Poetic inspiration can arise anywhere, at anytime. It can even be aroused by imagery and sensations that are not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word. For example, Philip Levine, the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate, found much of his inspiration in the Detroit factories he grew up working in. He would write about the harsh chill off the Detroit River during a long walk to work, or the postindustrial landscape that now seems more like a scene from "Gravity’s Rainbow" than an American city. Levine's work shows that poems, as well as the inspiration behind them, need not be limited in subject matter.
No matter what your muse may be, finding inspiration goes beyond possessing a solid poetic sensibility. You'll also need to know how to convey your message in a creative and poetic way. Here are four tips that can help poets not only with their quest for inspiration, but with their poetic fundamentals, too.
Tip One: Examine the Little Things
Simply sitting down and taking notes on your surroundings can be a fecund experience. On the one hand, it’s utilitarian because it allows you to build a rich store of images and phrases that you can later use—the drapes licking a window, the amber sunlight thick and rich like a bucolic Monet painting, the vapid look of a vacant-eyed man, etc. On the other hand, it allows you to become more meditative and thoughtful. You may end up looking at something that you've seen a thousand times with a fresh perspective, and this may give you insight into a new idea for a poem.
Tip Two: Study the Greats
Isaac Newton said that he was only capable of seeing great distances because he stood on the shoulders of giants. A similar thing could be said of poets. Having a solid base of knowledge in a variety of fields of study will help you as you write. For one, it will allow you to make allusions, which will give your language extra weight without a lot of words. Furthermore, studying older poets can also serve as a rich source of inspiration, as well as a guide to see how to better structure your poems.
Tip Three: Make Some Lists
Even seasoned poets and novelists can benefit from writing out lists. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter of the list is. The content isn’t what’s important—it’s the associations between the words. Something as simple as listing adjectives that relate to the concept of 'yellow', for example, can lead to a bizarre word combination that makes you howl with laughter or pause to ponder more. Listing phrases or clauses can birth surprising results, as they reveal richer thematic bonds. They may even become the basis of a poem.
Tip Four: Use Exercises to Create Similes, Metaphors and Alliterations
My high school English teacher used to call these “the writer’s bag of tricks.” They are the elements of poetry that are often difficult to dream up. However, a cogent metaphor can express a point that, when written in plain English, sounds rather dull or hackneyed. An interesting simile, meanwhile, can serve as a bridge between two seemingly different phenomena. Finally, assonance and alliteration insert a sense of lyricism into your poetry that will make it an absolute pleasure to read. Unfortunately, these devices do not always come that easily. Whether you’re publishing your sixth book of poetry or beginning to write your first sonnet, sometimes you just hit a wall. It could be because you're feeling lazy or tired. It could be the far more serious condition known as writer's block. By using exercises such as these, however, you can warm up your brain like a runner stretching before a sprint (or, if you're into epic poetry, a marathon). Exercises will push you to think in a far less goal-oriented or literal way, and you could end up creating something that is far more Dionysian in spirit than you may have anticipated. If all goes well, you may even get a poem by using one.
What is important when seeking out inspiration is not what causes the inspiration, but the results that end up on the page. What may seem a little silly, such as writing out a series of adjectives all pertaining to apples or documenting everything in the room in which you are sitting, may end up going interesting places, and creating even more interesting poems.