Tag Archives: David Whyte

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):

boyle

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.

10 FAVORITE POETS

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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Living the Writing Teacher’s Dream

One of the many advantages of teaching at a small college concerns the amount of one-on-one time we enjoy with our students. There is no amount of book study, assignments, online tutelage, lecturing or study groups that can equal the interaction between a caring teacher and a willing student.

With the creative writing program I’m helping to develop at Ananda College of Living Wisdom, we’ve ramped it up a step further  — individual courses for individual students.

It didn’t start out this way. The plan was to have group classroom study, followed by independent study sessions. However, when the roster came together for the 2011-12 school year, Dean of Academics Celia Alvarez realized that the students varied greatly in their writing experience, topical and genre interests, grade levels and approaches to learning. So she popped the question in an email the week before I returned to campus: “Can you create a separate course for each student?”

What a challenge — but what a joy. Two weeks into this rather maverick approach, I sit here buzzing over the spiritual and intellectual stimulation this has created. Not only does my versatility as a writing instructor receive the ultimate test, but it also brings into play all the books I’ve read, the different genres in which I’ve written, and the various skills I’ve learned to inspire, motivate and help students (both scholastic and professional writers) gather their thoughts, find the structure that suits them best, trust their instincts and voices, and lay one word out in front of another. For instance, in this term alone, assigned books include all-time favorites like Annie Dillard’s masterful Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Portable Beat Reader anthology, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road,  Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild, Coleman Barks’ The Illustrated Rumi, and new favorites like Susan Casey’s The Wave and Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder, poignant essays she wrote right after 9/11.

The courses this fall are certainly varied. One is a study of the fabled Beat writers — all of whom had distinctly different styles, voices and works. We’re studying them as writers, not as readers — a far different approach that requires tapping into the Beat writers’ motivations, structures and voices as well as their words. Another is a freshman course that combines creative writing with instruction on developing and composing academic research papers. So that’s two courses in one.

Thanks to another student’s wishes, my poetic senses are being filled by teaching a poetry writing class with an emphasis on spiritually infused poets like Gibran, Hafiz, Rumi, Snyder, Yogananda, Khayyam, Sun-Tzu, Li-Po, Basho, Waldman and Tagore, along with Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Denise Levertov and a few other modern-day bards. The beauty of that course is that I finally get to utilize the book-length website I wrote in 2008,  Poetry Through the Ages, as a teaching tool (thousands of teachers and students throughout the country have sourced the website for its content and plethora of teaching suggestions, assignments and projects).

Enough already? Not so. My fourth writing course, an essay and narrative non-fiction class, involves the interweaving of personal story and experience into informational pieces (those who have worked with me at writers’ conferences and workshops know this course by different titles). And finally, I’ve brought a web content writing component into the social media class that I teach, with an emphasis on something every writer who builds a website should know up front: web and social media content writing is not a creative writing exercise. It is all about marketing and knowing what to write, how to use keywords, how to write posts and messages, and where to place them.

Put it all together, and it’s resulted in two weeks of gathering materials, writing syllabi, meeting with students, and already sharing some magical moments that can only be experienced with one-on-one learning. For example, my freshman student and I talked all about the way an ocean wave looks from the inside — when you’re being covered up in a tube ride while surfing, bodyboarding or bodysurfing.  Then he went off, wrote for 90 minutes about it and painted a beautiful wave (he’s also an artist). The next day, I sat with a senior — the young man who burns to write as much as Jack Kerouac did — and read him perhaps the longest sentence in modern literature, Kerouac’s 1,200-word riff in The Subterraneans that has the staccato pace and rip-roaring rhythm of a Charlie Parker be-bop jazz solo. The point? To demonstrate what stream-of-consciousness writing sounds like, which gives the budding writer of what it feels like to write so freely and openly.

How does it feel to be part of this very far-forward exercise (which, truth be told, has a lot of the simple charm of the one-room schoolhouse setting to it)? I feel like the most fortunate and privileged person on earth. I feel like the hundreds of workshops and classes I’ve given online, at retreats, conferences, workshops and libraries all feed this opportunity to help change and inform lives. I also feel like the 45 years since I started writing stories, and all the writing assignments, books, poems, essays, articles I’ve written and books I’ve read and edited come into play, right here, right now. It is the best mindset for teaching that I can think of: fully present, required to be fully present, with every skill or bit of knowledge that preceded this moment ready and available to be used as needed.

There’s so much more. Because of the uniqueness of what we’re doing with the creative writing program at Ananda College, I’ve decided to keep a journal log of the classes, what we discuss, reading materials, feelings, assignments and experiences, and post the highlights on my Scribd.com account every week. That will also include highlights of the students’ writing. It’s just something I want to throw out there as one person’s contribution to a greater educational process.

Bell’s ringing. Time to get back to class.

 

 

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