MARIA TERRONE on "Muzak in Paradise"
As a poet and, in recent years, a writer of creative nonfiction, my constant challenge is to remain alert. It’s easy in daily life to see-but-not-see, hear-but-not-hear, and so it goes for all the senses, so that we can end up moving through life like robots. As an antidote to this sad possibility, I keep a very small notebook in my handbag at all times so that I can record whatever strikes me, no matter how small the detail. This is a way of allowing my life apart from the non-writing time to feed my creative spirit because inspiration comes when I allow myself to be in a state of readiness. It takes a conscious effort for me to take off my blinders and experience the quotidian in a fresh way. But this is something that I must do to be creative and through my creativity, to feel fully alive.
Regardless of what genre I’m writing in—and sometimes I combine both—my work is rooted in the senses. I may jot down a scrap of surreal-sounding conversation overheard, describe an unusual homemade jacket of many colors worn by a passing stranger, perhaps a flash of birdwing—or was that a plane?—against a mauve sky. I’m also a voracious consumer of the news. Sometimes my observations about my surroundings combine in interesting ways with what I’ve recently read. For example, before I composed the poem, “In the Still Jade Water of Noyac Bay” that appears in my first poetry collection, I’d come upon an article about a Chinese emperor buried with the “protection” of 6,000 life-size terracotta soldiers. That story sparked my imagination and influenced the poem throughout, beginning with its first image of the bay’s inky-green seaweed “mysterious and complex to me as a word of Asian text.”
And sometimes I find myself amused by what seems quirky and askew in modern life—such as a supermarket cashier screaming “Void!” over and over to get the attention of a manager who was nowhere in sight, which led to a poem that meditated on Samuel Beckett’s existential play Waiting for Godot. My poem in Split Rock Review, “Muzak in Paradise,” which I took such delight in writing, is another example of a poem happy to explore the absurd and offbeat. It also illustrates the high inspiration potential of travel. For me, leaving my usual environment, even if just to visit a museum or nearby park, often leads to pages of notes. When I explore even farther afield, such as “Muzak’s” setting in Costa Rica, my antennae are all the way up, probing, sensing.
The resulting observations, often jotted on the fly, may remain dormant in my notebooks for years, or soon become the kernels of new work. Having some words to begin invariably takes away the terror of facing a blank page.