I went to hear Robert Adamson, one of Australia's great poets, talk about himself, his craft and his recent Blake Prize-winning poem.
It was a fascinating talk, and wonderful to hear an Australian writer talking about spirituality. All too few writers of any description are willing to open themselves up to matters metaphysical, so it was refreshing to hear some of the big themes being discussed in the enchanting dialogue between Adamson and Judith Beveridge, herself an acclaimed poet.
But what really struck me as the afternoon progressed was the idea of inspiration - it was a theme that Beveridge kept leading Adamson back to, and it was an incredibly helpful theme to an audience of willing listeners - many of them writers themselves. So here are some lessons about inspiration that I learned from Robert Adamson:
1. Just Keep Doing It
So often we feel really inspired, but when things get dull or difficult, when we encounter a discouraging word or an outright rejection, we can simply give up on our writing. I know this was a pattern I followed for about 20 years! Robert Adamson spoke of his first rejection, and how much it smarted, until he confided in an older and more experienced poet who told him to keep writing and keep submitting, and when you have exhausted all avenues, go back and start again from the top of the list!
2. Writing is an Adventure
It's not a job, it is something wholly more spiritual than that - it is a vocation. So when things get tough, when we don't want to open that file or take up that pen, remember that what you are embarked upon is not a task or a chore - it is a fulfilment of divine purpose, and a rare and privileged pleasure. Approach every writing task as an adventure in the human spirit. Embrace and love what you do, and never allow it to become mundane.
3. Keep a Journal
From the age of 11 Robert Adamson kept curious journals about birds. He loved birds and he bred pigeons, and so he recorded everything about them in his journals. Most people would think that was all mundane or childish material, but Adamson says that when he went back and looked at these journals he realised they were pure poetry. In his journals he was totally free. No-one to read or criticise or censor, he could write exactly what he wanted, and this freed him both as a writer and as a human. So keep journals and record whatever you want in them, no matter how mundane or silly you might think them.
4. Read the Classics
Just by reading Shelley and Blake, and later Yeats and Dickinson, Adamson realised what it was to be a poet, and realised his own potential for creation. It's easy to get lazy in our reading, especially, I think, in this distracted age where we demand instant gratification. But reading some of the literary greats serves as a discipline, an education and an almost-religious instruction in what it is to be exceptional, and to be an artist. Allow yourself to be lost in the words of the great writers of the past, and see what you might be able to discover in their creative worlds.
5. Have Mentors
Knowing that someone is older and wiser than you and has been through many of your torments is extraordinarily valuable, and perhaps people in this world don't realise the value of sitting at the feet of masters. I have had some wonderful mentors in my life, and continue to. I love learning from them, and offering them help, support and enthusiasm as much as I can. Adamson spoke about the guidance and influence of people like John Tranter and the wonderful Dorothy Hewett in his own life. They picked him up when he was at his lowest and encouraged him to remember who he was and what he wanted to do. He said that often all it takes is one person's faith in you to be able to change your whole life. So identify some people you admire, get to know them, and do all you can for them. It's a process as old as civilisation, and history proves that it works to make us become better writers and better people.
2 hours ago