Anatomy of Influence

I bought this book, thinking it was Bloom’s seminal tome, Anxiety of Influence. You can see how I might have made the mistake.

But it’s never a mistake to read Bloom. He is old-fashioned and wedded to a very traditional Western canon, but that doesn’t make it him unenlightened nor unpersipacious – it is just something you have to be aware of and know that you’ll have to learn about writers outside the classical European tradition elsewhere.

I actually started reading this a while ago, but it’s a series of essays, some more connected than others, so I tended to pick it up and put it down again frequently. But about a week ago, I set myself to finish it and did.

When I was very young, freedom beckoned through the poets I first loved: Hart Crane, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, John Milton, and above William Shakespeare in HamletKing LearMacbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

What do you think about that? Shakespeare, of course, looms over everything. Hart Crane is someone I’ve never really read much of and Wallace Stevens has always left me a little cold. But it makes you ask: who are my poets?

Shakespeare and Hamlet, but Julius Caesar would replace those others for me.

Ezra Pound. Adrienne Rich. Charles Simic. T.S. Eliot. Edgar Allan Poe. Allen Ginsberg. Asian and Japanese poets, like Tu Fu, but specifically mediated through translation and specifically through the translations of Kenneth Rexroth.

These poets don’t all still ‘do it’ for me. I can see the flaws in Poe now, more than when I was younger. Ginsberg wrote a handful of great poems and heaping pile of very bad ones. And if you were talking about my favorites now, what about Anne Carson or Fanny Howe? But I discovered them later. Those ones above were the ones I loved early and whose influence is strongest, as a result.

Who are yours?

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