by Robert Cording
As an undergraduate in a state college, I read an essay by Howard Moss, a poet I admired and the poetry editor of The New Yorker at that time. Though his advice was of the usual “learn the tradition” school, what Moss said about writing poems struck my insecure hyperconscious-of my-poorly-educated self hard—he said, unless a poet knew the poems of the past, that poet was bound to repeat what another poet had already done better. Solid, but obvious advice that, nevertheless, I took deeply to heart. And so I went off to graduate school in English in 1972, closeting, like many of my fellow graduate students, my desire to be a writer inside the more mainline pursuit of a doctoral degree. In an early Victorian literature class, I first read Robert Browning. I was writing persona poems, trying to find my own voice by assuming the guise of others. Struck by the energy of Browning’s dramatic monologues, I began to think about the way he appropriated first-person narration and about the way his poems worked dramatically, through their plots.