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Writers who have influenced me
Dr Seuss to Dr Dre. Writers who use rhyme and/or repetition effectively have directly influenced my writing. My love affair with poetry began with nursery rhymes and progressed to books by the linguistic genius Dr Seuss who wrote The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham etc. In adulthood I've been influenced by rap lyrics as well as published poetry. It would be more accurate to say Dr Seuss to Chuck D (of Public Enemy). But that wouldn't convey the message.
I remember playing in the garden listening to my 11-year-old brother quote the beginning of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The entire poem has haunted me ever since and goes some way towards explaining my love of narrative poetry. Most of Shakespeare's plays but especially the tragedies must feature. Chaucer. Chaucer, Chaucer.
Most of Public Enemy; all the lyrics of the late Carl St Hill, a close friend and seriously talented rapper. Talib Kweli's superb deconstruction of 'Four Women' by Nina Simone; Tupac's 'Brenda's Baby'. Ahmed Sheikh and Merle Collins from African Dawn were both very supportive in the early '90s on the poetry circuit. The former influenced me to develop my imagery rather than rely on rhyme: the latter, to use repetition more effectively — see her poem Crick Crack. Many many poets on the performance poetry circuit but especially Steve Tasane, The Speech Painter, Roger Robinson and Malika Booker with whom I've had endless conversations about the art of poetry.
More recently, Kwame Dawes deserves a special mention for running Afro Style School, a series of writing workshops for young Black UK poets. He has proved to be a skilled mentor and is the unofficial editor of my second collection, Transformatrix. His poem, Rita is in my top ten.
Most of Carol Ann Duffy's work. Much of Paul Muldoon, especially his sonnets and sestinas. He proves you can be intellectual and playful. Conjure by the late Michael Donaghy is one of the best poetry books I've ever read. A great inspiration as writer and performer, he broke down the wall between page and stage.
Many individual poems too, too many to mention. Benjamin Zephaniah's Me Green Poem; Ted Hughes' The Thought-Fox; Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night; Billy Collins' Japan; Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. The latter passes the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck test and makes me cry with recognition. I equate becoming a writer with taking the road less travelled by. And I love the ambiguity of the title.
Then there are indirect literary influences. All of Thomas Hardy's novels but especially The Mayor of Casterbridge. Lots of books from The African Writer's series, the most famous being Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
And then there's writing that crosses into other art forms and other art forms. The poetry films of Tony Harrison, especially The Blasphemer's Banquet. The entire Sensation art exhibition at The Royal Academy in 1997 which took all kinds of risks in form and content. Again, I love the ambiguity of the title, the way one meaning transforms into the next.
© Patience Agbabi
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