“She spoke of writing poetry as being on ‘the road to paradise.’”
Interview with the poet Ruth stone
The writer Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story about Ruth Stone which the poet shared with her:
As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet”.
I just love Ruth Stone’s description of what the act of inspiration is like. The idea that a poem she would eventually write down on a page existed somewhere outside her, whole and complete — and that her job was simply to catch it and record it, really strikes home with me.
There are moments in my own creative life where something has just floated into my head from somewhere or nowhere — I don’t know which. I wasn’t creating it so much as capturing it. From time to time, I’ve read or heard other creative people — musicians or painters describe the same feeling. Vincent van Gogh once said, “I dream my painting and then I paint my dream.”
The idea that what we’re working on already exists somewhere outside us just waiting to be discovered is tantalizing, isn’t it? If there’s something to this, then our only job is to sit and do our work — to show up, ready to grab by the tail whatever the universe has to offer us. And when we do, like Ruth, we’re on the road to paradise. Many people say that she did her best work late in life, in her 90s. So I guess that road is open as long as we are. Have you ever just grabbed something whole from the universe? I would love to hear about it! Write on.