Daljit Nagra - 5 February 2011
Poor poets are poor readers of poetry. All good poets wear their influences for all to see. How do we use influence in our writing? What sort of poets do we read and how are we influenced by them? What other non-reading experiences influence your work?
There shouldn't be an anxiety about being influenced as we do not exist in a vacuum and we are influenced by many writers before us, whether we know it or not. We may think our poems are highly original but they are probably fitting into a tradition, a line of writers who have written in the style we employ but this should not be depressing should it? Hopefully this is a liberating feeling to know that there is a tradition of writers who think and feel a bit like us and who we can be influenced by so our poems become better if we learn from them.
My influences have been writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, Hopkins and Thomas. I continue to be influenced by them in many ways, in particular because they have shown me how to mess up the rules of language to energise my poems.
You may use these very same writers to influence your work in another way. Great writers offer endless ways in which we can be influenced, partly because they have influenced many writers after them, and indeed, they have been influenced by writers before them.
I'm also influenced by ordinary things: I have a poem in my second collection (August this year) which starts with 'Pip pip' which I took from a book that I was reading to my 3 year old daughter. As a poet I'm always looking to steal things from our Weetabix book, from conversations on the bus and so on.
My basic question is how do you use your favourite poets to influence the style and content of your poetry? How have daily things influenced your poems? Can we control influence or is it pervasive and therefore we should give our imaginations up to it? Feel free to comment on any of these questions.