In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to highlight a few of the poets and poems that have influenced my own writing. I recognize that my voice, in large part, has been trained by the voices of others, and I give my highest recommendations to their art. May they inspire you as they have inspired me.
Edgar Allan Poe may have had the greatest impact on me. I feel bound to maintain structure and rhyme when I write, aspects of poetry Poe seemed to have mastered. Poe entrances me with his words. The two poems of his that come to mind specifically are “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” You may be familiar with the former of the two already. Its somber subject matter captivates my imagination. As I’ve noted before, Poe has a unique way of mixing beauty and woe in his work. Even tragedy and loss are beautifully immortalized, as is the case with the latter of the two poems, “Annabel Lee.” There, Poe’s words mesmerize the reader. I especially love his wording in the second to last stanza. I think you can see his influence on me here, where I try to marry elegant verse with dark subject matter.
In speaking of structure and form, I must mention Shakespeare. The sonnet style often associated with his name (iambic pentameter) is one of my favorite structures to employ since it provides a smooth flow to the wording while also setting a good limit to how much I write. Read Sonnets 116 and 130 by him, both of which are favorites of mine.
I can’t remember when I first read “Batter my heart, three-personed God” by John Donne, and, honestly, I am not very familiar with his other poems (yet). That specific poem, however, still resounds in my mind. I remember reading somewhere that Donne initially wrote poems that ranged anywhere from suggestive to explicit in content. When Donne surrendered to God and began to write religious verse, he retained the harsher wording and imagery of his early days yet applied the style to holy themes. I haven’t studied Donne enough to know whether or not this is a faithful description of his life and work, but I can tell you that this poem, specifically its first and final lines, resonates with me. I find myself echoing these phrases in my own prayers and poetry, something I think my most recent poem illustrates.
As I read more poetry, other poets join the list of influences. T. S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, among others, sit on my shelf awaiting their turns to be read. Each contributes, in small or large measure, to my understanding and style. I often learn from them by trying to imitate their ways. Yet I ultimately must point back to them as the masters, as those whose craft beckons me to follow. And I pray that I would follow well.