As I have said before, there wasn’t a plan. Which does not mean I don’t feel the luckiest man alive to have a top poetry publisher knock on my door and ask to make a book out of the blog I was going to carry on writing anyway. The blog which started as a notebook. Which started as a whim, an idea, a jeu d’esprit, a well-why-not. Which began with having had cancer. As I said recently to a friend, I am pinching myself. Raymond Carver used to call it ‘gravy’.
So there wasn’t a plan. Which is not the same as having no idea, based on a hunch, formed by some principles, forged by reading a million anthologies before it, of what Lifesaving Poems should look like.
Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes restricted themselves (Seamus Heaney! Ted Hughes!) to one poem per poet when they followed up (followed up!) The Ratttlebag with The Schoolbag. Had anyone done that since, I thought? Deliberately? That was an influence, certainly. Not to mention the democratic principle of being able to turn a page and basically jump from MacCaig to Hopkins to Jonson to Dickinson (pp 215-6, since you ask) just like that. I liked that too.
But I had seen it earlier in the second-hand Voices and Junior Voices (ed. Geoffrey Summerfield), quite possibly the best anthologies for young people ever. Blues songs, riddles, Carl Sandburg (lots of Carl Sanburg), Stevens; the first time I saw Reothke. And the genius Anon. Tons of Anon. I wanted this too: memorable speech.
Other influences? Cliff Yates’s Jumpstart (don’t get me started), Ian McMillan’s still-breathtaking Against the Grain, the Wordscapes series by Barry Maybury. Touchstones, edited by Michael and Peter Benton (and where I first saw The Picnic and Love). All in my head and on my shelves, and now on my sleeve, as the places I first found and fed this love. More like a hunger, now I come to think of it. Or a homesickness (Frost). If someone ever thought the same about mine I’d be happy.