• Iron and Wine

Iron and Wine: Poetry of the Deed

Paul Mitchell | 07 Jan 2011

Sam Beam's lyrics are about what he would describe as “the pretty things and the scary things, like life itself.” Here's a look at the lives and works of four poets he draws inspiration from

John Allyn Berryman (1914–1972)

This Oklahoma-born poet is considered one of the founders of the Confessional School of poetry along with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath (though he did reject that label). Poetry has long been personal and intimate, but these writers were part of a trend towards revealing the more unflattering details of personal life, such as sexuality, depression and shame. His most famous work is Dream Songs, a series of 18-line poems filled with accounts of the deaths and suicides of family and friends. Berryman took his own life in 1972.

Lucille Clifton (1936–2010)

Clifton, who tackled head on themes of race and feminism, was born with a genetic condition known as polydactyly, which meant she had an extra finger on each hand. Surgically removed in childhood, her two 'ghost fingers' and their activities became a theme in her poetry, which dealt with such dark matter as the massacre at Gettysburg, the claiming by disease of loved ones, and child molestation.

Norman Dubie (1945–)

This Regent's Professor of English has 18 published collections, and recounts his early inspiration being his mother, who was a nurse. Which is all very cute until you realise the reasoning for that inspiration were her frequent tales of the grim and gruesome. Listening to all the different ways people (and kids) can die encouraged him to pay attention to detail; even the ugly details. Dubie specialises in recounting historical episodes from a first person perspective.

Yusef Komunyakaa (1947–)

Komunyakaa won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994, but the Louisiana-born writer had already reached mass acclaim with the publication of the hugely influential Copacetic in 1984. This work which mixed his expansive imagery with a penchant for colloquialisms and syncopated rhythms. Priding himself on his indirect style, he says of his work: “Poetry is a kind of distilled insinuation. It’s a way of expanding and talking around an idea or a question. Sometimes, more actually gets said through such a technique than a full frontal assault.”