A recent question from a Facebook friend prompted me to think about the poets I first read many years ago, and the ways they influenced my own writing and how I think about poetry.
So here are three who came immediately to mind. These are poets I read when I was just beginning to take poetry seriously, all three of them prairie writers whom I first encountered when I still lived in Saskatchewan:
I referred to Anne Szumigalski as a prairie writer just now, forgetting for the moment that she grew up in England and came to Canada as an adult. But she became so firmly a part of the literary community in Saskatchewan that the label of prairie writer doesn’t seem inappropriate. I heard her read at least twice in Saskatoon in the late ’80s: once at Amigos (I think) where she read the poem “In Praise of My Own Breasts”; and before that, in the basement of a long-vanished bookstore on 2nd Avenue, the very first poetry reading I ever attended. I was attracted to her poetry for its seamless bringing-together of the material and the spiritual, and for her way of creating tales and fables out of small ordinary things.
When I heard Lorna Crozier read at a Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild conference, I immediately bought two of her books. Humour was the theme of that year’s conference, and so, although Crozier’s poetry is wide-ranging in subject and tone, the poems I remember most vividly are the “Penis Poems” from Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence and the series “The Sex Lives of Vegetables” from The Garden Going On Without Us. They were surprising, sensual and mischievous, and she looked like she was having such fun when she read them. I’ve read more widely from her work since then, but those two series in particular showed me it’s possible for poetry to be seriously playful.
Catherine Buckaway published several books of poetry in the ’70s and ’80s, but appears to be not widely known now; the only bio I could find online was this brief one on the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan web site. I confess that I haven’t read her work in a long time, and am not sure I would still like it. I do consider her an important influence, though, for this reason: I went to one of her readings and approached her afterward, and was bold enough to tell her that I wrote poetry. She offered to read some of my poems, and was very encouraging. I am grateful to Catherine Buckaway for her generosity, and am glad that my younger self was sensible enough to accept her invitation. Her encouragement meant a lot to me.