Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Quote File: Poetry

[Poetry is] the successful synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. – Carl Sandburg

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. – Robert Frost

Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads. – Marianne Moore

Poetry is a separate language. It's a language in which you never really come to the point. You're always at an angle. – Karl Shapiro

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful ... like a bouillon cube: You carry it around and then it nourishes you when you need it. – Rita Dove

Poetry is the deification of reality. — Edith Sitwell

Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle, cracked ice crunching in pails, the night that numbs the leaf, the duel of two nightingales, the sweet pea that has run wild, Creation's tears in shoulder blades. — Boris Pasternak

Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private. – Allen Ginsberg

Poetry is the clear expression of mixed feelings. – W.H. Auden, poet

Poetry is like fish: if it's fresh, it's good; if it's stale, it's bad; and if you're not certain, try it on the cat. – Osbert Sitwell

Prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in their best order. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Poetry should please by a fine excess and not by singularity. It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a remembrance. — John Keats

Because it is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions inside the head and express something--perhaps not much, just something--of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are, from the momentary effect of the barometer to the force that created men distinct from trees. Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river. Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river. Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness. And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment, of time, and in that same moment, make out of it all the vital signature of a human being--not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses--but a human being, we call it poetry. – Ted Hughes

I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed – Umberto Eco

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. – Steven Wright

When I feel inclined to read poetry, I take down my dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as the poetry of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and lustre have been given by the attrition of ages. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment. – Hart Crane

A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman. – Wallace Stevens

The poet, like the lover, is a person unable to reconcile what he knows with what he feels. His peculiarity is that he is under a certain compulsion to do so. – Babette Deutsch

Almost the whole problem of writing poetry is to bring it back to what you really feel, and that takes an awful lot of maneuvering. You may feel the doorknob more strongly than some big personal event, and the doorknob will open into something you can use as your own. – Robert Lowell

I have no fancy idea about poetry. It's not like embroidery or painting or silk. It doesn't come to you on the wings of a dove. It's something you have to work hard at. – Louise Bogan

Fiction is ... like sitting in a clearing and waiting to see if the deer will come. Poetry to me is lightning of the moment. – Tess Gallagher

The writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation. – James Fenton

I think a poem (also) is a dream, a dream which you are willing to share with the community. It happens a writer often doesn't understand a poem until some months after he's written it--just as a dreamer doesn't understand a dream. Being a poet in the United States has meant for me years of confusion, blundering, and self-doubt. The confusion lies in not knowing whether I am writing in the American language or the English or, more exactly, how much of the musical power of Chaucer, Marvell, and Keats can be kept in free verse. Not knowing how to live, or even how to make a living, results in blunders. And the self-doubt comes from living in small towns. – Robert Bly

I write poems to wake myself up, or to preserve a suddenly lit, awakened state. Of dreams, as of taste, too many sweets spoil the sense. It's not nice dreams I'm yearning for; it's true dreams. – Heather MacHugh

A poet is somebody who feels
and who expresses those feelings through words.
This may sound easy -
it isn't.

A lot of people think
or believe or know they feel
but that's thinking or believing or knowing, not feeling
And poetry is feeling, not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know
but not a single human being can be taught to feel –
Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know,
you're a lot of other people,
But the moment you feel, you're nobody but yourself . . .

-- e.e. cummings (?)

The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople—it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. . . . You and I are human beings; mostpeople are snobs. – e.e. cummings

It is not every day that the world arranges itself in a poem. – Wallace Stevens

Jokes concentrate on the most sensitive areas of human concern: sex, death, religion, and the most powerful institutions of society; and poems do the same. – Howard Nemerov

To know how to say what others only know how to think is what makes men poets or sages; and to dare to say what others only dare to think makes men martyrs or reformers – or both. –Elizabeth Charles

I think that all poets are sending religious messages, because poetry is, in such great part, the comparison of one thing to another... and to insist, as all poets do, that all things are related to each other, comparable to each other, is to go toward making an assertion of the unity of all things. – Richard Wilbur

The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him. – Dylan Thomas

But how can you care if anyone really gets poetry, or gets what it means, or if it improves them.
Improves them for what? for death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don't give a damn whether eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don't need to, if they don't need poetry bully for them, I like the movies too. – Frank O’Hara

I think there's a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there's still time. – W. S. Merwin

Good poems are meant to complicate our experience. – J.D. McClatchy

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. — G. K. Chesterton


  1. upon the topic of cheese
    upon the nature of spreads?

    poets should indeed consider
    the value of that in their heads

    without cheddars,
    or jacks
    the world is without
    and the poet

    so schlep up the word count
    bring on provolone
    nurturing poets
    give dairy a home

    but all I can think of


  2. What an excellent compendium on the topic. Thanks for putting it together, Cheryl.

  3. Thanks for this. I esp. like what Keats said about poetry, Emerson's "alienated majesty".

  4. A marvelous compendium, to which I would only add a few lines from Adam Zagajewski:

    Poetry summons us to life, to courage
    in the face of the growing shadow.

    I hope all is well with you, Cheryl. One of these years we've got to get together and catch up...