Stepping Out for Inspiration

Before Composing a Syllable
Before Composing a Syllable

There are times when  I seriously doubt my sanity and those doubts came in massive waves the other morning when I went for the two hour walk around Tramore Beach on what was the most bitterly cold morning we’ve had in years.

I just couldn’t resist it and was heartened by a teenage memory of walking on Baltray Beach, Co. Louth with my father when our faces were battered by the hardest, cruelest hailstones that ever fell from the sky! It was a day we laughed about right up until he died over half a century later.

As I huddled into the wind, determined I would never tell anyone I’d gone for this mad walk, I doubled back to take a second look at a chair which someone had lodged securely against the elements and which was obviously a special place for him/her. It was at the half-way point where one walks up the ‘channel’ towards the Backstrand.

Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford
Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford

That chair brought me to this poem from one of my poetic heroes, Billy Collins. It’s a poem that I read over and over and is one which never fails to inspire me.

Advice to Writers

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

Billy Collins

(Source: Billy Collins, 2000,  Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes: Selected Poems, Picador)

Writing from the Heart
Writing from the Heart

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

30 thoughts on “Stepping Out for Inspiration”

  1. Sounds like the creative equivalent of cleaning a car – they go quicker and sound sweeter when washed and polished.
    Entertaining post Jean but they could have picked a comfier chair 🙂

    1. Robin, I wouldn’t know too much about cleaning cars any more than I would about cleaning desks but I’ll take your word for it!
      I agree about the chair. Plan on bringing a little cushion next time I’m down there.

    1. I’m hoping, Sheryl, that one day when I go down there that I will find ‘the owner’ sitting on it and that we’ll get to have a chat about how it all began and more!

    1. Thanks Andrea! No, chairs seem to appear in my line of vision quite regularly when I’m out and about. I wonder what this says about me, the chairs and the people who leave them in odd places.

  2. I love your thoughts, Jean, the lonely chair, and this poem. Billy Collins is one of my favorites and I had the pleasure of seeing him at one of our local universities…his poems are simple, yet profound and his humor is more apparent in person, too. 🙂 Wishing you a great weekend! ♥

    1. Hi Lauren, thanks for your kind words.
      I’m not sure that I saw the chair as ‘lonely.’ I have a definite sense that it is someone’s special place as it is wedges in so well against the elements. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him/her.
      As for Billy Collins, what a poet!

      1. You know what’s funny, Jean, is after I typed “lonely” I meant to change it because I agree with what you said. Now I’m sorry I didn’t! I knew that was the wrong choice of word and not what I thought, too, after looking at the photo..I really wish WP would allow us to edit our comments on other’s posts. Maybe someday! Anyway, feel free to swap that word out with one of your choice, which I’m sure I would agree with. Then you can delete these comments. 🙂 Have a nice Sunday! xx

        1. Thanks for returning, Lauren.
          It’s amazing how often a word appears almost of its own accord. I’d prefer to leave the exchange, if that’s okay as it made me stop and truly think and appreciate.

  3. Another chair, Jean! Hope you do get to meet whoever planted it there 🙂 And hmmm… only in poetry would it make sense to scrub everything down, and then invite a colony of ants into every nook and cranny… lol … just messin’ with ya, I “get” the poem, really! 😉 ♥ ❤

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