THE INSPIRATIONS: One of my regular readers (hello English Rose!) commented yesterday that I was overdoing the American Idol coverage. I'm aware that not everyone watches the show, but it's my guilty pleasure and, frankly, a good distraction from poetry. When I'm not watching the show (or blogging about it), I have a demanding day job and, up until this past weekend, have been diligently working on the new manuscript. After dealing with poetry every night, the blog is my escape to write about other things.

However, since we are five days into National Poetry Month and I'm about to depart for my readings in California, I thought I would turn back to poetry for a moment. A standard question for most poets is "who are your influences?" So, in honor of NPM, here are four of mine and the poems that set me on fire.

Sara Teasdale - I discovered Teasdale via Ray Bradbury's science-fiction novel, The Martian Chronicles, early in my teenage years. After a nuclear war, a modern house continues to function despite its owners being nothing more than shadows left on an outside wall. The house is fully automated and goes through the motions. Every evening in the library, the computer is set to read a poem picked by one of the inhabitants, but since they are dead, it selects Teasdale's "There Will Come Soft Rains." I think this is the first poem that really had an impact on me. Written around 1920, it eerily prefigures a nuclear holocaust, suggesting that nature will survive long after mankind has perished. This poem was the first spark.

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Alice Walker - After reading The Color Purple in 1983, I became obsessed with Walker. I read every novel, essay and poem I could get my hands on. In 1987, while working at a bookstore during high school, Walker's collection Horses Make A Landscape Look More Beautiful was published. I remember the day that I took it out of the box of deliveries and read it over lunch. It was a book of mostly short poems, but one in particular, "Walker," made me catch my breath. Maybe it was because I was in the middle of a torrid high school love affair, but I clearly remember going home that same evening and writing what I consider my first attempt at "real" poetry. Later I would go to another country, and Better To Travel would be my letters never sent.


When I no longer have your heart
I will not request your body
your presence
or even your polite conversation.
I will go away to a far country
separated from you be the sea
-- on which I cannot walk --
and refrain even from sending
to describe my pain.

Anne Sexton - Anne is my mommy poet. I have to thank Peter Gabriel for bringing me to Sexton in 1986. On his album So he has the song "Mercy Street," which uses images from her body of work to create a haunting portrait. I started at the beginning with her first collection, To Bedlam and Part Way Back. By the time I got to "Ringing the Bells," I knew poetry was going to be part of the rest of my life. Anne is a touchstone -- the poet I return again and again for nourishment. While I can only dream of ever writing such beautiful poetry at this, I try and carry on the tradition of confessional poetry. No matter what the mood in po'land (and po'biz) is at the moment.

Ringing the Bells

And this is the way they ring
the bells in Bedlam
and this is the bell-lady
who comes each Tuesday morning
to give us a music lesson
and because the attendants make you go
and because we mind by instinct,
like bees caught in the wrong hive,
we are the circle of crazy ladies
who sit in the lounge of the mental house
and smile at the smiling woman
who passes us each a bell,
who points at my hand
that holds my bell, E flat,
and this is the gray dress next to me
who grumbles as if it were special
to be old, to be old,
and this is the small hunched squirrel girl
on the other side of me
who picks at the hairs over her lip,
who picks at the hairs over her lip all day,
and this is how the bells really sound,
as untroubled and clean
as a workable kitchen,
and this is always my bell responding
to my hand that responds to the lady
who points at me, E flat;
and although we are not better for it,
they tell you to go. And you do.

Stan Rice - This is my daddy poet. After finally getting around to reading Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles in the late 1980s (they were still good then), I found out that her husband was a brilliant poet. Despite winning a number of awards, he always seemed fine with sitting back and letting Anne get all the fame and glory. He painted and quietly wrote some of the finest poetry I've ever read. He wrote both in form and the free-est of free verse. Some of the later work is so opaque it would give Jorie Graham seizures, but even at his most "difficult," there was always a line or stanza that was blinding in its perfection. My favorite poem by him is "Thunder and Rain," which is way too long to reprint here, so here is my second favorite, "First Xmas After Daughterdeath 1972" from Some Lamb. Stan died of cancer in 2002 and I never got to meet him. I will forever regret this. As with Anne, when I need a dose of inspiration or a reminder for why I chose to become a poet, I come back to Daddy Stan.

First Xmas After Daughterdeath 1972

Christmas Day...
The Morning Star closes its lips in the gum trees...
My niece turns the handle of the pencil sharpener...
Her cinnamon-roll shines in the sun...
Where the gnats fly.

Now theyre gone to her Grandmother's...
The candles stick up their wicks...
The coffee can full of pot; ah! He left it...
The rubber head of the rooster-puppet continuously crowing...
Yet things are not ok.

In a deep lake gloom not of my making...
Pressure in the head...
Playing with my niece, beside whom milk would look yellow...
Growing my beard so that my face will look fatter...
Where death holds me by the ankles.

Dont look backwards the blackness will blind you...
The unbought trees lying on their sides by the Bank...
Anne wakes up walks in opens a beer stares at the window...
We dont speak.


Peter said…
Wow. Great post.
I loved hearing about your deep influences and touchstones. It makes me wonder about the same kinds of things.

(But you can still write about Idol, too!)
jeannine said…
I like the idol recaps - and I don't even watch Idol!
I remember that Ray Bradbury story so clearly, and the poem too. Thanks for bringing it back!
Concerning the comment about your Idol recaps--- Couldn't she scroll to the entries she'd like to read? SCROLLING isn't hard!

I don't even watch American Idol; I have never even seen a full episode of any season, but I from time to time read your recaps because I find them entertaining.
Collin said…
The Idol recaps will continue when I return (or maybe next week if by some miracle I can see the show), but I'll also try and mix it up on days when Idol isn't on. Thanks everyone for reading and supporting.
Collin - are you going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area? If so, let me know where you are reading and I will see about being in your audience!

PS - you are a god writer, period. Doesn't make a difference to me what you write about.
nice freudian slip there - good writer...
Collin said…
I'm going to be down at San Jose State University on Monday doing a reading to the MFA creative writing students at 9 a.m. That's my only gig in the SF area. The next day I'm hopping a plane down to LA for two readings. I do hope to be back in San Fran when the new book comes out, or maybe before if I get an invitation to read. :)
Anonymous said…
The Stan Rice poem is fucking amazing. Those last two lines with no puncutation are just like a punch in the face. Good stuff. See you soon...maybe?

english rose said…
Guilty pleasures: well, yes I have a few of my own and goodness knows one must indulge a little here and there. I did enjoy this post.
english rose said…
She can scroll, Mr. Brookshire (see comment on previous post). She was being a little tongue-in-cheek and is really most appreciative.
How I smile every time I see a picture of Anne. The other day I was at Outwrite and glancing through a book titled something like 'Women who Rock.' I was happy to see Anne was listed.

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