Looking Outwards


 “For a writing life to flourish, your mind has to go outwards.” —Richard Ford

As I dip my toes slowly back into the poetry, I find myself pondering why I stopped writing and more importantly what is it that allows a writing life to flourish. Discipline is the first and perhaps automatic answer any practicing writer will give. There is truth to this, but for me it wasn’t just about discipline. Even if I set aside time to write every day...I would just spend the time stuck. We have all been there. This writer’s block has been pervasive over the past several years. I asked myself over and over what could I do. Maybe I needed to work on my motivation? Maybe I had no more poems left in me. Maybe I just needed that inspiration. A visit from the muses.  

I was challenged in March, by a fellow poet and friend, to enter a contest. As it was the day of the contest there was no time to write something new. Additionally, I had to submit had to be an audio recording of the poem, which was nerve wracking. I prefer pen to paper for a reason. Her invitation to submit something however awakened a fledging growth within me. As I rifled through some recent work, asking them which one wanted the voice, which one wanted to be heard, the poem chose me.

This poem was bolder than some others. Vulnerable. It was about a man, presumably homeless, showering during rush hour on a busy D.C. expressway. The first reaction I received from some close friends I shared it with was, “Did this really happen?” Although this situation was more striking and unusual and uncomfortable than most...I realized that how much of the world do I miss when I am only looking inward. What other moments, poetic or not, are there inviting me in to experience humanity more fully? 

As writer this outward gaze is what brings life to our work. Our poems, stories, essays...what if we made others the subject. Would it breathe a fresh breath of spring into our work? This April, I challenge you to look outwards. Perhaps then the pen will come to life again.