Stephen Ellis facebooked a list of books that he thought would ‘be there’, id est, ones that would last. I could just about have used his list. I cannot quickly locate his list but he had Maximus, Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day, books by John Clarke and Alice Notley: a-ok! So what follows is my list, with raptures of critical acuity annotated. I sort of slipped the question from books that will be there—books that will last—to books that influenced me. But I think my list consists of keepers.
1. Maximus Poems, Charles Olson—Olson’s weird scholarship, and how he applied it to poetry has meant so much to me, even if it might not obviously show in my work. He gave so many places to look into, too.
2. Moby Dick, Herman Melville—He gave the novel, still in its youth, a damn good shake. It is a wonder-filled conjunction of interests and motivations.
3. Collected Poems, Ted Berrigan—This is an excitingly fun book, a lesson in adventuresome words.
4. Collected Poems, Emily Dickinson—I could have chosen Leaves of Grass but I find her canny subversions more satisfying. You have to puzzle every word.
5. Letters & Poems, John Keats—That balance between his poems and his letters, and how his poetry places within the context of his criticism and his biography, is incredibly useful.
6. English & Scottish Ballads, Francis J. Child—This stuff is thunder, and it has already lasted a couple of years. I may have started with the versions by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span but the original ballads do not creak at all.
7. Tottering State, Tom Raworth—An unexpected choice, but it works for me.
8. Collected Books, Jack Spicer—I found this at Grolier Book Shop years ago, without having read Spicer hardly at all. He makes a fascinating possibility out of BOOK, and Robin Blaser supplies a terrific critical essay. All the tools you need.
9. Collected Poems, Lorine Niedecker—Maybe her selected poems is a better book, being more concise, like her poetry, but it is nice to see the extent of her work.
10. The Cantos, Ezra Pound—A great and influential book, news that stays new.
11. A, Louis Zufoksky—Oh yeah, another great book, and we are still learning to read it.
12. My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe—The Maximus Poems show Olson’s eccentric scholarship, Howe’s work, both her poetry, and this critical work, are the results of her eccentric scholarship.
13. Pieces, Robert Creeley—I never cared for his earlier work, and I lost interest in his later work, but this seems to be the best expression of his art. Perhaps I show my own impatience or critical ineptitude in declaring thus. His lines, his pace, and his enjambments, have been influential on me, and i imagine on many others.
14. Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein—Another great and influential book.
15. The Archetypes and Collective Unconscious, C. G. Jung—I came to Jung late, Freud too, but I find that his work, and this book especially, full of usefulness in understanding the creative act. He’s not a messiah, he’s a kook, like Olson. I learned a certain wariness with Olson, and use it with Jung, as well.