Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Prompted

“Every writer needs something to stimulate their writing. Let Poets & Writers provide just the jolt you need with our weekly writing exercises in The Time Is Now.”

That’s the (grammatically challenged) come-on I received in this morning’s email from Poets & Writers, the market magazine for, well, poets and writers. Why, I wondered, does any talented person need a prompt? Isn’t such a person overflowing with ideas to create art from? Isn’t an artist defined by his or her ability to conceive a subject and then to execute it in the best form?

Think of the great poets and their subjects. Did Keats, for instance, need a prompt to write “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” other than to have seen such an urn at the British Museum? Though he was often desperately ill and died at 26 of tuberculosis, Keats was ever bursting with ideas for his art, as his letters indicate.

How about Yeats? Did he need a prompt for “The Second Coming,” other than to reflect deeply on the harrowing condition of his world? What would his prompt have been, “Write about the image of the Sphinx in the desert”?

How about Emily Dickinson, who spent most of her life in her parents’ house, and who died at 55, leaving us about 1,789 poems as various and splendid as her dazzling imagination and her huge talent?  She was prompted daily by watching her garden, listening to birdsong, overhearing conversations about religion, the Civil War, and the great ideas of her time, and by reading— always the writer’s most significant source of ideas. And what great poems she wrote from the prompts of her experience.

I am thus prompted to say that you are either a writer, with the resources and drive to create art without synthetic prompts, or you are not.

1 comment:

  1. Hard to argue with you, George! I'd be interested in some examples from the 20th century, or even the 21st. Examples in addition to yourself, an avid reader and prolific poet. I didn't get this e-mail from P&W . . . maybe they just sent it to poets?

    ReplyDelete