Reading and influence

Last Friday I had the pleasure of reading poetry at the monthly RASP series at VALA Arts in Redmond. It was great to be in a gallery surrounded by art both finished and in progress. People’s creative spaces stood in various states of interruption–brushes, canvases, a pair of shoes on the floor (were they to be worn or drawn?). Plus, I was pouring wine for Cloudlift Cellars, which gave introverted me a way to talk to people before I read for them.

After the reading, during the Q&A, emcee Michael Dylan Welch asked me about my reading habits and how they influence my writing. The next day, I started to remember what I forgot to mention, and I thought that I would return to the topic here.

I started with the easy stuff—Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, Cascadia Review, the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day, and The Writer’s Almanac, which now comes to me in email. What I like about those last two is that they aren’t tied to what’s new—they feature works across a long span of writing and reading time.

Another great resource also comes to me in email: Dennis Caswell’s mailing list. I appreciate the range of poems that Dennis selects—across time, across styles and subjects. Every weekday I have a gift waiting for me. Sometimes it challenges me. Sometimes I don’t get it. I like that—it’s an opportunity for me to expand my understanding. Then, Monday morning also brings the American Life in Poetry poem. And recently I signed up for the daily poem from Rattle.

The websites and emails often introduce me to poets I haven’t read before—and sometimes I’m smitten enough to pick up copies of their books. That’s one influence.

Books! Last Friday, I didn’t really talk about books, but I appreciate getting to explore a collection of someone’s poems, to see how they structured the collection, to hear the conversations in the poems and between the poems, books that I can return to, read over and over again, books that when I’m feel like I’m lost or flailing help me get into the poetry zone.

I also look at the poems that I really like and try to figure out why—specifically. What can I learn from this poem, what is it doing?

But Michael’s question has stayed with me. How could I extend that influence? I could use the first line of a poem that I like as a jumping off point. Or I could write in the style of that poem. In a Dorianne Laux workshop, we wrote in the exact rhythm of a poem. It was not easy (I did not get very far) but it’s a way to open up new routes in the brain.

What are other ways that you learn from a poem? What are your favorite reads?

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4 comments

  1. Craig Kenworthy’s avatar

    I always start with the comics in the newspaper.

  2. stellab’s avatar

    Greetings.

    I read through your April prompts (always looking for prompts and inspiration and such)

    But this post certainly touched on something I was thinking about yesterday, in fact. We’re always told to read – read other authors, see what’s going on. Well, I never read as much as I’d like these days. And I tend not to read poetry as that’s what I mainly write and don’t want to over-influence myself.

    But yesterday I was in Dr. office and decided to check out some New Yorker magazines and specifically looked at the poems in them.

    I don’t want to be snarky, so I’ll try to frame as best I can. First, I didn’t know or note any of the poets, so I guess I can’t step on anyone’s toes. But am I missing something? The first poem I read in particular and several others just left me thinking — ‘What is the poet getting at?’ Certainly some ambiguity is good; imagery and all, too. But there just didn’t seem to be much in the way of any meaning coming through to me, at least. So, I do wonder – ‘Am I missing something?’

    Thanks for listeing.

  3. joannie’s avatar

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, too, sometimes struggle with the poems in The New Yorker–although I’m grateful for it, because it’s usually the only poetry in the waiting rooms. And I often feel like I might be missing something–either because the poem seems to speak in half-thoughts of code, or because the poem looks so straightforward that I’m trying to figure out why it’s a poem and not prose. (This is me trying not to sound snarky.) Sometimes, I can just flow with it and not worry, or the poem will resonate on a sonic sense even if I still don’t get what the poet might be trying to say. Other times, I remind myself that maybe this isn’t the day for me and this poem (or me and this entire style of writing poetry). If I come across it in the future, perhaps it will be on better terms. Or not.

    Thank you for listening.

  4. stellab’s avatar

    Thanks for a very thoughtful reply. And you don’t sound snarky a bit.

    Poems can resonate in many ways, I guess, sometimes sonically as you suggest. And you also have a point about time; sometimes it’s just not the right moment for that poem or style. But at another time?

    Anyway, one good thing is that poetry IS published in the New Yorker and anything that gets poetry out there is pretty positive, I suppose 🙂

    Thanks again, and I’ll be checking out your blog again soon, I hope.

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