I believe that writers are readers first, and that we’re influenced by everything we read. Certainly your writing style can be influenced by a surfeit of reading a particular author you admire. Perhaps that happens most when we’re young and still finding our own voices, though I’ve noticed that when I’m in the mood to reread several of Georgette Heyer’s books it’s awfully easy to start talking like her characters. Generally to the confusion of any hapless Southern Californian whom I encounter at those times.
But more than style, our reading guides our thinking. A headline in a newspaper or on a news site may suggest a plotline. Someone’s blog may suggest a character. We may enjoy the tone of a book so much that we want that in our own writing. I’m nearly always drawn in by character-driven humor. Some of the revealing dialog in Jane Austen’s book simply cracks me up. I often wish I could go live in Fannie Flagg’s Elmwood Springs and hang out with Aunt Elner. When I’m working on a book, the scenes where I make myself laugh are the ones that usually need the least editing.
When it comes to poetry, though, my influences can be narrowed to just one book, by a rather obscure poet.
The Collected Poems of Freddy the Pig.
Did you read the Freddy books as a child? All of the animals on the Bean Farm can talk, and Freddy is their leader. I loved Freddy. I still love Freddy. (He’s probably the real reason I became a vegetarian in 1972.) I once read that he is the epitome of a friend. He is staunch and true, intelligent and enthusiastic. In most of the books in the series he solves a mystery, often disguising himself as a person. He simply assumes that no one will realize he is a pig in disguise, and he’s right. If you’ve never read the Freddy books, rush down to your public library and check some out. Should all their copies have been read to pieces, the books are available online; I just checked Half.com and found lots of inexpensive copies.
Freddy is also a poet, and the rhymes from the novels were collected into this anthology.
Marching songs, odes to the features of the face, laments and more, Freddy was a prolific writer of pure doggerel. Almost any time I’ve written something I blushingly call a poem, it follows directly in Freddy’s footsteps. I offer the example below in proof, and to wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Many Thanksgivings have come and gone
Since I stopped eating meat.
Yet every year I manage still
To leave the harvest table replete.
Some years we’ve made Italian food,
Or Indian, or Spanish
And the menu may surprise a guest
Yet still the food will vanish.
I like to think on Turkey Day
There’s a bird still flying free
Who’ll take a moment to bow his head
And say a prayer of thanks—for me.