Still Life ~ craft + creativity

Still Life invites writers, artists, and musicians to share a favorite creative prompt or craft lesson, or to tell us about a book, poem, song, or film that’s been inspirational to them. Still Life offers opinions, experiences, or lessons on creativity, artistic processes, and the role of arts in culture. 

In this episode of Still Life poet and artist Sean Corbin offers a lesson in tapping into your creative influences. Who or what inspires you? Sean suggests a plan for "connecting to, jumping into, joining ... the creative community that is not confined to Appalachia, or America, or even to the living." We hope you'll try his creativity prompt and share with others.

An Exercise in Influences

by Sean Corbin

As an artist, you have multitudes of influences rumbling through your brain—some literary, some Hollywood, some music, some family, some arboreal, some pizza-based. I know I’ve got so many voices crammed into my brain—completely separate from all my other voices—that it’s difficult to keep track. But I think it’s important to do just that, to not only accept whatever gifts are passed on from the various sources you find, but to acknowledge those sources, to understand what it is that leaches off their pages or screens or soundwaves and into that burning core of fire that is your creative center.

I need to know that I am not the innovator of long-as-hell lines and sentences—I took that from Whitman and Ginsberg and Stein and others.

I am not the originator of surrealist images—I took those from Chris Prewitt and Sergei Parajanov and Russell Edson and others.

I’m not opening up a new market for depressing poems or sad short films—I stole that from, you know, most poets and filmmakers.

And I should thank them all, and tweak their voices into my own, and sprinkle some of this goofy Appalachian-Ale-8-addict-dad-joke-loving-death-obsessed pixie dust on them, just like they have before me. This is me connecting to, jumping into, joining the Great Conversation, as George Eklund would call it—the creative community that is not confined to Appalachia, or America, or even to the living, but is interconnected through this infinite unified field of consciousness and breath and art that we all swim through each day.


So. Let’s come down out of the clouds and get practical.

Have you ever stopped to consider exactly what it is about your influences that moves your spirit? Can you come up with one word or phrase or element of their work that best summarizes what attaches to you, speaks to you, relates or resembles you in some way?

I hope so, because if you’re trying my following exercise, you have to.

Pick three artists or figures that influence your art. Any artists in any genres. Now, as you marinate in these artistic energies, single out one aspect of each artist, sum it up in a word or two, and write all of them down. Now consider any subject matter, specific or general (although I’ll always scream that the more specific, the better). Write that down. Your job is to create something that utilizes those influence-keywords to explore the subject matter you chose.

To illustrate: I choose David Lynch, Thomas Merton, and Gertrude Stein.
My keywords are WEIRD (Lynch), SPIRITUAL (Merton), and REPETITIVE LANGUAGE (Stein).
My subject matter is the ongoing chicken sandwich war.
And so would follow a poem about chicken sammies with odd surrealist imagery, thoughtful below-the-surface analysis (that leans toward the spiritual), and long flowing runs of sentences with repetition to almost a religious degree, almost a chant.

You can do this with any artform, so film directors, songwriters, painters, jazz flutists, have at it. And the subject obviously doesn’t have to be that goofballs—I considered my first memory and contemporary Appalachia and whatever’s going on in Florida, too.

Have fun. Write your bones out. Remember and cherish your very first influence: your own damn self.

Sean Corbin is the author of The Leper Dreams of Snow (Finishing Line, 2018), and the self-published chapbook Radiate. His work has been published widely, included in Crow Hollow, Where Is The River (forthcoming), and JMWW. Sean works as a freelance writer, artist, workshop leader, and medical simulation operator in Lexington, Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and sons. With Amanda Corbin, Sean is building a community for writers and artists through the Milestone Art Collective, which will offer free and premium writing classes, workshops, and editing and marketing services, as well as an online marketplace for their personal artwork.


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