Whatever its actual content
and overt interest, every poem is rooted in imaginative awe. Poetry can
do a hundred and one things, delight, sadden, disturb, instruct--it may
express every possible shade of emotion, and describe every conceivable
kind of event, but there is only one thing that all poetry must do: It
must praise all it can for being and happening.
Reverie is the groundwork
of the creative imagination; it is the privilege of the artist that with
him it is not as with other men an escape from reality, but the means by
which he accedes to it.
A school of sodden, contemplative
poets emerged here, too. Even the original inhabitants were an introspective
breed. . . . the Northwest coastal tribes were caught between the dark
waters to the west, the heavily forested foothills and towering Cascade
peaks to the east; forced by the lavish rains to spend weeks on end confined
to their longhouses . . . a hushed but heavy force hangs in the Northwest
air: it defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most
At the touch of love, everyone
becomes a poet.
There is no competition between
My nature is subdued to what
it works in, like the dyer's hand.
Empty pockets make empty
A poet without love were
a physical and metaphysical impossibility.
To have great poetry there
must be great audiences, too.
Immature poets imitate; mature
Yet technique matters, even
so. God uses it, for a buffalo is not a leopard.
For most defects, to delete
is the instantaneous cure.
The lyrics of pop songs are
so banal that if you show a spark of intelligence they call you a poet.
And if you say you're not a poet then people think you're putting yourself
down. But the people who call you a poet are people who never read poetry.
Like poetry was something defined by Bob Dylan. They never read, say, Wallace
A poet is someone who manages,
in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning
five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.
A despot doesn't fear eloquent
writers preaching freedom--he fears a drunken poet who may crack a joke
that will take hold.
Say it, no ideas but in things.
Besies, to have failed as
an artist may be a respectable and valuable thing.
Success is going from failure
to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
The great man is he who does
not lose his child's heart.
The secret of being a bore
is to tell everything.
Always a larger significance.
A little thing touches a larger thing.
The classic is the local
fully realized, words marked by a place.
It is difficult to get the
news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lack of what
is found there.
People always ask: For
whom does the poet write? He needs only to answer, For whom do you
do good? Are you kind to your daughter because in the end someone will
pay you for being? . . . The poet writes his poem for its own sake,
for the sake of that order of things in which the poem takes the place
that has awaited it.
No surprise for the writer,
no surprise for the reader.
Poetry should be at least
as well written as prose.
I'd as soon write free verse
as play tennis with the net down.
The colloquial is the root
of every good poem. . . . . One half of individuality is locality.
The classic is the local
fully realized, words marked by a place.
Good poems are the best teachers.
Once a spectator said, after
Jack Nicklaus had chipped a shot in from a sand trap, "That's pretty lucky."
Nicklaus is supposed to have replied, "Right. But I notice the more I practice,
the luckier I get." If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay
in shape and will be better able to receive those good poems, which are
finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen
to writers who don't work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite
a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come
rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work on the earlier
poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems.
The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the
second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will
come. Get to work.
To be a poet you must live
with an intensity five times, nay a hundred times more furiously than that
of those about you. There is no scene, no experience which should not contribute
to your poetic appreciations and culture.
A good teacher can save a
young poet years by simply telling him things he need not waste time on,
like trying to will originality or trying to share an experience in language
or trying to remain true to the facts (but that's the way it really happened).
Roethke used to mumble: "Jesus, you don't want to say that." And
you didn't but you hadn't yet become ruthless enough to create. You still
felt some deep moral obligation to "reality" and "truth," and of course
it wasn't moral obligation at all but fear of yourself and your inner life.
Don't write with a pen. Ink
tends to give the impression the words shouldn't be changed.
Make your first line interesting
and immediate. Start, as some smarty once said, in the middle of things.
When the poem starts, things should already have happened. (Note: White
unlined paper gives you the feeling nothing has happened.) If Yeats had
begun "Leda and the Swan" with Zeus spotting Leda and getting an erection,
Yeats would have been writing a report.
Esse qua esse bonum est.
Nulla dies sine linea.
The man who is his own master
knocks in vain at the door of poetry.
Perfect self-control is tantamount
to a state of total paralysis. For control is a degree of inhibition, and
a system which is perfectly inhibited is completely frozen . . . the artist
has established an area of control within which he can abandon himself
to spontaneity without restraint.
The man who is master of
his passions is Reason's slave.
It hinders the creative work
of the mind if the intellect examines too closely the ideas as they pour
The great artist is the simplifier.
God, grant us men to see
in a small thing principles which are common to things both small and great.
It's hell when poets can't
afford to buy each other's books.
No vers is libre
for the man who wants to do a good job.
Poetry tries to convey truth
concernbing those subjects about which we care most and know least.
The adjective is the enemy
of the noun.
As to the adjective: when
in doubt, strike it out.
Nouns and verbs are almost
pure metal; adjectives are cheaper ore.
The abstract kills, the concrete
To generalize is to be an
idiot. To particularize is the alone distinction of merit--general knowledges
are those knowledges that idiots possess.
Ut pictura poesis.
Poetry presents the thing
in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and
reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds it connects
with the thing the feeling shown in the words; this is how poetry enters
deeply into us. If the poet presents directly feelings which overwhelm
him, and keeps nothing back to linger as an aftertaste, he stirs us superficially;
he cannot start the hands and feet involuntarily waving and tapping in
time, far less strengthen morality and refine culture, set heaven and earth
in motion and call up the spirits!
O, for a life of sensations
rather than of thoughts!
Poets are the unacknowledged
legislators of the world.
"The unacknowledged legislators
of the world" describes the secret police, not the poets.
Inspiration usually comes
during work, rather than before it.
In composing, as a general
rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have
no idea what vigor it will give your style.
Omnis festination parte diaboli
A good man is always a beginner.
He has half the deed done,
who has made a beginning.
Very busy people always find
time for everything . . . people with immense leisure find time for nothing.
You never know what is enough
until you know what is more than enough.
Snatching the eternal out
of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.
Rewriting isn't virtuous.
It isn't something that ought to be done. It is simply something that most
writers find they have to do to discover what they have to say and how
to say it.
A poem should not mean /
Ah, good taste! What a dreadful
thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.
Cynicism is cheap--you can
buy it at any Monoprix store--it's built into all poor-quality goods.
No great thing is created
Publishing a volume of verse
is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the
No more can come out of a
writer than has gone into him through his environment. The power of the
writer is not separate from the power of the moment in which he is living.
The meagerness of twentieth century writing is caused by a world that provides
Poetry, like religion, must
be ascetic, must have the element of poverty in it.
One must not always think
that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form.
Whenever people talk to me
about the weather, I always feel certain that they mean something else.
Happiness is a function of
Originality consists of an
ability to give freshness to what is old.
A return to the old always
makes people who know nothing of the past think they are in the presence
of something new.
He labors vainly who endeavors
to please every person.
The greatest poverty is not
to live in a physical world.
A feeble writer . . . must
have what he thinks a great theme, which we are already interested in through
the accounts of others, but a genius--a Shakespeare, for instance--would
make the history of his parish more interesting than another's history
of the world.
Ask the fact for the form.
The foolish and the dead
alone never change their opinions.
When power corrupts, poetry
The dignity of the artist
lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world.
The man who doesn't read
good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
Somebody who reads only newspapers
and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely
near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on
the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or
hear anything else.
Omission is the beginning
of all art.
Most people enjoy the sight
of their own handwriting as they enjoy the smell of their own farts. Much
as I loathe the typewriter, I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism.
Typescript is so impersonal and hideous to look at that if I type out a
poem, I immediately see defects which I missed when I looked through it
Any life, however insignificant,
would, if truthfully told, be of interest.
Describe a dream, lose a
To write well, express yourself
like the common people but think like a wise man.
That willing suspension of
disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.
Make new things familiar,
and familiar things new.
The beginning of wisdom is
to call things by their right names.
Next to being a great poet
is the power of understanding one.
Style means that the author
has fused his material and his technique with the distinctive quality of
Thought must be hidden in
verse like the nutritive essence in fruit. It is nourishing but seems merely
delicious. One perceives pleasure only, but one receives a substance. Enchantment,
that is the nourishment is conveys. The passage is sweet.
Cave ab homine unius libri.
If poetry has an opposite,
it is philosophy. Poetry is a materialization of experience; philosophy
the abstraction of it.
Poetry is a way of seeing
things, not a way of saying things.
The reaction of an audience
to good poetry is laughter--the laughter of delight and discovery, not
of derision. In fact, the basic emotion aroused by any work of art, however
somber or tragic, is joy, even hilarity.
Poeta nascitur, non fit.
I am a painstaking, conscientious,
involved and devious craftsman in words, however unsuccessful the result
so often appears, and to whatever wrong uses I may apply my technical paraphernalia.
I use everything and anything to make my poems work and move in the direction
I want them to: old tricks, new tricks, puns, portmanteau-words, paradox,
allusion, paronomasia, paragram, catachresis, slang, assonantal rhymes,
vowel rhymes, sprung rhythm. Every device there is in language is there
to be used if you will. Poets have got to enjoy themselves sometimes, and
the twisting and convolutions of words, the inventions and contrivances,
are all part of the joy that is part of the painful, voluntary work.
What does it matter what
poetry is, after all? If you want a definition of poetry, say: "Poetry
is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle,
what makes me want to do this or that or nothing," and let it go at that.
All that matters about poetry is the enjoyment of it, however tragic it
may be. . . . The joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration
of man, which is also the celebration of God.