Poet Laureates Around the Nation:
Lawson Fusao Inada
Poet Laureate, Oregon
On Writing: Of course I had to write in school, but I didn’t start writing poems and stories until I took a Creative Writing class in college. I would encourage students to start now—writing in journals when ideas happen, and using their imaginations in creative ways. There’s no “wrong” or “right” in creativity.
Inspirations: Inspiration comes from everywhere in life—dreams, memories, current experiences. It’s all worth writing about, and expressing the “inner self” in writing can then be shared with others. For further inspiration, I like to write poems for friends and relatives, for certain occasions, like gifts. In that way, creativity is practical.
Challenges: We all have challenges, but as a writer, I like to challenge myself to learn more, and to develop in different ways. I enjoy going to the public library, and I also try to keep expanding culturally, by listening to different music, seeing different films and different art, and eating different foods beyond what I’m used to. I tell myself: “Why not check it out?”
Turning points: As a writer, it was great to get published, or to receive praise from others, but at the same time, I realized that the recognition was based on opinions; so a “turning point” was when I knew I had to believe in myself, and to keep creating in my own individual way. Also, although I may be called a “writer,” I know that people are people, and I try my best to be a good person.
Mentors: My parents, grandparents, and friends were always there for me, and in my teens the great American jazz artists became my creative role-models; in college, my mentor in poetry was the great American poet, Philip Levine.
Favorite books/poems: In college, even though I was an English major, I began studying writers from all over the world, whose works were translated into English. I learned a lot from Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Middle Eastern and African writers, the great male and female poets of the ancient Chinese and Japanese traditions, and so on. As a student of Buddhism, I’ve found the poetry of Chogyam Trungpa and Thich Nhat Hanh to be very meaningful. All the great religious texts are very “poetic.” And some of my favorite American poems are also song lyrics.
Advice to young writers: Since I earn my living as a teacher, and since poetry is not “commercial,” I have not needed a literary agent to take care of business matters. Once a writer has a manuscript to show an agent, then things can happen. My advice to young writers: “Just do it!” Whatever it is, do it. All people have good ideas, but writers are the ones who put it down on paper. Also, go to a bookstore and “check out the market” to see what fits with your interests. It’s all good—writing for children, young adults, and these days there are many fields, from history to humor, to graphic novels to science fiction, fantasy, and in the corner, there’s my field, poetry.#