Thursday, March 05, 2009


Pam Rosenthal

The “20 women poets” who have had the most profound influence on my writing, in alphabetical order –

Kathy Acker

Rae Armantrout

Sandy Berrigan

Elizabeth Bishop

Lee Ann Brown

Abigail Child

Jan Clausen

Beverly Dahlen

Tina Darragh

Lydia Davis

Jean Day

Emily Dickinson

Lynne Dreyer

Hilda Doolittle

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Kathleen Fraser

Judy Grahn

Carla Harryman

Lyn Hejinian

Joyce Holland

Fanny Howe

Susan Howe

Erica Hunt

Lisa Jarnot

Beth Baruch Joselow

Joanne Kyger

Lynn Lonidier

Bernadette Mayer

Laura Moriarty

Harryette Mullen

Rochelle Nameroff

Pam Rosenthal / Molly Weatherford

Leslie Scalapino

Gertrude Stein

Cole Swensen

Rosmarie Waldrop

Diane Wakoski

Diane Ward

Hannah Weiner

C.D. Wright

I obviously have a problem with the arbitrary limitations of “top 20” lists. My list here has 40 names, more if you include Pam Rosenthal’s alternate persona as Molly Weatherford. And what feels most weird about it is all the important names who have had an impact on my that I’ve not included – there must be three for every name that is here. This is really an impossible task. I mean really – Jena Osman, Barbara Guest, Eleni Sikelianos, Alice Notley, Victoria Rathburn, Helena Bennett, Pat Parker, Elizabeth Willis, Laura Sims, Besmilr Brigham, Dodie Bellamy, Rochelle Owens, Alice Johnson, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Laura Riding, Eileen Tabios, Laurie Price, Chris Tysh, Juliana Spahr, Frances Jaffer, kari edwards (on the days kari was being a female), Anne Tardos, Mina Loy, Jennifer Moxley, Carole Gallup, Joan Retallack, Jean Valentine, Nina Iskrenko, Jeanne Lance, Mary Tallmountain, Karen Brodine, Julia Blumenreich, Eileen Myles, Roberta Beary, Susan M. Schultz, Lynn Behrendt, Anne-Marie Albiach, Marie Buck, Lorine Niedecker, Alicia Askenase, Ana Krivonic – the minute I start to type the names of writers important to me, the list leaps out from my fingertips so fast I can’t even check all the spellings. Stopping it here is entirely arbitrary. The difference between the writers included in this paragraph and my list above is a gut feeling. All have had some sort of impact. The ones on the list above have made me rethink poetry & writing. For me, reading them means putting everything up for grabs.

Some of these writers are people I know very well, but others like Jan Clausen I’ve never met. Only a few were writing before I got going as a poet in the last half of the 1960s. And that may be the biggest story here of all. The history of the impact of women writers on me is not only gendered, but distinctly temporal as well.

Of  course not all of these writers are known as poets – Acker & Rosenthal (Weatherford) are principally novelists, & radically different ones at that. I think Pam Rosenthal is one of the finest feminist thinkers of my time, tho her writing has largely been as historical romance fiction or SM porn. I think of her in relation to those two genres rather the way I think of Samuel R. Delaney or Philip K. Dick in relation to sci-fi.

Lydia Davis’ shorter prose pieces occupy a space in writing that is neither entirely poetry or prose. It’s Jan Clausen’s critical writing that had the greatest impact on my work, although I don’t think of her principally as a critic.

The question of gender is itself something of a genre question (as kari edwards knew full well). Joyce Holland, for me, was always the most revolutionary of the Actualist poets. But Joyce Holland was (and still is) also Dave Morice, a.k.a. Dr. Alphabet.

And impact on me is often much more complicated than saying I like or don’t like somebody’s work. People like Judy Grahn challenge all of my assumptions about poetry, but she’s clearly not writing for me & whether or not I like it feels like it would be an irrelevant assessment. Others are here for all the ways that they have pushed me – Leslie Scalapino perhaps most of all. She’s been fearless about getting in my face if & when she thought I was wrong about something. Earlier in my life, Rochelle Nameroff did much the same. Of my male friends, only Barrett Watten has done likewise.

Some of the poets here – like Nameroff to whom I was married in the 1960s & who published one wonderful book, Body Prints, with Ithaca House – are not household names. Lynn Lonidier was a lesbian writer who was perhaps the first to come out of the women’s writing movement looking to Gertrude Stein rather than socialist realism as an inspiration. Sandy Berrigan picked up her surname through her marriage to Ted, but it’s her writing & the ways in which she embedded poetry into her life, always a part of it, never the center, that puts her on my list. There are several small press books, but my favorite is Public Display of Affection, a 1987 8.5x11 photocopy-and-staple volume with no publisher listed (Telephone?) that came out in an edition of 75. My copy (no. 67) is inscribed to Phil Whalen. I believe I bought it at Pegasus in Berkeley back in the days when Steve Benson & Jonathan Lethem were working there. Them were the days.

Finally, there is the reality that there is an inner and an outer circle here. There are a handful of writers on this list – Acker, Armantrout, Stein, Hejinian, Weiner & in the past few years DuPlessis – who easily have had the greatest impact. Is there a single day when I’m not reading one of these six? That’s really improbable. They are, as much as anyone, the writers who define me.


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