Sleepless in Omaha: The Poetic Insomnia

David Prinz Hufford

I was sleepless one night in Omaha, but that was weeks ago. I also spent a week one night in Omaha, but I lived there many years. Unless you are a writer, you may not understand these time shifts.

Often it happens, but not often enough; the tireless incubus which drives the poet comes out, many times at night, and will not let him sleep. Some do not believe in inspiration; perhaps, they have never been inspired. But I have, and sometimes, it is a longing anguish, not just to say what needs to be said, but to say what cannot be said.

I have had the opportunity at writers’ conferences, workshops, and retreats to observe others with this malady: the creature which comes out at night and will not let you sleep. I understand that de Maupassant had it, to the point of insomnia. This creature wants out and can have life only in inspiration or invention. Normal people may have it, but they go back to sleep. The inventor of the vacuum sweeper had it, so he got out of bed and drew the first design of what is now your modern convenience.

It is winter, and the creature in me needs the warmth of human association, from the waking souls who will not sleep, but who arise from a warm bed to let the emotional dog out, to what Camus called the “invincible summer,” and the excited creature acts like hope, acts like perpetual morning, and acts like love.