I was at a poetry reading the other night, where a talented friend of mine read some brand-new poems, most of them still only halfway to their final destination.
But one of the phrases in one of these poems made me look up at him suddenly, having heard amidst the ongoing construction work, clear as a church bell across still fields, a snatch of true 'finished' poetry.
Afterwards I went up to my friend and told him how particularly achieved I thought that piece. Rifling through his sheaf of papers, he found the poem in question and handed it to me. To my frustration, it was laid out in incomprehensible fits and starts: here one word, there a brief stanza, great acres of white space, a solitary ampersand below, another couple of words far out to the right margin, all in lower case.
I asked what on earth he was about, laying out the poem like that, and he began to tell me, with great shining enthusiasm, of the avant-garde poets he'd been reading and how important he now realised it was to get the poem's spacing right for the rhythm.
I wanted to punch him.
The marvellous Brendan Kennelly, in an essay on Derek Mahon's Humane Perspective (collected in Journey to Joy: Selected Prose, Bloodaxe 1994, p. 129), has this to say about influence:
'There is an influence that is bad, a bad influence. It is born out of unquestioning adulation and encouraged by undiscriminating indifference. Such admiration is no good to anyone. It is rarely a helpful source of imitation. There is an influence that is half-way there, sloppily absorbed and turgidly reproduced. In such instances, the imagination becomes a gaping mouth. This influence is lazy. Periodicals and magazines are full of it. I think it is a peculiar poison of much Celtic Twilight poetry, for example, the fleas that Yeats talks about. And then there's an influence that is worthwhile. Plutarch on Shakespeare; Shakespeare on Shakespeare; Ibsen on Joyce; Blake on Yeats; Hazlitt on Keats; Godwin on Shelley; everybody on Eliot; these are examples of fully absorbed influences which are inseparable from growth. People often talk disparagingly about influence but it should not be so, because any true original is derivative. He is derivative from himself through others. He willingly submits himself to certain instinctively chosen influences until he emerges into himself. The thing is to see where the derivative self ends and the new original self begins.'
I wish I had written the above; I have certainly thought it often enough, or something very like it, and to find my own feelings echoed in a book by a poet I know and greatly admire is a wonderful thing.