Tuesday, March 03, 2009

20 Books

There's a meme going around the internets right now about re: the 20 Books that caused you to love poetry. Donna DeLapierre sent it to me, and then I came across it again on Ron Silliman's blog, and decided to give it a go myself, regardless of how potentially embarrassing it could be. I also decided to break mine out semi-chronologically.

I didn't read much poetry beyond school assignments, Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, at least until high school. At fourteen or fifteen, I first really sat down with poetry beyond school reading, and, being the post-punk/nu-metal goth kid that I was, fell for:

1. Edgar Allen Poe Collected Poems
2. Stephen Crane Collected Poems
3. Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy

When I was seventeen, two important things happened: one was that I got my license and two was that our town got its first book store: a Barnes and Noble. For the first time in my young life I had somewhere to hang out that wasn't the mall or the Newbury Comics. Browsing in poetry section I discovered the books that first started my poetry awakening:

4. Charles Bukowski Love Is A Dog From Hell
5. Lawrence Ferlinghetti A Coney Island Of The Mind
6. John Ashbery Wakefulness
7. Allen Ginsburg Howl

When I started at Emerson, I was originally a film student, but later changed over to both photography and writing. In the writing program was when my eyes were finally opened to a wider range of poets, beyond high school lit and the chain book store select. The most important poetry book in my development was given to me by Jonathan Aaron, if I recall, after we sat down to talk about my own writing. He mentioned several poets he thought I was reading, based on my work, and I said I had never heard of any of them. He then handed me:

8. Federico Garcia-Lorca Poet In New York

and I never looked back. During workshops and classes in the writing program, I was exposed to more poets whose work would both influence my own, but whose work I actually *enjoyed* reading. It was during this time that I discovered the bar down the street did something called a 'poetry slam' and that the 19th century was more than Walt Whitman:

9. Tristan Tzara Chanson Dada
10. Russell Edson Childhood Of An Equestrian
11. Frank O'Hara Lunch Poems
12. David Berman Actual Air
13. John Berryman Dream Songs
14. Jeffrey McDaniel The Splinter Factory
15. Arthur Rimbaud A Season In Hell
16. Charles Baudelaire The Flowers Of Evil

Finally, when I moved to San Francisco following undergrad, at twenty-two, and decided to pursue an MFA at California College of the Arts, my poetic mind was finally completed. Mostly through vanity, though. In my first workshop at CCA my friends started tossing around the names of poets and critics I'd never heard of, discussed movements I'd never heard of. I was so embarrassed that I read dozens upon dozens of books on top of our course load. It was also when I first read:

17. William Carlos Williams Spring And All
18. Guillaume Apollinaire Calligrammes
19. Leroi Jones The Dead Lecturer
20. Bob Kaufman Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness

So those were the 20 books that caused me to love poetry. I'll say that very few of these are currently listed in my favorite books of poetry, or even on a list of favorite poets. But without these books, my life would have been very different, and I'm better because of them.

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