People are always asking artists and writers, “Where do your ideas come from?” You get your ideas wherever you get them. I have no idea where my next idea might come from, if I ever have another one. That's another thing you don't know — when is it all over? I don't worry about that too much, however, because under normal circumstances I think it's all over when you decide it's over.
An idea can happen any time, anywhere. According to David Eagleman in his 2011 book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain we have any number of secret “selves” or systems working beneath our “consciousness mind,” which is actually a very small portion of our brain. “Ideas” bubble up from some sort of subliminal brain committee that is forever working to keep us alive. A poem may begin with a single word — for instance, I heard a word on television one morning. I was watching the weather forecast and the forecaster said, "When will the snow do what it's supposed to do?" But instead of "snow do" I heard "snow-dew." That word fascinated me. I don't know where that idea is going to lead, but perhaps eventually something will click, one of my subconscious committees will put that word into some kind of context for me, and I'll be able to write a poem.
On another occasion I'd been collecting such words and making a list of them, hoping I'd eventually find a place to use them, but I never did. It was a short list — "twilleter" is a neologism, meaning a kind of insect, from Alistair Reed's children’s book Ounce, Dice, Trice; "common goatsucker,” is another name for the nighthawk, one of my favorite words, but I tend to overuse it; "clum," which I ran across in the Oxford English Dictionary, is an ancient synonym for “silence.”
Finally I got tired of waiting for "inspiration' to strike, and my conscious mind decided to write a poem and use all of the words, just to get rid of them. So I did, and as I was typing up the final draft (yes, “typing” — this was back in the ‘seventies, as I recall), I meant to write the word "slicing," but it accidentally came out "sliving." I looked at that typo and decided it was more descriptive than the word I'd intended to use, so I kept it. Years later, long after I’d written the poem, I serendipitously ran across the verb "to slive" in a book of archaic words, Charles MacKay’s Lost Beauties of the English Language published in 1874. It meant, "to do anything furtively or slyly; to sneak, to skulk." It turned out to be another ancient word and not a coining after all! I wonder which of my subconscious systems understood that. Anyway, this is the poem I or several of my selves wrote from my word list:
Listen to Lewis Turco read his poem Home Thoughts
Time buzzes in the ear. Somewhere
nearby, beyond my peripheral
vision, an insect throbs its heartsong
to the couch. A twilleter fuzzes
against a burning lamp. Outdoors,
a common goatsucker strings twelve
yellow streetlamps on its bill. Between
its hoarse shrieks, the town sky drops pieces
of clum among my snoring neighbors.
If I close my eyes, a crack along
the wall comes sliving my lids to
split the mind's dry sight. Look inward: a
plaster skull sifts dust down upon old
webs that hang, buzzing, as darkness moves
ruthlessly to feast on something
small and hollow with blind, jeweled eyes.
So ideas come from everywhere; I guess all one need do is be receptive, keep one's ears open for sounds and one's eyes open for images. A poet, above all other writers, is interested in language. That's his or her material, You keep your ears open for language and your mind open to impressions.
"Home Thoughts" was originally published in Poetry, cxiii:4, Jan. 1969, and gathered in Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco 1959-2007, www.StarCloudPress.com, 2007, ISBN 978-1-932842-19-5, jacketed cloth, $49.95; ISBN 978-1-932842-20-3, trade paperback, $32.95, 640 pages. ORDER FROM AMAZON.COM.