Under The Influence

Andrew Sullivan —  May 10 2014 @ 4:48pm

Kim Triedman, a novelist, ponders how writers pick up tricks from their reading. She recounts how taking a poetry class reshaped her work:

[A]fter reading a volume of poetry, I often came to my own work with something new – a rhythm, a tone, some pattern of usage – that hadn’t been part of my writing vocabulary before. Without even realizing it, through some subliminal process of absorption, my words began moving to a new kind of music. And each week, with each new poet I encountered, they were trying out a different dance. It was not conscious imitation; it was like a new way of hearing — of receiving other voices or harmonies and letting them filter down through my own process. Though most of those early poems weren’t altogether successful, each one represented a critical experiment in expression, allowing me to broaden and refine my own distinct poetic repertoire.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, this artistic give-and-take. As writers, we read and are enriched, see possibilities for language – syntax and rhythm, repetition and rhyme and enjambment – where before there were none. At times it is quite conscious: our attention is drawn to a specific mannerism or idiosyncrasy, and – recognizing it as such – we find ourselves playing with it in our own work.  More often, though, the transfer is subterranean: our work is expanded by the simple fact of our exposures, much the way a child’s vocabulary grows simply as a function of reading. The more we hear new things and see them in context, the more they become part of our own subconscious toolkits. It is at least some small part of what binds us together as writers: the ability to find beauty and novelty in other voices and to pass along something unique in our own.