Not the fossils

by Rob Winger

Arc Dozens

After a reading in Ottawa a year or two back, George Bowering said something worth remembering: your poetic influences can’t be charted with categories because we all make our own traditions, big messy ancestries that leap from period to period, form to form, nation to nation. Charting these jumps autobiographically would mean a naming of Keats’ Odes, Ginsberg’s Howl, Wordsworth’s Prelude, Whitman’s Leaves, but it would also be like examining a fossil, even if those books might be the ones that first showed me what poems ought to be. Instead, I’ve tried to think about the books that have most often been active for me during the last few years of my writing life. Some represent a discovery of new writers; some are new books by familiar writers; and, some are die-hard standards in my poetic life, still finding their ways into empty evenings years after I first found them. Whatever the case may be, every one of the following has broadened my ideas of what a poem can do, even if one is really a collection of tiny stories, another is a translated travel anthology, and the best metaphor in another is its sketch of a double-tailed dog.

The List (A Poet’s Dozen)

Brand, Dionne. Land to Light On. Toronto: M&S, 1997.

Kawabata, Yasunari. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories (1923-1972). Trans. Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman. New York: North Point Press, 1988.

Miner, Earl, Trans. and Ed. Japanese Poetic Diaries. (Ki no Tsurayuki’s The Tosa Diary (935), Izumi Shikibu’s The Diary of Izumi Shikibu (1003), Matsuo Bashô’s The narrow road through the provinces (1689), Masaoka Shiki’s The Verse Record of my Peonies (1899)). Berkley/LA, U California Press: 1969.

Neruda, Pablo. Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon (1950-1962). Trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

bpNichol. You Too, Nicky. Fissure/Press Gang, 1986.

Ondaatje, Michael. The collected works of Billy the Kid: left-handed poems. Toronto:
Anansi, 1970.

Purdy, Al. North of Summer: Poems from Baffin Island. Toronto: M&S, 1967.

Rich, Adrienne. Diving into the Wreck. New York: Norton, 1973.

Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends. Harper & Row, 1974.

Thompson, John. Stilt Jack. Toronto: Anansi, 1978.

Tsu, Lao. Tao Te Ching. (Stephen Mitchell translation, 1988). 6th Century BCE.

Webb, Phyllis. Naked Poems. Vancouver: Periwinkle, 1965.

Williams, William Carlos. Selected Poems (1917-1962). Ed. Charles Tomlinson. New York: New Directions, 1985.



Published in Arc 61: Winter 2009
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