I've been thinking for the last couple of days about the kinds of influence on my writing that have made me the writer I am. Of course, it's all kinds of things: everyone from Ezra Pound to Hank Williams has a hand in making the poet I am now. And it's still continuing: John Ashbery's advocacy of the tragic '40's poet David Schubert has led in a small way to the make up of my latest poem. He apprently wrote fragments in notebooks, then constructed his poems out of them, so there are these frequent changes in direction in his poems that are never completely smoothed out. I like that effect, so my new poem is made up of several poems put together.
Frank O'Hara was pretty open about his influences, and a lot less anxious than we've been led to believe we should be. The French surrealists, Pasternak, American modernists like Williams, are all there; but not with any striving for an individual voice, or any desire to get away from early influences and find his own voice. What is voice anyway? I've always been suspicious of the idea of "finding your voice"; it's a bit like looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow. It's a myth, not a reality.
And yet O'Hara is completely his own, and no-one writes quite like him. Partly, I suspect, because no-one else has that particular mixture of influences. And maybe that's what "a voice" is; not some big heroic individualist with a style unlike anyone else's, but a mix, a community of dialects and voices all thrown in, including not just poets, but musicians, artists, the girl who sells coffee in Nero's. That heroic individualist in any case often ends up sounding like every other heroic individualist, not unlike the kind of bloke who says, "Look at how individual I am" in Levi's and a shirt from Gap. All heroic individuals look alike: square-jawed, eyes firmly forward, facing the lonely landscape with the same grim determination as everyone else.
That's why I can never decide to be wholly one thing or another when it comes to poetry; I like being part-mainstream, part-nonmainstream. It's more fun. And who says poetry can't be fun?