Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Robert Service

Robert Service, 1874-1958

On September 21, I mentioned the collection edited by Peter Davis, Poet's Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets On Books That Shaped Their Art. Having met Naomi Shihab Nye, I'm now more interested in her list of influential works, which includes Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, Thoreau's Walden Pond, three by William Stafford, and all of W.S. Merwin, as well as several others. Here is my own brief list of poets and books, sometime specific poems, that shaped my art--or at least motivated me to write poetry:

John Donne (The Songs and Sonnets)
John Keats ("Ode on a Grecian Urn")
Emily Dickinson
William Butler Yeats ("Sailing to Byzantium")
William Carlos Williams ("The Yachts")
W.H. Auden ("In Memory of W.B. Yeats")
Robert Service (The Spell of the Yukon)
Dylan Thomas ("Fern Hill")
Richard Wilbur ("Merlin Enthralled")
James Dickey (Poems 1957-1967)
Seamus Heaney (Death of a Naturalist)
Linda Pastan (PM/AM)
B.H. Fairchild (The Art of the Lathe)
Yusef Komunyakaa (Neon Vernacular)

I'm afraid it's a pretty traditional list, mostly white males. These are poems and poets that I'm presumptuous enough to call influences, though there are many others I admire, enjoy, look up to, emulate. Maybe the most unorthodox choice here is Robert Service, the best bad poet I know of. Dad liked him and introduced me to poems like "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" that appeared in a collection Dad had with him in the Navy--along with A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad the only book of poetry Dad owned as far as I recall. In college I had some friends who also liked Service, and one evening we staged a program we called "The Robert Service Service."

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