Writers don’t exist in a vacuum. We’ve got the whole edifice of literary history on our shoulders, and all the other writers we’ve read. And some of it rubs off.
Mostly, these influences are implicit; we like an author’s style or attitudes, and our work may reflect that. I know there’s sometimes a faint suggestion of Norman MacCaig in some of my lines. Loving his work as I do, it would be surprising if there wasn’t. There’s a line in one of my Assynt poems about a falcon ‘who can see my inner pigeon’ and I remember thinking as I wrote it that Norman might have written that, but he didn’t – I did. All my own work, guv.
Sometimes it’s explicit. Back in the 1980s I sometimes wrote Burns pastiches for office Christmas parties. They used the ‘standard habbie’ form, as Burns often did, and they shared his irreverence and humour, unashamedly poking fun at my bosses. But they were always my own words.
Then there’s the ‘after‘ poem, where a poem by someone else is used as a model for my own work. I’ve done this with William Dunbar, for instance, using his ideas to inspire my own work, giving my own thoughts on winter and renewal, in a language and style which are very different from the medieval Scots of A Meditatioun in Wyntir.
If I put my name to something, it’s my own, original work; my own words and phrases. Of course literary analysis might detect the influences of those other poets I’ve read and enjoyed over the years, but I have my own voice. Finding that voice took time and effort; it always does.
I know I’m not alone. I think all poets value having their own voice, taking a legitimate pride in having created something new, original, unique, their own. As did those who have influenced us. And if I quote, in an epigraph or elsewhere, I always acknowledge the originator. I respect the integrity of authorship.