James Dickey’s Poems, 1957-1967
I slept with this book during my first year of graduate school. These poems taught me everything I know about turning a story in 24 lines of verse. Dickey’s short narratives are sublime throughout this collection, and the longer, more adventurous pieces like “Falling” or “May Day Sermon” read like opera to me.
Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea
Reading Rhys was a masterclass in sentence management. Her prose is so effortless and beautiful. And her tone conveys such depth of emotion it touches me exactly like Billie Holliday’s voice. Wide Sargasso Sea was definitely the key I used for tone in many of my earliest drafts.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Innocent Erendira, and Other Stories
These stories really introduced the power of language to shift the lines of reality for me. The way the fantastic and the literal cohabit sentences in Marquez’s stories opened up so many possibilities for figurative shifts in my poems there’s just no way to list them here.
Walker Percy – Love in the Ruins
As a Louisianan, a philosophy major, and a Roman Catholic, I fell in love the first time I read Walker Percy. He embodied a synthesis of all the elements of life in south Louisiana I cared about. Love in the Ruins gave me an example of the possibilities of examining humanism, existentialism, environmentalism, theology, and humor in writing without being overbearing or bombastic.
Joe Wilkins – Killing the Murnion Dogs
When I stumbled into the work of Joe Wilkins, it felt like I had found a lost family member. Aside from their locale, Wilkins’ poems were perfect matches for my own. His language is absolutely perfect, and his vision is always spot on. Whether Wilkins is writing about family, or place, or nature, his poems are pure rapture for me.
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Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. His latest collections are Elliptic (Yellow Flag Press, 2016), Revenant (Blue Horse Press, 2016), and No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, fall 2018). He is currently serving as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.