"The only inspiration worth having is an inspiration that clarifies the form of what's being written, and that's more likely to come from something that already has a literary form."
-Northrop Frye (The Educated Imagination)
One day, while traveling in Taiwan, I visited the home of an old Taiwanese poet. He spoke very little English, and I practically no Chinese. We sipped tea and read each other poems from our notebooks. Neither of us understood the other, though we both nodded enthusiastically on hearing the music of a foreign language used poetically. After each poem, we would discuss in English the nature of that poem's meaning. There was a big window in the living room overlooking what seemed like endless rice fields.
After I read him several poems, Li Pa asked me quite matter-of-factly, "what do you write about?"
"Many things," I replied, in the simplest English I could manage. "These poems are all written about words I found in the dictionary."
He thought about this for a few seconds, then seemed to understand: "You cannot write good poems about words in the dictionary. Good poems are about life." He gestured toward the rice fields outside. "Good poems are out there."
This conversation has haunted me ever since. Indeed, it haunted me before I even had it. I decided Li Pa was right, and I decided he was wrong. That there is no source for good poetry, it's all source.