Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 15, 2010


My husband and I just spent a few days on Cape Cod. Walking on the beach, he asked if the ocean inspired me. Yes, in that it brings me peace and often a wider frame of mind. No, in that I don’t go back to the room and write about seagulls, plovers, horseshoe crabs, or curling, frothy waves.

Inspiration rarely comes directly as something in a carefully taped box. Probably most poets who wrote about nature, such as Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay, whom I’ve been reading this past week, often saw a wall being mended or irises unfurling and went home to write about these. Frost, we know, wrote Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening on a hot day when lilacs bloomed. Visiting Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home at Steepletop, I was gladdened, in that me-too way, to see all the crossed out words in one draft of a poem. Scholars say she spent twenty years on some poems, which is a lot longer than an iris blooms.

Nature does give inspiration, but much of it is through reminders of the curious ways beauty may greet us. And for me it’s small things rather than grand landscapes that tend to stir my imagination. Sometimes a broken seashell, holding the light. A stone put in a pocket: why? Yesterday a bit of white down floating past the window, as a feather might have drifted thousands of years ago. And for a moment, in a flash, an old goose woman kind of whispered in my ear.

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  1. I get inspiration from some people’s blogs….
    …like this one!
    I love learning about processes and the “me-too” factor is always an enjoyable one!
    And yes, I have never written about the ocean. Never really painted or drawn it, either. But does it have an affect on my train of thought? Yes, indeed. In fact, maybe I’ve seen trains in the ocean—I’ve drawn ’em.

    I saw Dylan in the ocean and George Washington, too.

  2. I love other people’s crossed-out words, too. Such a relief….

  3. Lovely and peaceful.
    We were just talking about spending a week at the Cape next summer. I am going to look for a house on the beach, no driving, just walking!

  4. Twenty years…
    You make me feel much better about the time I’ve spent on my WIP — including the chapter I’m currently revising, which is replete with crossed-out words.

  5. Siiighhh! What a lovely, evocative post. Thank you!.

  6. Re: I get inspiration from some people’s blogs….
    Kevin, I love the Dylan painting. Mine is right here in my office, still patiently waiting for me to find the right mats. In the meanwhile, Dylan and the train keep watch. 🙂

  7. I was thinking about this yesterday. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the leaves yellow, but I chose to work in my room, back to the window with earplugs in. That’s how I’m needing to work these days, but later I went outside and worked in the yard, and soaked up some of that beautiful day.
    I envy you walking along the beach.

  8. Mine is right here in my office….
    …and may he keep an inspiring on you!
    Thanks, Tracy!

  9. Lovely.
    Oh, what treasures we find, when we open our hearts and soften our gaze.

  10. Oh I love this thoughtful post. It makes me think of Hemingway who said (and I am paraphrasing) that he couldn’t write OF Paris when he lived IN Paris…he needed the distance and time in order to shape it more clearly.

  11. Re: I get inspiration from some people’s blogs….
    Kevin, clearly you do see inspiration everywhere! Thanks for sharing it! Though I’m just as glad I’m back from the ocean, so I’m not seeing music-makers and founding fathers floating around. A glimpse is enough!

  12. Yes, those reflections of our cross-outs and smears seem to say we are on the right track. I know you are, Liz.

  13. You have a most excellent plan, Laura. Park and then ocean-watch. There’s a vacation.

  14. Re: Twenty years…
    It does get hard to remember that all those strike-outs mean things are going flowingly. It can get frustrating that the muse doesn’t wear a watch. Sometimes I want to kick her. But eventually I just try to stroll along: what else can we do?

  15. Thanks, Debbi. Hope you’re finding inspiration…

  16. This morning when we walked before leaving the wind was so hard that one way was like walking into a wall. But it was gorgeous. Seagulls flying in place.
    I do like a window to look out of when I work, and save the earplugs for when my neighbor is at it with his chainsaw (rather too often) but .. we all find what works for us, and I’m glad you’ve found your way.

  17. Melodye, you are a treasure.

  18. Sometimes it can be frustrating how much distance we do need, but hearing bits of your process, it seems like you are just the right distance to be working on those poems we’re all waiting to read.
    See you soon!

  19. from Laura @AuthorAmok
    Hi, Jeannine. Great post on inspiration. One thing Kay Ryan mentioned during her reading was not putting off writing when you have an idea. She said the poem will be a different poem if you write it tomorrow. That philosophy begs for the kind of attentiveness you’re speaking to.

  20. Re: from Laura @AuthorAmok
    Yes, I’d agree. The poem won’t be the same if you put it off till after lunch either. Which isn’t always bad. They really do come out of all the things life flings at a moment.

  21. “I don’t go back to the room and write about seagulls, plovers, horseshoe crabs, or curling, frothy waves. “
    I can see that. But I wonder what beautiful things you might write if you did. Could be cool.
    By the way, I wanted to thank you again for reading the Frost and Millay poems to me as we drove to and from the Cape this past week.
    Also, I noticed a curious thing, and I meant to mention it at the time (but forgot) — your voice seemed to change from poet to poet. I don’t know if you were actually changing the timbre of your speech, or if it was just an artifact of your reading the different approaches, different rhythms of the poems of Robert and Edna. But it was interesting. — PL

  22. I seem to be accumulating a collection of Jeannine Atkins quotes to tack up. Today’s: Nature does give inspiration, but much of it is through reminders of the curious ways beauty may greet us.
    And beauty’s messengers, the broken seashells and stones, ask us to pick them up.

  23. Oh yes, me too! “…but much of it is through reminders of the curious ways beauty may greet us…” I remember reading that David McCord said he looked for three things of beauty each day, and that the weather was usually number one. Finding loveliness in the small not only gives us inspiration for writing. Too, it helps us love our lives. I adore these thoughtful posts. A.

  24. Thanks, Toby, for the flattering thought of my words on your walls. And for your own lovely quote. I love thinking of stones and shells as beauty’s messengers.
    See you… later this week! Yay!

  25. Oh, Amy, thank you for your thoughtfulness and inspiration. I am really looking forward to meeting you this weekend!!!

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