we don't make up anything in our language

Michael Doherty: Are there any other authors or poets who have inspired you to write or whom you want to model your writing after?

David Ferry: I think my double answer to that would be that I can right away think of the American poets and the English poets of the now-past twentieth century whom I find myself admiring most, and that's a very clear, obvious list - Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens - when I was an undergraduate I wrote my honor's thesis on Stevens, he and Frost were the first modern poets whose work rally took hold of me - Thomas Hardy, Philip Larkin, Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams. The other side of the story, of course, is the worry of ending up sounding like an imitation of somebody you admire. It's almost like saying that my list of people I admire is my list of people I don't want to sound like. And I'm sure I end up, in an inferior way, sounding like some of them at various times.

Then I'd have to double back again and say there's another kind of answer to your question. Much as you want to find your own voice and differentiate yourself even from, and maybe especially from, the people you admire the most, poetry (and any other kind of writing) is made out of what's in your ear, your memories of what language sounds like in various situations. If you're writing in any form you've got in your ear the cadences you've heard in other people's use of that form, and so while trying to avoid sounding like somebody else you're at the same time using the way the English language has behaved rhythmically as you've heard it elsewhere. We don't make up anything in our language. It's all, in a sense, memory. It's, as Frost says, "things that live in the cave of the mouth," that were always there. You don't make it out of nothing. You make language out of language. It's both trying not to sound like other people and using ad hoc what's gotten into your ear.

- David Ferry, in interview with Harry Thomas' class at Davidson College, as published in Talking with Poets (Handsel Books, 2002).

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