I fell in love with Eliot in high school and Rilke in college, and those are probably the deepest influences on my work, apart from two exceptional teachers I had early on: Donald Hall and Philip Booth. Hall taught me there are no synonyms in poetry and that poems cannot go in all one direction. Booth taught me to listen closely for the words that need to be left out.
There were other lessons to learn, ones that kept me from writing poems altogether for almost twenty years. Then my life changed, and I went back to poetry. Having lost so much time, I've looked on the writing as its own reward. But that reward doesn't begin to compare with the joy I feel at having won an NEA this late in my life if not in my career. And there are no synonyms.
Letter After the Diagnosis
This is the window I love best. It looks down
on roses, ferns, ivy the deer come to eat
once the rains have gone. Earlier I watched
a deer take a Peace rose in one nip. He held it
in his mouth, head dipping and lifting, the flutter
of petals like foam at his wide lips. Just when
I thought the sweet smell had made him drunk,
he swallowed. Then he nipped another. The same
intoxicated dance, head and forelegs lifting,
falling, in slow syncopation. After the fifth rose,
the bushtop stripped, I opened the window
to yell Hey! Enough! The deer looked up,
then strolled off through high grass. I tell you this
because I need some deer insouciance
to offer you against your fear. I did not
think of you at all while I watched the deer
eat the roses. But now I know if you had been
beside me, you would have put out your hand
to stop me from raising the window, you would have
done all you could to grant him abundance.