Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 1
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The Best Library in the World

Well, maybe not the best, but the one that’s meant the most to me: the supremely disorganized reading room (and computer lounge, and makeshift massage parlor) at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artists’ colony in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A good forty of the poems in my manuscript-in-progress got their start at VCCA, and the majority of those began right there beside those shelves. I’m a thesaurus guy, a see-where-a-random-word-takes-me guy. I love outdated encyclopedias and biographies long since refuted. I was always taught to disbelieve in the Muses, but to the extent that they exist, they live alongside the science textbooks and dictionaries of world history in a narrow den down the road from Lynchburg.

Yet my real inspiration? A door with a lock. A computer without email access. Arriving in Virginia, I fantasize about reversing the doorknobs, arranging to be released after a fortnight. My own students resist it, but the advice I got in my younger days was both priceless and hard-won: any idiot can write a poem. It’s the rare idiot who can write twenty drafts of one. Shut up and get to work.

But first read a bit. Or read a lot. Read up on early-American witchcraft, the Lascaux cave paintings, the Cold War, and yes, the oldest squirrel monkey in captivity, that wily astronaut. The trick is to be just like him: discover something new, then sit in a cage for a while. If the Muses follow, wonderful. If they don’t, at least you will have done your part.  

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