Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is the poet whose spirit I most aspire to convene with. When I read her work, I can just feel her out in the streets marching, loving, smiling wryly at the woman next to her. She knows how to keep us there. She knows what we’re trying to do and why we’re trying do to it. She’s incisive. She can speak to me and to not-me simultaneously. She has me staying up all night thinking about Pat Parker and the word “opalescent.” She has the poems that keep me coming back to my comrades’ sides, that admonish me for making her wonder if she can “survive/all these liberations,” that remind me to keep speaking out as “when we are silent/we are still afraid/So we speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.”

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison stops me in my tracks every time. Her writing stuns me in its vivacity; it’s practically screaming off the page. Her work excels in every component, whereas many writers, even brilliant ones, shine only in one or two. The way that she uses or invents form, all the way from syntax, as in The Bluest Eye, up to her narrative structure, as in Jazz where the chapters seem to improvise together to a shared reality, is rivalled by the complexity and intensity of her characters. Morrison’s invocation of African American mythologies as well as her contribution to an unflinching Black American reconsideration of history and experience centre stories that force a reckoning with the haunting horrors of racism and yet create room for Black diversity, resistance, and joy.

Marilyn Hacker

“Marilyn, my love” is how I’ve titled many an email that holds a Hacker poem. I just love how sumptuous she is. She taught me to love both form poetry and loving women. When I was first coming into my queerness, I read and re-read Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons and in the process fell in love with myself, my whole self, my queer self. Her novel composed of the twisting lines of sonnets convinced me I myself could take up and renew these forms, these scripts, and that in this restriction I could find a new (and old) kind of freedom.

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is a master weaver of words, tying threads from disparate traditions into objects made new through composition. I became overwhelmed, while reading Gut Symmetries, by just how many threads she could combine into a cohesive whole, the piece somehow not unraveling. Gender and sexuality ricocheted off geometry, alchemy, religion, and physics. A scene where Stella, upon discovering her husband Jove’s affair, saws every item in their home in half played with the line between the literal and the metaphorical so cleverly and tactilely that I read it three times before continuing. It seems that everywhere Winterson turns her attention this dazzling complexity presents itself.

Rainer Maria Rilke

While I have it stored as a fact in my mind that Rilke is just so good, I always forget just how good until I read him again and find myself on the inner brink of myself. He has a way of making me feel like I’m breathing clay, confronting the abyss. It’s as though the end of each poem, not just “Archaic Torso of Apollo” commands me: “you must change your life.”

Anna Genevieve Winham writes at the crossroads of science and the sublime, cyborgs and the surreal. She is Ninth Letter’s 2020 literary award winner in Literary Nonfiction and Writer Advice Flash Fiction Contest’s 3rd place winner. Anna writes and performs with the Poetry Society of New York, moonlighting as Velvet Envy in The Poetry Brothel. You can find her work in Tilde~, Q/A Poetry, Panoplyzine, AAWP: Meniscus and Pandemic Poets and soon in Oxford Public Philosophy, Rock & Sling, and Breadcrumbs Magazine.

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