Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One of the First

Dorothy Allison recently read at University of Tennessee and then came over to my house for a little reception afterward. She is best known for her work Bastard out of Carolina, and in fact, that was one of those books that made me want to be a writer. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons was another. The poems “Those Winters Sundays” by Robert Hayden, “Alone” by Jack Gilbert, and finally “Hook” by James Wright did me in. About five in all. What all of those works have in common is they opened up the possibility of what one could talk about in literature. That is something that we continue to do as writers: include what has been excluded. I think of the poem by Jack Gilbert called “Not in Literature” that speaks to this idea exactly and ends with “Linda rising from a chair.” We never quite stop that search. Anyway, here’s a link to a recent interview with Allison where she talks about her new novel.—-always-it

I’m curious about other writers out there. What were some of those first works that made you want to write…?


  1. Let me add another shout out to the Gilbert poem--"Alone" was one of the first I memorized. Neruda's book of odes and Galway Kinnell's short poems like "After Making Love We Hear Footstep and "Balckberry Eating" inspired me to try to do what I still try to do--reintegrate the human experience: the visceral, conversational, and transcendent. I found these works deeply subversive in that they demand a challenging wholeness of being--in opposition to the pragmatic division of labor in the workplace, perpetually unsatisfied consumerism, and the anodyne works of art that enable the cycle of incompleteness.

  2. This seems very appropriate at Thanksgiving. For me, it was Joy Harjo's book *She Had Some Horses,* Li-Young Lee's book *Rose,* Tim O'Brien's *The Things They Carried,* and Mary Oliver's book *American Primitive.* While all of these authors come from extremely different experiences, they all include what has been excluded in a new way and with strong, sure voices. That is what I was drawn to 15-20 years ago...those strong, sure voices...I wanted a voice like that. It's been a long, hard road to find it, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

  3. "Those strong, sure voices...." That is it, that is what kept me going and what I kept striving toward. I couldn't agree more with what both of you said. Rose was such an important book in my development, too. The quietness there in poems such as the one about eating fish with his family after his father died and the one about the way his mother's hair falls down all taught me that poetry didn't have to be about the BIG moments. And wow, can I quote Tim in my dissertation and pretend I wrote that about poems that "reintegrate the human experience: the visceral, conversational, and transcendent"?