I’m not talking about Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia and Urania.
I’m thinking more on the lines of Robert Graves and one goddess under many names, though I don’t suggest his method of finding her. I think a home-made Muse may have a beneficial effect on your poetry, though you won’t know until you try.
It’s easy to try this out. All you need is a wet afternoon and a significant absence.
The absence needs to be attached to a person. Traditionally muses are female, of course, but I’ve found male muses work just as well so long as they’re unavailable to you as human beings. It’s impossible to be a good muse and a friend at the same time.
Why? You’ve written a page and a half of blank verse grappling with solitude in the bleakness of winter, and your Muse phones up to commiserate. That’s not right at all. Muses do not reply. It’s the not replying that helps.
I was going to say don’t choose your Muse lightly. But on reflection, I think lightness is important. You can change a Muse if the first one doesn’t work, though I’m inclined to think you’ll know if you’ve got it right. There’ll be a little click, and a sense that your poem (the one you’re about to write) has engaged more smoothly, like changing from fourth gear into fifth.
So here’s how.
- Choose your Muse. It must be someone you love or have loved. Often a Muse is (in real life) dead. But you don’t even have to have met them so long as you feel a strong sense of connection. The essential property is your feeling of need – your need for the Muse to respond – and your absolute conviction that the Muse will not, or cannot, make that response.
- Choose a pen or pencil that you don’t normally write with. It must be unfamiliar to you (you might even buy one specially). Today it’s a pen/pencil with magical properties, though tomorrow it will revert to its usual self.
- Go outside and do a bit of walking and breathing. (You can do this inside as well, but outside is better.) While walking and breathing (I know you breathe all the time, but this is conscious breathing), concentrate hard on your Muse person. Establish the mental connection. Allow yourself to miss them. Badly.
- Settle in a quiet corner inside. Take up the unfamiliar pen or pencil. This pen or pencil wants to write on a topic that you don’t want to write about. It wants to write about something you would never normally consider a poem subject. But you have no choice.
- Write on this difficult topic. Write for your Muse alone to read. Write out of solitude. Write out of need. The Muse will understand. The Muse may be the only person who will ever understand.
I can’t tell you what form to choose because it will depend on the topic and the shape of your thought. But let it flow onto the page in a speaking voice and try to let the strength of feeling guide where your lines start and stop. Don’t worry about anything except the truth of the communication, about saying what you really mean.
When you come to the end of the piece of writing, go back and remove any part of it that looks like Drama. This may include words like ‘so’ and ‘very’ and ‘really’ and most similes and adjectives. Your Muse will spot artyness or artifice immediately. But if you can enhance musicality or delight, do that. All Muses can sing and dance.
Now type the poem up, or write it up, using your usual method for producing print forms.
Put it away for three weeks before looking at it again.
During that three weeks, think about your Muse before you write. Each time you write anything, even a shopping list, think about that Muse. Think of everything as a secret communication.
But this Muse is not the hugging kind. This Muse is remote and pure. You desperately long to talk to her/him but the only medium available to you for this one-way conversation is a poem. You may now need to write another one.
p.s. The Comic Muse has an extra 'o'. She is a Mouse. This method will work for her too