At last night’s writers’ group one of my fellow writers shared an anecdote about the early influence of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder on his writing. The topic came up as we reviewed a segment of his manuscript that reflected some of the same devices and emotions to be found in the more dramatic moments of the play. He followed up with a laugh and something to the effect of, “You have to be careful what kinds of art you share with teenagers, because it can have a serious influence!”
We all had a good laugh, and each of us shared how we see this phenomenon in our own writing as well. The writer I mentioned above regularly cringes at my use of “towards” instead of “toward.” Both terms are correct, but the former is more common in British English, the latter in American. I know that the reason the former sounds and feels right to me (especially in poetry), is because of the disproportionate number of British, European, and transcendentalist poets and writers whose work I read when I was a teenager.
In my writing and art I can see the influences of many of my early inspirations. Whenever I wax wide-eyed, whimsical, and self-indulgent, I know Whitman is likely whispering in my ear. Brazen, cutting, and relentless poetry is a tell-tale sign that Cisneros is standing above my shoulder. When my poetry reaches into the darker corners of my imagination, I know Sylvia might be sighing at my elbow. If I try to wrestle society and self in the same turn of phrase, Jim Morrison and The Doors might be playing in the back of my mind. And if I find words like “thou” “whilst” or “wherefore” slipping into my stanzas, I know I likely have Blake or Shakespeare to thank for it.
I once read an article about a young musical artist from Washington (as soon as I remember her name I’ll post it). She makes a comment to the effect (and I’m paraphrasing from crude memory), that “teenagers feel things so deeply and passionately.” If my memory serves me, she was discussing the trend for people to grow up and forget about how deeply they felt things as teenagers (something she helps rekindle with her music).
As artists, it can be easy to lose sight of some of the deep-seated influences we have in our own work from artists who moved, excited, inspired, or intrigued us when we were young. For some of us, these artistic influences have become so familiar and so much a part of our work that they almost pass unnoticed. Perhaps even more difficult to pin down may be the cross-media influences (e.g. I might see the themes of Dalí’s paintings in my writing).
Who were your early artistic influences? Where can you see evidence of early artistic inspirations still emerging through your own work?