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When I was in high school in the cultural wasteland of suburban Dallas, Tim Seibles was giving readings at Fun Ed (where you could take classes in wine appreciation and resume writing in an office park/strip mall). It was possibly the least poetic setting possible, but he introduced me to Neruda’s “Sexual Water” and the first metaphor that I found on my own: “sometimes I miss you/ the way someone drowning/ remembers the air.” His book Hurdy-Gurdy was the first book of poetry that I bought for myself, and the first I ever got signed.
When I was a college student, my ENG 200 class was reading Adrienne Rich and the professor was giving us biographical information and mentioned that she is a Jewish lesbian poet and he looked at me, and then my classmates looked at me. I felt self-conscious and started to really think about art and identity, and through her work (especially Diving Into the Wreck) began considering political activism through poetry.
Dean Young’s work is full of these imaginative associative leaps that I find enchanting in their surprises. He is amazingly prolific and has this great following of young poets who treat him like a poetry rock star. I really like people who treat a poet like someone important, and I think Dean Young is important.
Mary Ruefle/Jean Valentine
When I was in graduate school longing for some women’s voices, friends suggested Mary Ruefle and Jean Valentine. Although they are very different poets, reading them encouraged me to reject the narrative and find more lyric truths in their work and my own.
Lucille Clifton has been on my mind since her death in February. Having been to her readings in a small church in New Jersey, a huge ballroom in the Chicago Cultural Center, and other more typical poetry venues, I can attest to her power and presence and how her work could fill a room. Those readings were full of the most attentive readers of poetry, and I feel so lucky to have been in those rooms.