I've been thinking again about inluence, especially early influence. Everybody's influenced by somebody, nobody exists in a vacuum, but our reading tastes change over the years so the number and range of our influences change. When I started writing, it was what was in the local library and what I could get from bookshops locally. Accrington & Blackburn not being at the time very cultural places, this was of course a very limited range. Larkin was in there, and the Liverpool poets, and Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes. Tony Harrison arrived very early, and Tom Paulin, especially his first two books.
Since coming to Manchester, I've discovered the New American Poets: Black Mountain, Beat, and principally New York School. And they profoundly changed the direction of my poetry. I wonder what would have happened if, instead of the Americans, I'd read some Polish or Czech poetry and that would have altered my writing? Ron Silliman's comments about Christopher Middleton (scroll through www.ronsilliman.blogspot.com - I think it was in July) are interesting. He claims to distrust Modernist traditions that are not NAP in origin; but of course, there are many different streams to Modernism, not all of them culminating in Frank O'Hara or the LANGUAGE poets. If I'd been good at, say, German, maybe I'd be more influenced by Gunter Grass or Hans Magnus Enzsenberger than John Ashbery.
It's funny how much all this relates to your life experience. You set out wanting to write as well as you can, so you look for mentors. You find some poetry in the library, it seems to be what's required, so you try to write like that. Then you find something that really excites you, that is so different and yet so like you that it becomes something you want to do yourself. New York poets enabled me to write about my situation in ways that Larkin never could, because they gave me permission to "write outside the box" to use what is rapidly becoming a damnable cliche.
But I can't quite throw out Larkin and Hughes and the rest and jump head first into the avant-garde pool, because they still have something. Larkin's craft and Hughes' mythification of his own life are still present, deep below somewhere as a kind of buried stream (not unlike the avant garde as a buried stream in British poetry) or as a not-so guilty secret I sometimes like to pretend isn't there. I think it's time to write another sonnet.
The winner of the 7th Fortnight Prize is....
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