Never am I more aware that as a writer I am engaged in a conversation with all the other writers I have ever read than when I am involved in the act of putting together my notes to poems, as I was this week when assembling a short manuscript for another poet to look over. Then I am overwhelmed with the influences that have lead me to write and think as I do, and I feel grateful.
This week one of you wrote to me to tell me about how many Moby Dick references there are in Louise Erdrich's work, and I realized I am going to have to reread Erdrich now that I have read Moby Dick, so that I too can join in that conversation I hadn't even know was going on.
Yesterday I was listening to podcasts on the bus as I was on my way to a meeting, and during my hour commute, I heard two different podcasts about artists responding to other artists' work. First was a KUOW podcast, "Pessimism, Optimism and the Songs In Between," about a project in Seattle in which bands were assigned books and had to write and perform original songs in response. The books chosen included Nabokov's Pale Fire, Maggie Nelson's book of poetry Bluets, and Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island. The songs are assembled by Levi Fuller on the CD Ball of Wax.
The other podcast I listened to yesterday on the subject of artist-on-artist influence was an interview with best-selling author Arthur Phillips about his new book, The Tragedy of Arthur, at New Letters on the Air. Phillips does a number of interesting things in this novel (one of which is to blur the lines between fiction and memoir, something I have a fascination with, but that's for another post another time), one of which is that he writes a play that in the novel may or may not be an authentic work of Shakespeare.
So it's on my mind this week not only how much I owe to other writers, but also how much I owe it to myself to be selective in what I read, especially as I age and have less time to indulge in books. I used to read everything that came my way, start to finish, but lately I look at the stack of over 50 to-be-read books in my home, and don't feel motivated to open most of them. I am craving a new conversation, or a different one than the ones I have been having in the last few years, and I think it is the writer in me more than the reader that is craving inspiration. While I do read for escape, these days escape-reading bores me, and instead I want to be astounded by the creativity in what I read.
I read a lot of popular science, poetry, and short stories for ideas and stimulation. I also have been reading essays a lot in the past decade. And, I am a bit loathe to admit, some spiritual reading. But clearly I am in need of something new, something different, these days. I wonder what it will be.