Sunday, February 05, 2006

Six more weeks of winter

Apparently Mister Groundhog saw his shadow.

I'm seeing a lot of shadows lately, too, and find myself wishing I could duck down into my burrow to hibernate for six weeks.

My supervisor at work says that bad luck comes in threes, so now that I've made it through the Martian Death Flu, the car wreck, and a wee electrical problem that had me summoning the fire truck to my house at 4:00 AM (less than 24 hours after the accident, no less), I should be due for some better luck. Let's hope, eh?

The car, incidentally, is most likely totaled -- though I have yet to hear back from the other driver's insurance company with a monetary figure. I, on the other hand, remain physically unscathed -- didn't even wake up stiff and sore the next morning (as everybody, including the officer on the scene, warned me that I might). So I do feel lucky there, though not as lucky as someone who didn't have an accident. I did manage to write the obligatory "car crash aftermath" poem the day after. Considering I hadn't written much of anything since about November, I'm relatively pleased with it. Thanks are due to Charlie Jensen, whose chapbook arrived in the mail the day after the crash, with just the right balance of familiarity & strangeness in the language to spark some language of my own.

Reading is such an integral part of the writing process, for me. I write best when I'm reading lots of poetry. When I am consciously reading in order to write, I don't read as closely as I might if I were going to, say, write an analytical paper about the work, but neither do I skim. I pay a sort of mid-level attention to the poems as I read them, letting the language wash over me, holding the poems in my mouth a bit to taste them but not trying to identify the individual ingredients. Some poets (or perhaps some poetries) have a stronger tendency to spark my own work, too -- and it's not always the poetry I like the best, or that I understand the best; there has to be some level of strangeness to it, a certain level of distance between me and the language that I'm reading. There also has to be a certain familiarity, something I can latch on to; I don't necessarily have to "like" the work (whatever that means) to be inspired by it, but something has to provoke a reaction in me, sustain my interest, beyond just the language. There does have to be a there there.

I don't know whether I would say the work I read in this fashion "influences" me, as I'm not consciously trying to imitate it and I doubt that anyone reading my work would imagine it was written after reading -- oh, I'm not going to name names here. But some work makes the words bounce around and rearrange themselves inside my head until I make a poem of my own, and some (even poetry I like a lot) doesn't. And I don't always know ahead of time which way it's going to go.

(Oddly enough, I can almost always get myself writing -- not always well, but writing anyhow -- by going to the university library and reading through three or four MFA theses. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe something about the relative rawness and youth of the work makes it easier for me to quibble with, and the quibbling turns into my own poetry -- though what I write is almost never in direct response to what I've read. But I'm not gonna argue with what works.)

How does your reading influence your writing? Are there certain poets you go back and read when you feel the need for inspiration? Do you consciously write in response to other poets/poems? Conversely, do you need to avoid some poets because they influence you too strongly? (When I was an undergrad, I read way too much Marge Piercy, and it showed. *grin*) Do you read differently when you read for inspiration, for analysis, or for enjoyment?

P.S. You should certainly get hold of a copy of Charlie's chapbook. I did say that the poetry that inspires me isn't always the poetry I like, but his is a big old "yes" to both. Strong stuff, these poems. I may say something more specific after I spend more time with them.

5 comments:

Laura said...

This is *exactly* my experience of reading/writing, Anne. I would add that it is usually my first reading of a book that sets me writing -- not (usually) rereading something I've previously enjoyed or been inspired by. And also, anthologies don't usually do it for me -- it needs to be a collection by a single poet. I guess I need that semi-consistent voice across a number of poems to get the gears turning.

Ivy said...

Glad to hear you're okay.

Anne said...

Laura, ditto on both of your additions! I can sometimes be inspired the second time through a book, but once it feels familiar, it just doesn't have the same effect. And it's very rare for me to find that an anthology dumps me into writing mode. (Although occasionally, if it's a particularly cohesive or focused anthology -- but mostly I do need that more consistent voice.)

Ivy, thanks. :)

Lyle Daggett said...

I constantly read other poets to get close to the sources of my own poems. (Not the only thing that works for me, but it's always been essential.) I tend to go back to the same poets over and over again, though over the years the "list" of them has gotten longer.

Some poets whose work will take me to my own poems include Thomas McGrath, Federico Garcia Lorca, Tomas Transtromer, Sharon Doubiago, Yosano Akiko, Gary Snyder, Robert Bly, Etheridge Knight, Joy Harjo, Tu Fu, Sappho, Olga Broumas, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Anya Achtenberg, Kenneth Rexroth, Miroslav Holub.

A few others, less widely known perhaps, are Jenne Andrews, Gerrye Payne, Siv Cedering, Roy McBride, Dale Jacobson, Pat Lowther, Olga Cabral.

Also, the essays of Bly and Rexroth will often set me going.

The above list is something like a basic list of my favorite poets overall, give or take a name or two. When I reading the work of other poets to seek out my own poems, I drink the poems in deeply, I reach for moods and landscapes and weather and lighting, for the thinks that will provoke me to feel something. This, much more than interesting turns of language or imagery or things like that (though I'll take that in too).

The poetry I like the most in general is poetry that causes me to feel something, to connect with the world around me somehow, to experience or re-experience some aspect of life in the world. Poetry I avoid, or toward which I'm indifferent, is poetry that doesn't do those things.

Laura said...

To add: some poets that have worked as inspiration for me include Charles Wright, Chase Twichell, Ginger Andrews, and Marie Howe. (Speaking of which, when oh when will Marie Howe publish another book? What the Living Do came out in 1997! I need more Marie Howe.)