Get The Old Car Running
By Erica Goss
The cover of my new book, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, shows the front of an automobile, rust streaking the baby-blue paint. I don’t know its make or year, but it reminds me of the ancient heaps that populated my grandfather’s auto-repair shop in downtown Los Angeles in the 1960s, when I was a child. I found this car at History Park in San Jose, and, like Proust’s madeleine, it took me immediately into the past. I whipped out my camera and took the photo, not suspecting that in a little over a year it would grace the cover of the book I didn’t know I’d be writing.
Sometimes the imagination is like an old car – stubborn, heavy, and slow to move on cold mornings. I designed Vibrant Words, a selection of writing exercises I’ve collected over the years and used myself and with students, to provide a kick-start for poets. This is not an academic treatise; its purpose is to inspire, amuse, and de-mystify the process of writing poetry. There’s plenty of blank space for notes and scribbles, and I hope people who buy the book will fill it with their own writing.
One of my favorite writing exercises is “Parking Lots as Inspiration,” where I reveal my secret muse: “ordinary stretches of asphalt that cover the ground, miles and miles of parking lots that surround buildings.” My poem, “This is a Wild Place,” began in a parking lot:
This is a Wild Place
On the last day of winter,
my car, filled
with chaff and spare parts,
fits neatly in its painted slot,
a motion box, stopped.
The little junk birds peck at foil,
and I am called away from my body
to forage for my life
out in the open.
When I was eleven
I climbed a huge pine
and had a vision
of flying into the thin
mountain air; my mother called
my name softly, standing on the red earth,
and her voice was a ladder
I climbed down.
I have seen the sky
in late winter, watched clouds
form the ribcage of a fantastic beast,
the world is stitched together
from the loosest of tissues – even
with faint cracks
for the smallest seeds.
First appeared in Café Review, Spring 2010
The processes of driving, leaving and returning to a car offer possibilities for observation, as the poem illustrates. In the exercise, I advise readers “Next time you’re in a parking lot, take a look around. What do you see? What do you hear and smell?” I encourage them to find a place no one else has discovered, and describe its unique attributes in poetry. It might be a public restroom, an alley or side street, or the dumpster behind a fancy restaurant. A neglected, ignored place has as much inspiration for poetry as Yosemite or the Rocky Mountains, once that rusty car of the imagination gets going.
Erica Goss is the Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, and the host of “Word to Word,” a show about poetry. She is the author of Wild Place (Finishing Line Press 2012) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press 2014). Her poems, reviews and articles appear widely, both on-line and in print. She writes “The Third Form” for Connotation Press. She won the 2011 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Contest and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010 and 2013. Please visit her at: www.ericagoss.com.