Tag Archives: Chinese poetry

Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):


T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.


Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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From “Morning Tea with Gary Snyder”

While inhaling the brisk, pine-sharpened air of the surrounding Animin Forest along the San Juan Ridge, high above the South Yuba River, I consider the facets of Gary Snyder: poetics, ecology, Native American myth and literature, the value of work, the greatest defender of the Sierra Nevada since John Muir, his translation and knowledge of Japanese and Chinese poetry. The San Francisco Beat movement. The latter ignited on an October night in 1955 when Gary joined Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia and their non-reading guest, Jack Kerouac, at the “remarkable collection of angels,” the Six Gallery Reading. Ginsberg debuted and immortalized “Howl.” Snyder, then 25, read his first poem publicly, “A Berry Feast,” now a classic. The Six Gallery remains the seminal poetry event in recent U.S. history — and for which, amazingly, no photograph or tape recording exists. Why? No one thought it was a big deal. They didn’t see what was coming. Except for the lookout, the erstwhile Cascade Mountain ranger and U.C. Berkeley graduate student, Snyder. “I think it will be a poetical bombshell,” he told Whalen. In a journal, he wrote, “Poetry will get a kick in the arse around this town.”

All of them became famous.

A few nights before, while having dinner, Gary and I talked about Kerouac. After the Six Gallery reading, and before heading to Japan for 12 years of study, Snyder took Kerouac up North Arete, a.k.a. the Sierra Matterhorn, a difficult six-hour climb just west of California’s Mt. Whitney. The two held a common devotion for Buddhism, but were otherwise as different as the West and East coasts from which they came. Not to mention that Kerouac wrote prose that sometimes rambled like an endless river (one particular sentence in his benzedrine-fueled novel, The Subterraneans, stretched more than 1,200 words). Conversely, Snyder lives and breathes punctuality, his work crisp and clear as cold, pine-scented air. In 1959, their Sierra Matterhorn climb appeared in Kerouac’s great novel, The Dharma Bums — along with a wise, resourceful protagonist virtually every reader before and since wanted to know like a next-door neighbor: Japhy Ryder.

Gary Snyder.

“That was interesting to see how he wrote about our trip, the things we did together,” Gary said. “He had a tough time getting up the Matterhorn, but he did it.”

“What’s it like becoming the protagonist of a novel?”

Gary looked at me, eyes sharpening to the point he was about to make. His next bite of food clung to his fork like a spacewalker. “I was the model for a fictional character. I’m no more Japhy Ryder than the next guy. He used a lot of what we did, and I liked the way he wrote the book very much — I think it’s Kerouac’s finest novel — but Japhy is fictional and I’m right here. I was just a model.”

An intriguing comment I read about Kerouac’s work came to mind, something relevant in this era of memoirs, exposes, autobiographical novels, what’s true in novels and what’s fictitious in so-called memoirs. “Do you think that if Kerouac were alive today, his thirteen novels — On The Road, Dharma Bums, Big Sur, Tales of Duluoz and the others — would be considered memoirs?” I asked.

Gary thought about it for a moment, leaving the food marooned. He shook the fork slightly. “That’s a very good question. But…no. He fictionalized quite a bit, changed some names, changed the sequence of events, made a couple of things up; it’s not true memoir. You could call it autobiographical fiction. But why not just call it fiction and enjoy it?”

Out rolled the raucous laugh, the fun-lover’s laugh, his eyes jovial as leprechauns — the side of Gary Snyder we all seem to forget while he’s reading his works and discoursing on everything from the dearth of deep thought in everyday life to instilling more arts into public education to conserving his beloved Sierra Nevada.

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