Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Inspires You?

I just finished a phase of a big creative project.  I directed a staged reading of a play that took several years to complete.  Today I've been itching to write, but also feeling listless, creatively drained, and antsy, so I scanned my shelf of poetry books, and found myself reaching for Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Don't you wish you knew Edna St. Vincent Millay?  If you've read any of her work this is a rhetorical question.  I love my little Dover Thrift addition of First Fig and Other Poems.  This is how it starts:

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends---
   It gives a lovely light!

Second Fig

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

**image of Edna St. V. Millay by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  It is actually for sale here. (clearly she uh..inspires him too.)

Years ago I found myself at an outdoor flea market on Canal St. in Manhattan.  There was a big pile of old books that looked slightly moldy and partially burned.  Of course I had to check them out.  I found this amazing old pocket dictionary.  I don't know the year it was published because the cover was missing, but in the back, written in pencil in a beautiful hand was this:  'Collop Monday, Pancake Tuesday, Fritter Wednesday, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday Hot cross buns. ' There are so many great words in this dictionary-- depauperate v. : to make poor.  Mayling s.: a gathering flowers on May Day.

Then I came across this charred blue book.  I opened it up and on the first page was this inscription in a small, tight hand:  From your two friends with loads of love, Mina and Edna-- July 26th, 1937.  And below it in a much broader, more florid hand:  Hope you like it-- I worked hard on it-- Edna St.--
It is a first addition of Edna St. Vincent Millay's play, Conversation at Midnight.  I love that inscription, 'I worked hard on it.'  I found the book when I was deep inside a blocked writing phase, but the sentence rang in my ears.  It was like Edna St. was shouting through time at me, 'work hard! work hard!'

I imagine she did work very hard on it.  Conversation at Midnight is written in gorgeous verse.  Its funny, philosophical, both deep and silly.

Here are a few lines that make me think:  Carl: "...the English primrose pressed in your copy of Wordsworth means nothing to me, And it is nothing more.  God, I'm so sick of the smell of faded personal tokens fluttering out from between the leaves of second hand books! Oh, let the dead past cremate its dead, I say!  We have no room here even for its bones in these city blocks that must house the living world!"  I totally get it, Carl.  But all the same, I'd never part with my copy of Edna St.--- I like to imagine that she's my mentor, and right now, in my tired, antsy, keyed up mind I hear her shouting, 'Work hard! work hard! as I watch her dance down a West Village side street, drinking wine and laughing with her poet friends.

Is there a person from the past who inspires you creatively?  I'd love to know...

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