For Sturgeon Bay writer Joseph Lopez, inspiration is everywhere – even in mundane chores like getting gas. His new book, Gas Station Stories and Other Poems, is a testament to that.
Though Lopez writes daily, he doesn’t just sit down and fire off poems. Instead, he jots down snippets whenever he’s inspired throughout the day, recording his observations in about six different notebooks and three different apps before periodically leafing through them to assemble into a book.
Usually, Lopez’s poetry books compile observations the author made throughout the last season or two. But the last time Lopez went over his writings, he noticed an unusual pattern.
“I found myself noticing more and slowing down more at gas stations, watching people and listening to conversations,” Lopez said.
This realization inspired Lopez to center his latest book around the theme. Gas Station Stories and Other Poems, according to Lopez, is an observation of extraordinary people in ordinary communities, and the product of about a year and a half of writing.
“Where I live, they [gas stations] bring people together,” Lopez said in a press release. “We know the owners and co-workers at these places. They are family and friends. The bright beacons of these stations call us in for necessities or give us a place to stretch our legs. They are places to find every type of character, in every state of mind.”
Lopez started his writing habit in earnest during the pandemic. Around that time, he was taking a break from a career as a visual artist, but soon found that he needed an alternative creative outlet.
“It was driving me insane to not be making art,” Lopez said.
So he turned to writing, balancing his new practice between his jobs farming and working for HELP of Door County.
With the book finished, Lopez hopes to work on two other projects: a cookbook and a collection of short stories from his own life. But he still finds himself paying more attention than is strictly necessary when he makes stops at local gas stations (his favorites are the BP by the Sturgeon Bay Pick n’ Save, and Welsing’s Foodland in Valmy, both of which are subtly featured in his book.)
“Now it’s so natural and so easy that it’s hard for me to turn off,” Lopez said. “Something will strike me and it’ll be the smallest, most ordinary thing, and that’ll be something I write about.”
That eye for inspiration wasn’t a natural knack, but a learned skill, developed over around a year of “writing crap” and jotting down anything that interested him, according to Lopez.
One ongoing source of inspiration is where he lives. Lopez’s first book,
Sounds Unheard, Songs of Home, was written as an ode to Door County, which Lopez has called home for around 30 years.
“Living here has totally taken over what influences me,” Lopez said.
Fittingly, Gas Station Stories and Other Poems is now for sale at a local Welsing’s Foodland, 4436 Whitefish Bay Rd. in Valmy. It’s also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.