I started reading Boston poets of the Sixties and branched out from there. I memorized and imitated as I thought apprentices should: Lowell, Eliot, Yeats, Auden, and Stevens. The New York poets and the West Coast poets came to my attention not long after. I remember studying John Ashbery’s Some Trees and The Tennis Court Oath in Barney’s bar under the Wursthaus in Harvard Square after scavenging the used book stores and Temple Bar Books for poetry and sociology, philosophy and history books. Reading to find out what the writers read, who the writers read a lot of in order to build context for their ideas was a strategy to assist me in overcoming whatever was lacking in my education. The indexes and works cited pages were as important to me as the body contents. The New York Review of Books was a staple and perhaps sometimes an education in itself. Drawing on a spirit of discipline, I rose early to write when I was too old to write at night for lack of energy. In essence, I married my muse as the cliché has it. To this day I respect mavericks and outliers and their unconventional ways of achievement. It may be that most poets must have similar experiences.
What kept me away from the “confessional school,” as it is called, in terms of my writing were first, my life was not Brahman nor was it noteworthy nor special in any way ethnically nor otherwise. My mother is French Canadian and my dad Irish and French. Though Robert Lowell’s poetry is poetry of a strong poet, unique, his was the last of the white men dominating the literary scene in America. His work is not unique because he is the last. It is so because he took poetry into his own direction that had in its wake admirers and followers. His line from his poem “Eye and Tooth” cautioned me against using my life for writing: “I am tired, everyone’s tired of my turmoil.” I read that with a kind of exaggeration for myself. “Who cares? There are so many lives with problems being born and dying; my life isn’t anything to write about.” I continue to believe that though here I am writing this essay.