by her husband, who considers such "static" forms of art to be a waste of time. Annie, the daughter, has left home to become an actress, and the book offers insight into her process as she becomes a character and invests in a scene. Buster, the son, is a fiction writer who over the course of the book finds himself engrossed in the act of writing his third novel.

The thing that I love about the book is how each character finds inspiration in myriad places: from newspaper articles, from book inscriptions, from mental exercises, and yes, from their family. This, more than anything else, really stuck with me. It highlights how all different kinds of artists—writers, performers, actors—draw from the everyday to inspire their work.

It reminded me of the time I dragged my now husband to a poetry reading with Mark Doty. Peter, who had never read poetry, much less gone to a reading, found Doty's work accessible, thanks to his use of everyday objects and situations. Doty simply put these things through a poet's lens, looking at them more closely and ruminating upon them. The poem that most struck me with its simple beauty and craft was A Green Crab's Shell. In describing the color, he calls it "the brilliant rinse / of summer's firmament." What a thing to say in place of simply "green."

After the reading, Peter said how someone like Doty made him realize how one could be a poet, as it left him looking at the world as a poet might--where any small thing might hold a poem.

Being a poet (or any kind of artist, for that matter) in many ways means noticing things. It means letting the world make a full impression on you, then reflecting that impression back to it. In Ruminate's Issue 21: Grief (which releases on September 26 and features the winning poems from our annual poetry contest), Beth Paulson urges readers to do just that in her poem, "Autumnal":

Watch deer at dusk pass over a hill
browse grass among junipers
lifting their solemn heads, gazey eyes.
They do not hurry or have expectations.

Likewise, in the poem "Magnificat" by Mary Ruefle, the narrator says "O Lord, I did walk upon the earth / and my footprints did keep pace with the rain / and I did note, I did note where orange birds / flew up from the puddles thou hast made".

After all, making note of such things is often a poem in itself. As Camille says in The Family Fang with regard to their art, "It's a lot more complicated than that. . . . But there's a simplicity in what we do as well."

Where do you find inspiration?

1 Response

Stephen W. Leslie
Stephen W. Leslie

February 17, 2017

Raised a Quaker and later trained in meditation I find inspiration in the quiet sitting that starts my day. For 38 years I have warmed my meditation cushion. A decade ago I gave up a successful real estate practice to become a hospice counselor and now a chaplain. For most this would be an unimaginable life sitting with the dying. But for me it is inspiring and a sacred honor, which has lead me to write poetry about my patients and the impact all this has had on me personally. But more than the patients it is the quiet stillness that fills each morning that provides the space for inspiration to flow.

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