Unlike our students on the MA I teach on, who we made pick just ONE author or book that had influenced them. The look of panic on their faces when they considered all the writers they had to leave behind was laugh-out-loud funny, but the variety of examples they then pulled into the classroom made it worth it. I wasn't the only one scribbling down names and feeling the excitement of all those new books to try. It certainly put paid to the idea that reading is a passive activity.
My choice was Alice Duer Miller. I first came across her work during a rainy holiday in the Lake District when I started exploring the bookshelves in the holiday house. The first book I pulled out, a novel in verse, Forsaking All Others, led - eventually and through a labyrinth of failed ideas - to Something Beginning With, which is why it's dedicated to her.
And it also led to a kind of one-sided love affair. I'm not sure we would have got on in person, but I certainly get on with her words. There's something about certain authors - A M Homes, Aimee Bender, Marilyn Hacker - who trigger something off in my writing. I love the series of poems ADM wrote for the New York Tribute, in particular. Are Women People? explored the case for women's suffrage by taking the mickey out of the anti-suffrage case. The thought of how they must have annoyed the hell out of the opposition still makes me laugh, this one in particular:
Why We Oppose Pockets for Women
1. BECAUSE pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.
3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.
5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.
6. Because it would destroy man's chivalry toward woman, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.
7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.
8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey flasks, chewing gum and compromising letters. We see no reason to suppose that women would use them more wisely.
And the following observation is perfect in its simplicity. It's one of the things I love most about ADM's writing - she never goes one step too far - and she trusts her readers to 'get it'. Especially the ones who she's writing against.
The Logic of the Law
IN 1875 the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in denying the petition of women to practise before it said:
"It would be shocking to man's reverence for womanhood and faith in woman ... that woman should be permitted to mix professionally in all the nastiness which finds its way into courts of justice."
It then names thirteen subjects as unfit for the attention of women-three of them are crimes committed against women.