THE INSPIRATIONS 2: Earlier this month, I shared some of my poetic inspirations. As National Poetry Month winds down, I wanted to share three more. Like Sara Teasdale, Anne Sexton, Alice Walker and Stan Rice, these three have further expanded my knowledge and desire to write.

Sharon Olds: As with Sexton, I don't think I would be writing poetry today if it wasn't for Olds' striking confessional work. Her controversial rise to prominence has been derided -- mostly by other male poets -- for its focus on sex, molestation, blood, urine and all those other taboos one shouldn't write about. Pushing boundaries and line breaks...that's what Olds has taught me.

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

Walt Whitman: Where would any of us be without Uncle Walt? He's the big gay godfather of modern poetry. I recently re-read Leaves of Grass (the final revision, which has been dubbed the "deathbed edition"). This poem is one of my absolute favorites.

To a Stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look
upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes

to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste,

You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not

yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass,

you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or
wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Margaret Atwood: As I continue to read and re-read Atwood's poetry, I realize how much it has influenced much of my new work. Like most, I started reading her incredible fiction, which has it's own poetic sensibilities. Novels like Cat's Eye, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale and countless others, have inspired me to be a better writer in general, but her poetry is brilliant for its direct, accessible intensity. She hasn't published a collection since 1995's brilliant Morning in the Burned House, which has become and indispensable bible of verse for me. I return to it again and again, get emotional about it, let it settle and sink into me. In this collection she writes movingly of her father's slow death of Alzheimer's. With my own father in ill health in the last years, and my own attempts to chronicle parts of his life in my work, Morning in the Burned House has been my primer.


He was sitting in a chair at dinner
and a wave washed over him.
Suddenly, whole beaches
were simply gone.
1947. Lake Superior. Last year.

But the cabin, I said, that one
the one with the owl --
don't you remember?
Nothing was left. No feathers.

We remained to him in fragments.
Why are you so old, he asked me,
all of a sudden?
Where is this forest? Why am I so cold?
Please take me home.

Outside, the neighbour mowed the lawn.
It's all right here, I said.
There are no bears.
There's food. It isn't snowing.

No. We need more wood, he said.
The winter's on its way.
It will be bad.


rae said…
That's one of my favorite poems by Olds. =)
A big yes to the Olds' poem. Also like the Atwood. Thanks for the post, Collin.
Olds is going to be at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in 2008.

Have you read or heard Olds's "The Blue Dress?" I fucking love that poem!

I need to send you some links to some Youtube clips of Atwood.
Anne said…
Atwood is one of the very, very few writers who I think is equally proficient at poetry and fiction -- and for that matter, both novels and short stories. She's not nearly as prolific with the poetry as the fiction, but she really seems to understand both genres. Most writers who try both are much stronger in one than the other, I think.
You've been nominated for the 2007 Poet Laureate of The Blogosphere. Good luck.
Collin said…
^Really??? That's cool!!!
Pris said…
I love Sharon Olds! Hey, I see you're pulling in the lead for the Blogosphere vote so had to come read your blog. Glad I did. Am adding you to my links.

I'm dragging in the dust at the end of the pile:-)
Walt Whitman changed my life.

My favorite Sharon Olds poem is "I Go Back to May 1937."

Margaret Atwood is my idol because she does both poetry and prose beautifully.

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