Poets & Writers

The Smudge Scrawl and the Inside the Writer’s Notebook

Ideas do not come out of nowhere. Beauty, epiphany, inspiration—these things don’t happen in a vacuum. Before the poem on the page, the essay on the screen, the book on the shelf, there is this: a magnificent tangle of uncertainty, possibility, unbounded potential. And it begins to morph and fold and flip into something else entirely the moment we make that first connection between two previously distinct points. For many, this transformation takes place within the well-worn pages of a seemingly pedestrian object, the notebook. What wonders are hidden inside, what treasure waiting to be uncovered? We asked eight authors to give us a glimpse, and they graciously opened a window on their creative process.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s notebooks reveal an exquisite and continual questioning, a persistent search for the origins of beauty and sorrow, while Mark Wunderlich’s contain drafts of poems in a script as unique as fingerprints, pressed in indelible ink. Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s process takes on life-size dimensions in a triptych of panels, a rich tapestry of inspiration on her studio wall. A few of these writers describe an almost obsessive attention to their notebooks, their “sense of texture and treasure,” as Samantha Hunt puts it; “each one a container for different ideas and emotions,” says Darcey Steinke. Edward Carey’s notebook reveals the elaborate wonderings of a fictional character, proof of a life, is infectious. These sacred spaces, including Terrance Hayes’s old sketchbooks—the smudge and the scrawl—capture the intrinsic beauty of the inspired mind at work.

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