What poets changed the way you thought about writing?
I like this question because I think asking it of poets is a really interesting way to think about their poet family tree, and because it’s interesting to think about the ways that poets are formed from other writers who might be stylistically very different.
I fell hard for Sandra Cisneros as a teenager. Loose Woman was the first book of poetry I read cover to cover. I was raised conservative Christian and I had never heard a woman talk like that! I had never seen poetry that seemed to speak to parts of my experience like that.
Li-Young Lee was another early favorite. He came to my high school to speak because he was a Chicago poet, and he completely blew my mind. I skipped class to hear him talk to the AP kids after his reading. He wrote about the sacredness of the quotidian in a way that made me understand that other people saw that too, other people were sensitive like that too—it was very freeing.
Frank Bidart came next. I write nothing like him, but I think his poems are so muscular, sharp and tender. I love the way he writes certain poems like logical proofs. Music Like Dirt is fantastic, and one I read often.
Atsuro Riley for the playfulness and the seriousness of his language, for the way he reveals that the violence of childhood coexists with childhood’s sense of play. We like to think that childhood is safe, that it isn’t scary to be a child, but it is far from safe, and it is very scary to be a child.
Claudia Rankine for the way she can zoom out and see systems and landscapes in her poetry. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a wonderful book.
Lucille Clifton for writing about the body. And she’s so funny! I’ve memorized the poem/excerpt oh antic god and return to its oracular voice and its knowledge about lineage and death often.
Aracelis Girmay is who I’m most obsessed with right now. The Black Maria utterly rearranged my sense of what poetry as a practice of mapping ancestry could do. She’s changing what poetry is capable of.