Thursday, March 26, 2009

For the Record (or Writers I Have Known)

Good blog pal Kat over at the delightful Poetikat’s Invisible Keepsakes asked me to chime in on the 25 writers who have most influenced me, which I believe is a twist on a more general meme about 25 heroes. I usually don’t tend toward memes—some sort of Yankee independent streak no doubt—but I don’t have any hard & fast rule about them: for instance, I did participate in the Omnivores 100 back last fall (as a two-parter, here & here).

So compiling this list has been fun, but I added a couple of wrinkles. The most important of these wrinkles (to me at least) has to do with this: I’d have to say overall that the people who influenced me most as a writer were writer friends; & because they’ve been more important to me in the big picture than any number of more well-known & canonical writers, I’d like to acknowledge them up front.

First: my dear wife Eberle Umbach, who I’ve known (& known as a writer) since the 80s, & who still amazes me with her insights on the creative process, & whose writing (as Robert Frost’s Banjo readers know) is marvelous—sensitive, observant & dazzling. In addition to her, I’d also name the following in alphabetical order: Carrie Bradley, Meghan Gehman, Eddie Gehman-Kohan, Mari Hata, Dani (L.E.) Leone, Brittany Newmark, Christopher Schreiner, Keith Smith, Priscilla Sneff, Molly Turner, & Jonah Winter; & I’d also name my four teachers: T.Alan Broughton & David Huddle at the University of Vermont (undergrad) & Greg Orr & Charles Wright at the University of Virginia (MFA). While the reading I’ve done has certainly given me ideas & techniques to work with & dialogues to enter into,
I wouldn’t have been the self that created any of my work, nor would that work be what it is, without these friends & comrades. This may not be true for everyone, but for me, inspiration has always come from some form of interaction, & the very best interactions are with people & not with the page.

As far as the “name” folks go, I didn’t include any writers I’ve read only in translation, tho some of this work certainly has had an impact on me—for instance, Mayakovsky & Vallejo & Ingeborg Bachmann, to name a few. There are also writers I admire tremendously—Emily Dickinson springs to mind—whose work seems to inhabit such a different creative space than my own that there doesn’t seem to be as much “dialogue” as with writers who share more similarities in thought or technique—certainly not to put myself on a par with any of these folks, but just to say we’re interested in some of the same things linguistically & conceptually.

Finally, my other added wrinkle is a snippet from each author. In the cases of French & Middle English, I provide translations at the end of the post. For expediency's sake, all the links are from Wikipedia; they should at least provide a starting point. Oh, & it seems I feel kinship with a lot of writers whose last name begins with a B….

Apollinaire: Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure/Les jours s’en vont je demeure - Samuel Beckett: why not merely the despaired of/occasion of/wordshed//is it not better abort than be barren - Ted Berrgian: Alone & crowded, unhappy fate, nevertheless/I slip softly into the air/The world’s furious song flows through my costume - John Berryman: The weather fleured. They weakend all his eyes,/and burning thumbs into his ears, and shook/his hand like a notch. Elizabeth Bishop: The moon in the bureau mirror/looks out a million miles/(and perhaps with pride, at herself,/but she never, never smiles)/far and away beyond sleep, or/perhaps she's a daytime sleeper. William Blake: In every cry of every Man/In every Infants cry of fear,/In every voice: in every ban,/The mind-forg’d manacles I hear - Charles Bukowski: some people never go crazy./me, sometimes I’ll lie down behind the couch/for 3 or 4 days. William S. Burroughs: Stay away from Queens Plaza, son…Evil spot haunted by dicks scream for dope fiend lover…Too many levels…Heat flares out from the broom closet high on ammonia…Raymond Chandler: On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of Scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again. Geoffery Chaucer: For al be that I knowe nat Love in dede,/Ne wot how that he quiteth folk here hyre/Yit happeth me ful ofte in bokes rede/Of his myracles and his crewel yre. Robert Creeley: There are very huge stars, man, in the sky,/and from somewhere very far off someone hands me a slice of apple pie,/with a gob of white, white ice cream on top of it,/and I eat it— Robert Frost: Were he not gone/The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his/Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,/Or just some human sleep. Mina Loy: We might have given birth to a butterfly/With the daily news/Printed in blood on its wings - Hen
ri Michaux: C’est le Temps, bien sûr. (Est-il pareil chez vous?) Il faudrait arriver plus tôt que lui; vous voyez ce que je veux dire, rien qu’un tout petit peu avant. Frank O’Hara: How funny you are today New York/like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime/and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left - Kenneth Patchen: Come back when fog drifts out over the city/And sleep puts her kind hands on all these poor devils - Benjamin Péret: Sors de l'urne/dit l'hortensia à son complice/Et toi de ton Hortense lui répond la/mandoline qui n'était mandoline qu'à la faveur d'un rayon de soleil - Arthur Rimbaud: Ont-elles pris les crèmes brunes/Sur les mares des voluptés?/Ont-elles trempé dans des Lunes/Aux étangs de sérénités? Patti Smith: I am helium raven and this movie is mine,/So he cried out as he stretched the sky,/Pushing it all out like latex cartoon, am I all alone in this generation? Gertrude Stein: A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must. Wallace Stevens: In that November off Tehuantepec,/The slopping of the sea grew still one night/And in the morning summer hued the deck//And made one think of rosy chocolate/And gilt umbrellas. Paradisal green/Gave suavity to the perplexed machine//Of ocean, which like limpid water lay. Tom Waits: The smart money’s on Harlow, & the moon is in the street/& the shadow boys are breaking all the laws. Hank Williams: Hear that lonesome whippoorwill/He sounds too blue to fly. Sir Thomas Wyatt: Drowned is reason that should me comfort/And I remain despairing of the port. W.B. Yeats: ‘A woman can be proud and stiff/When on love intent;/But Love has pitched his mansion in/The place of excrement;/For nothing can be sole or whole/That has not been rent.’

Apollinaire: Let night come toll the hour/Days move on I remain – Chaucer: Although I don’t know love from experience/& I don’t know how he requites [or pays] people [their wages], Still I’ve often read in books/About his miracles & his cruel anger. Michaux: It’s Time, of course. (Is it the same where you are?) One has to get there sooner than it does; you see what I mean to say, no more than just a little bit beforehand. Benjamin Péret: Get out of the urn/the hortensia said to his accomplice/And you ditto Hortense answered the mandolin/which wasn't a mandolin except under the cover of sunlight - Arthur Rimbaud: Have they taken their dusky cream/From voluptuary pools?/Have they soaked in moons/With serene ponds?

Pic is of yours truly holding a bilingual complete Rimbaud at the University of Virginia in 1984; taken by Christopher Schreiner


  1. Hey John. Nice comments about writing influences. I just discovered Patty Smith with an album I picked up at the library (Tramp'n) Her song Radio Bagdad caught me completly by suprise. It was very powerful.

  2. Thanks Randy: In all honesty, I haven't kept up with Patti Smith since the 90s-- last album of hers I bought was "Gone Again." Have everything up to that point from "Horses" on.

  3. I love it when you mention your wife in posts. Even just reading her beautiful name, I can feel teh love you have for her!

    My husband would concur with many on your list! Of course, I like many of them, too. Most of all William Blake.

  4. A few names there to conjure with! That one post could keep me going for months! Another very fine post.

  5. Hi Jen: Thanks for the kind words-- yes, you are right about my feelings for Eberle; & I'm definitely with you on W. Blake.

    Hi Dave: Thanks-- yes, there's plenty of reading material there if one's in the market for same. I appreciate the kind words.

  6. This is the first of this type of list that has any resonance with me as I concur with a few of the names mentioned, but most beautiful of all is that you are able to mention your wife in this way.

  7. Wow, what a wide range of authors! Frost, Stevens, Stein and Yeats are also on my list.

  8. Holy Crow, John! This explains much. You are comprised of a veritable hodgepodge of leanings. I knew to expect some variety, but truly yours are so eclectic I am envious.

    I like how you acknowledge those people/writers in your life who have left their traces on you. I sincerely feel the same way - more about the people than than the print.

    I have one question. The answer will either make me sigh with relief, or feel less inadequate than I already do: Did you cite those quotes from off the top of your head, or did you have to disinter them?


    P.S. Thank you for mentioning me. You're too kind.

  9. Hi Kat:

    As far as the quotes, a combination. A fair amount of those quotes are ones that have crystallized something for me at one time or another-- like the Chandler quote or the Loy quote, for instance. But in all cases, I had to make sure I had the correct wording, lineation, punctuation. & some I looked up to find one that would seem like it summed up something I liked about the author but would be short enough to fit the format.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had a good time working on it. I'd definitely encourage folks to follow those links on my old poebiz pals-- they lead all sorts of places--from cdbaby to books to blogs; just wish I could have found links for everyone. Sadly, I'm not in touch with all those people at the present time.

  10. TFE: Thanks for that.

    Willow: It's just a guess, but I think you might enjoy Apollinaire. There are some good translations around. I think the Anne Hyde Greet is the best I've seen.

  11. what a list!!!! and so much thought and research has gone into it.... thanks for all the snippets

  12. Hi Kimy:

    So glad you enjoyed it!

  13. I fully appreciated and enjoyed this post. Certainly I share with great admiration many of your "record." In a review of my poetry book, THE WIND AND THE WILLOW, I have been likened to a few!

    Thanks for visiting APOGEE Poet - do stop by any time - I welcome your visits.

  14. Hi Rose Marie:

    Glad you enjoyed this post-- & yes, I'll definitely be by-- thanks.


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