Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Bebelplatz and 25 Most Influential Writers

Being tagged to list the twenty-five writers who have influenced me the most caused me to remember a place and time when the words of writers floated as ash into the darkened sky…


On sunny days
on Bebelplatz,
the burning room
reflects a soft blue sky
as travelers gape to see
an empty shelf.
Ghostly volumes, dimly glimpsed
amidst the rush, reflect
faces of the curious
eager to be off
to find the next big thing.
One man, unawares,
steps hard on echoes
of the burning leaves,
while far away
under an Appalachian sky,
a child peers up
through burnished leaves
that dapple tales
of her dark knights
on sunny days,
never once in her wildest
dreams perceiving
that books may burn
or man may step on thoughts
or smoke may stain the
soft blue dreamer’s sky.

25 Most Influential Writers

When K. Lawson-Gilbert of Old Mossy Moon challenged me to list the twenty-five writers who have influenced me the most, I knew what a difficult task was before me. Deep and wide exposure to good literature has certainly influenced my thinking, which in turn, influences my writing.

As air is to breath, literature is to writing. Reading and writing for me are recursive processes: I read, I write, I read again. My own writing informs my thinking, just as my thinking informs my writing, but my thoughts have also been formed by the West Virginia hills, the people whom I love, the roads I have traveled, and the writers whose works I have inhaled my entire life long.

Narrowing this list was nearly impossible, and I apologize to all my dearly beloved authors whose names do not appear below:

William Shakespeare


Charles Dickens

William Faulkner

John Keats

Percy Bysshe Shelley

William Wordsworth

Robert Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

William Blake

Thomas Hardy

Emily Bronte

Emily Dickinson

Edgar Allan Poe

Alfred Lord Tennyson

John Steinbeck

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Gerard Manly Hopkins

John Donne

T.S. Eliot

Walt Whitman

William Blake

Virginia Woolf

Toni Morrison


I challenge Sarah Hina, Rachel Westfall, and Julie Buffaloe-Yoder to show us your lists!


  1. Great list, Karen! I saw this on the blog of another poet I visit and she really went into detail on each of the 25. She said it took her 3 days to write it. I hope to do the same at some point, but not yet.

    We have many common points of influence, particularly the 19th Century writers and some of the Americans.

    I love the poem too and am off to Google "Bebelplatz" as it is unfamiliar to me.


  2. Kat - we were crossing in the blogosphere! I was on your site while you were here.

    One note about Bebelplatz: the memorial is relatively new, and of course, represents the spot of the book burnings. I called it a "burning room" -- I don't know why, just one of those poetic things, I guess -- but the room is a grim reminder. I cried looking at those empty shelves.

  3. Great choices!

    Oh heavy deed - the book burnings. You have captured the essence of the emptiness one would feel at gazing upon vacant shelves. Your words seem to be a salve of sorts to the aching heart of the book lover, who wonders at the madness of things! Your poem is truly of work of art.

  4. Karen, what a beautiful tribute to the profound loss we collectively experience when words (ideas) are deemed so unacceptable that they must be destroyed. Of course, the ideas survive, will always survive, but humanity suffered something in that very spot, and it is so important, as the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation in Paris tells us, to forgive but never forget.

    The child peering up under an Appalachian sky reminded me of the blissful igorance of my daughter of which I spoke in my last post. It is no small thing to be free, much as we can seem to take it for granted sometimes.

    Wonderful post!

  5. I just love the poem! The image of the child's eyes is an intense contrast to the evil of creating a blinding ignorance via book burning. Well done.

  6. K. - Looking into that emptiness, one can hardly see the shelves for seeing the reflection of her own face. That is particularly haunting -- seeing people superimposed over the empty shelves. This platz is right across from the university where many of the writers taught. I can hardly imagine.

    Thanks for your comments and for making me think of this with your challenge.

    Of course, you can see here some of those we loved together!

    Jennifer - I haven't seen the memorial in Paris, but I'll make sure to look it up and will not be the typical tourist who rushes off "to find the next big thing." I'll think of man's inhumanity to man.

    As to your daughter, that's exactly what I had in mind -- the innocence that cannot even imagine not being free. Thanks, Jennifer.

    Cat - I like the term "blinding ignorance." That's what it is, isn't it? I can't remember the exact words quoted at the memorial, but they were predictive of what was to come in Germany. (Something like: If they will burn books, they will burn people next.) Too sadly true, and very wise to recognize the depth of madness that would allow either.

  7. Wow...this is so my kind of challenge!! :) Thank you so much, Karen, for tagging me on this. I'm going to be mulling it over for the next couple of days. Few things excite me as much as thinking about the authors who've inspired me. Your list is magnificent! I see several of my favorites among those wonderful names.

    And I love that you took the opportunity to write a poem about the preciousness of those thoughts and words. Contrasting that dreamer's sky with the dark stain on our history was just brilliant. Innocence and madness. Your words reflect the vast spectrum, as do the authors you love.

  8. i am not sure if i have been here before- but there is an uncanny familiarity about this place. (seriously. it's the first time i'm using this line.)

    i like your older posts.. i have enjoyed reading them.


  9. Karen, Institutionalized evil is the scariest because good men following orders can succeed in ignoring the descent into darkness, as is well documented in the psychological literature. An evil person without power will keep his or her darkness as secret as possible, so that only insiders know anything. An evil person who has taken power will become more overt. An evil person who has found great power will coerce otherwise good men to cooperate. They typically will not resist as the Nazi experience amply demonstrates. Do not think it could not happen to me or to you. It is harder to resist than you can imagine. Many of the good men who cooperated with evil in the Third Reich were strongly disciplined characters in all other respects. The Nazi evil was coercive and ruthless. So was the Stalinist evil. It is no less an illness for all that.

    And how strong this all gets when a coterie of evil men aid and abet each other.

  10. Sarah - I look forward to your listing! As I thought of these, I wanted to give a short explanation for the choice, but I'd still be writing! This is harder than it seems. I omitted so many of the contemporary writers whose works I read all the time, most notably John Irving, Amy Tan, Ann Tyler, and then also Garcia-Marquez and Allende. Narrowing to 25 is very difficult.

    Silver - I do think we've met. You commented on "The Darkness" some time ago. I'm glad you came back. Do return!

    Christopher - This form of madness is the evil of which I spoke on your blog. True, pure evil.

  11. It all makes sense now. Of course, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind for me as well. The Julie Christie, Oskar Werner film is far better than I thought and is vivid in colour. If you've never seen it, or it's been a while, it's worth renting.


    P.S. Swing by Invisible Keepsakes for a keepsake to keep.

  12. Damn, you got me Karen! :) I'm sorry I didn't spot this sooner. This is going to take some thought...

    I like your poem, very much. Your list, too.

  13. Thanks, Kat! I haven't seen the film but it was a favorite book from another favorite author whom I didn't list.

    I love the award; thank you.

    Did you see the Blog Thinker award at right? Your name has been there. I've just been lazy about delivering them.

    Rachel - Ha! Gotcha!

  14. Hi Karen! Your list of writer's that have influenced you, is almost in full, a mirror to my own, but I must admit I am a late bloomer in that I am still in the discovery stage with many of them.

    I also meant to tell you many times before that I just love your intro. We are defined in many ways by our relationships, but ironically as you said "ultimately unknown to any of them." ...That is so true!

  15. This poem is AWESOME! I LOVE

    "One man, unawares,
    steps hard on echoes
    of the burning leaves,"

    And you bring it back around to the child under the Appalachian sky. Then those last four lines...wonderful! It was beautiful, but it also made me want to stand up and applaud! Very powerful.

    When I used to work at a library, we did special programming every year for books on the "banned list." I never could understand why people can't see how DANGEROUS it is to ban any freedom of expression. There are books I find offensive, but I just don't read them. I do think they have the right to exist, and other people have the right to read them if they wish.

    But some of the books on the list were wonderful works of literature (like Huck Finn). Go figure.

    I've actually been thinking about the list of writers since I saw it at Joaquin and K's sites. They have great lists, and so do you. I've been having a hard time narrowing it (seriously, it was in the hundreds), and I think I've just been naming all the people I love, even if they're not necessarily influences. I need a few days to edit...ha! ha! I'll try to get something up later next week.

    And THANK YOU for the award! I love it! I do think of you as part of my sisterhood, and it touches me greatly. Wonderful post, Karen. Excellent poem and very important topic.

  16. Thank you so much for this award, Karen. I love all the bonds I've formed through blogging. In many ways, they feel more authentic to me than the people I know in my "real" life.

    So I treasure this award. I'm often not very good about posting them, but they do mean a lot to me. So thank you, from one sister to another. :)

  17. Calli - It's hard to narrow to only 25 writers who have influenced! I don't know that I could blame any of them for my writing, but I can certainly credit them for a good bit of my thinking. Enjoy your acquaintance with them; there's never enough time to read good books!

    Thanks for the comment on my intro. I know if my family would read it, they wouldn't understand. They think they do know me, and in ways they do, but I wonder if anyone ever really knows anyone?

    Julie - Like you, I think people should exercise their individual judgment and avoid the writings and ideas they find offensive. When we ban the free flow of ideas, it's only a short slide into horror.

    As for Huck, I had to defend him more than once in my career as an English teacher. Huck and many others -- he most silly and extreme example of which was when I had to meet with the school board to explain that Paul Zindel's The Pigman wasn't promoting juvenile delinquency!

    Thanks for all of your kind words about the poem. I can't wait to see to your list...if you can ever pare it down!

    Sarah - I feel that closeness, too, and I'm really bad about these awards myself, so as we say in WV, "No offense taken" if you don't post it. Just know that I thought of you!

  18. Julie - Sorry about the typo above. I'll learn to preview!

  19. Yes, we shared many a good night talking about the works of Shelley, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning and so many more.

    Will we ever forget our nights with The Brothers Karamazov???? Too much fun!

  20. I am sure I've commented before on this - I know I have elsewhere. Maybe I did something wrong.
    I don't think I could have picked up this particular challenge. I'm sure I must have been influenced by many more than 25 writers, but not consciously. It's difficult to make a list sound interesting, but you have done so gloriously. 20000 Brownie points!

  21. Great list Karen... Glad to see Wordsworth there. :-)

    Excited to see what Sarah comes up with now. :-)

  22. K. - I won't dare to mention our study night habits! LOL

    Dave - Thanks for the Brownie points! I'll take all I can get!

    Aniket - Welcome! Wordsworth was maybe my first love! I'm eager to see what the others have to say, too. Thanks for visiting.

  23. Karen - I appreciate your award so much, dear mountian friend. It was so sweet of you to honor me.

  24. never once in her wildest
    dreams perceiving
    that books may burn
    or man may step on thoughts

    Yet it happens much too often... What a beautiful poem, Karen.

    Very interesting your list of authors. Many of my favourites are on it. :-)

  25. Vesper - Yes, unfortunately, it does happen too often, sometimes in such world-changing ways as it did in Germany, and sometimes in the private nay-saying of those who squash our imaginations. Too often.

    As for the authors, there aren't any surprises, but oh, what a wealth of talent, ideas, knowledge, insight, style...

  26. Just commenting on the great list, Karen:) The ending to John Steinbeck's book, Grapes of Wrath, is my all time favorite. The transformation of Rose of Sharon, and what she does at the end is unforgettable!!

  27. Every Photo Tells A Story - The best example of man's humanity to man that I've ever cried through! I couldn't agree more. :-)

  28. Karen, this is my first visit to your blog. I come by way of Poetikat and can't believe I haven't been here before. I've enjoyed my first visit immensely! By the way, I love your 25 literary heroes. :)

  29. Welcome, Peggy! I love Poetikat's blog, and I'm glad you found your way here from there. Please do come back.

  30. This is lovely, a soft dreamers sky..) yes i know that sky, spent many days staring at it and the sea, feel like I may float away. Reverie.)

    Really stunning.)

    Thank you for your visits and thoughts.)))

  31. Hi, Selchie - Thanks for your nice comments. I can imagine with where you live, you've seen much of sea and sky. I love the comment about floating away.