twenty-fifth poem

P.S.: Do you in constructing your books generally have that idea of coherence in mind?

Wright: Every time. Did I mention to you Robert Frost's remark — it is a very Horatian remark — that if you have a book of twenty-four poems, the book itself should be the twenty-fifth? And I have tried that every time, every time.

—James Wright, interview with Peter Stitt, James Wright: A Profile (Logbridge-Rhodes, Inc., 1988) edited by Frank Graziano and Peter Stitt.

three names

I may interpolate here that there has been a strong implication by gentlemen reviewers that there is something intrinsically humorous and definitive, in the worst sense, about the three-name woman poet. And indeed, a great number of the triple-threat ladies have been very, very bad. If, however, the poetic stature of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or William Butler Yeats, for example, has been pegged to the number of their employed names, I have not observed it.

—Josephine Jacobsen, "From Anne to Marianne", Two Lectures (Library of Congress pamphlet, 1973)

virtue of patience

LEVINE: I was unable to write any poetry about my working life while that was my working life. I tried a few times. And the poems were hysterical. I think they were just - you know, I couldn't control them. My anger was so overwhelming that I couldn't cope with it, just as I couldn't write about my boyhood very effectively until I was 40. It was still too powerful for me. But I'm patient, so I hung in there. And that's probably by chief virtue as a writer is my patience. So I waited, and I kept trying to write about factory work but I kept throwing the poems away. And the first poem I ever published about working in a factory, I was, I think, 31 or 2, but I don't like the poem anymore.

GROSS: Can you give me a sense of what was going wrong in the factory poems when you were still there? Is there anything...

LEVINE: Yes, I can. The language was overblown. You know, I wanted to use the word ‘eternity’ and - you know. I wanted to use a kind of Latin diction to - almost a Miltonic diction and a great chorus - build up a great chorus of sound and - to dramatize the horror show of some of the places I had worked. And I didn't have any - there was no tenderness in it for the people that I worked with. There was no - and that was a, you know - that was part of the reward that I got for those years was the people I was meeting, even though you didn't talk to them that much because places were often so loud. But you'd meet them afterwards or you'd make friends with them and spend time with them. And they weren't getting in the poems at all. The poems were, you know, my poor soul being hammered out of shape by General Motors. And they were a bit self-indulged.

—Philip Levine, in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, 1991.

all things done splendidly

When I first knew [William] Morris nothing could content him but being a monk, and getting to Rome, and then he must be an architect, and apprenticed himself to Street, and worked for two years, but when I came to London and began to paint he threw it all up, and must paint too, and then he must give it up and make poems, and then he must give it up and make window hangings and pretty things, and when he achieved that, he must be a poet again, and then after two or three years of Earthly Paradise time, he must learn dyeing, and lived in a vat, and learned weaving, and knew all about looms, and then made more books, and learned tapestry, and then wanted to smash everything up and begin the world anew, and now it is printing he cares for, and to make wonderfully rich-looking books—and all things he does splendidly—and if he lives the printing will have an end, but not I hope, before Chaucer and the Morte d’Arthur are done; then he’ll do I don’t know what, but every minute will be alive.

Edward Burns-Jones, c.1890, quoted in Time Remembered‎ (1933) by Frances Horner, p. 14., and in William Morris: Words & Wisdom (National Portrait Gallery, London, 2014)

died of being himself

In 1896 William Morris died at the age of sixty-two. Morris was one of the most talented and respected figures in the Victorian Era, but the superhuman range and pace of his vocations—painter, architect, designer, craftsman, writer, book-maker, socialist crusader—caused one physician to attribute his death to "simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men."

feeling things

Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling.

—Wei T’ai, (A poet of Sung Dynasty cited in A.C. Graham’s Poems of the Late T’ang), quoted by Charles Reznikoff.

world without bells

Poetry shouldn’t tell us what we already know, though of course it can revive what we think we know. A durable poet, the rarest of all birds, has a unique point of view and the gift of language to express it. The unique point of view can often come from a mental or physical deformity. Deep within us, but also on the surface, is the wounded ugly boy who has never caught an acceptable angle of himself in the mirror. A poet can have a deep sense of himself as a Quasimodo in a world without bells, or as the fine poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote:

     A feast of brief hopes, a rally of the proud,
     A tournament of hunchbacks, literature.

—Jim Harrison, “King of Pain,” review of The Pleasures of the Damned, Poems, 1951-1993 by Charles Bukowski, in The New York Times Book Review (November 25, 2007).

period style

May a poet write as a poet or must he write as a period? For modernism, in this perverted sense, likewise becomes a critical tyranny, increasing contemporary mannerisms in poetry instead of freeing the poet of obligation to conform to any particular set of literary theories."

—Laura Riding and Robert Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927)

room to be yourself

“For the power you so dearly aspire to, Levine, you must turn to the master, Milton, the most powerful poet in the language, though you might do well to avoid Latinate vocabulary. Have you studied Latin? Levine: “No.” “You might consider doing so; that way you’ll know what to avoid when you’re stealing from Milton. Do you have another favorite among your contemporaries?” Levine: “Dylan Thomas.” Berryman: “It doesn’t show, Levine, it doesn’t show. You’ve done a superb job of masking that particular debt. How have you managed that?” Levine: “I didn’t. I wrote through my Dylan Thomas phase and quit. It was impossible for me to write under his influence and not sound exactly like him except terrible.” Berryman: “Levine, you’ve hit upon a truth. Certain poets are so much themselves they should not be imitated: they leave you no room to be yourself, and Thomas was surely one of them, as was Hart Crane, who probably ruined the careers of more young poets than anything except booze. Levine, you might go to the source of Dylan’s own lyrical mysticism, and who would that be?” Silence. “Mr. Justice?” Justice: “Blake.” “Exactly, you might go to Blake, who is so impossibly lyrical and inventive no one in the world has the talent to sound like him.” In an unusually hushed voice he recited all of Blake’s early “Mad Song,” ending:

     I turn my back to the east
     From whence comforts have increas’d;
     For light doth seize my brain
     With frantic pain.

“Better to learn from a poet who does not intoxicate you,” said Berryman, “better to immerse yourself in Hardy, whom no American poet wants to sound like. A great poet seldom read.”

—Philip Levine, “Mine Own John Berryman,” The Bread of Time (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)

words go through us

A poet’s words go through us and through us. And that’s causally connected with the use that they have in our life. And it is also connected with the way in which, conformably to this use, we let our thoughts roam up and down in the familiar surroundings of the words.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, 155.

[Cited in The Colors of the Mind: Conjectures on Thinking in Literature by Angus Fletcher]

entity of direct appeal

Let me interpose here this axiom of criticism: by explaining the nature of a work of art, we do not explain it away. It is an entity of direct appeal; we do not, in the process of appreciation…unfold the process of creation.

—Herbert Read, Form in Modern Poetry (Sheed & Ward, 1933)

never finished

A poem is never finished: it's always an accident that puts a stop to it--i.e., gives it to the public.

—Paul Valéry, "Littérature," Œuvres II (1960).

(W.H. Auden altered this statement to “Poems are never finished; they are abandoned.”)

matter of rendering

I desired to see English become at once more colloquial and more exact, verse more fluid and more exacting of its practitioners, and above, as I have said, that it should be realized that poetry, as it were dynamically, is a matter of rendering, not comment.

—Ford Madox Ford, foreword to the Imagist Anthology, 1930

harmonious concept

When I speak of the poem, or often when I speak of the poem, in this book, I mean not merely a literary form, but the brightest and most harmonious concept, or order, of life; and the references should be read with that in mind.

—Wallace Stevens, the inscription in his Collected Poems in the copy given to Elias Mengel, dated June 6, 1955, shortly before Stevens died. Quoted on page 288 of Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Remembered, an oral biography by Peter Brazeau.

walk alone

I suggest that people who like to be alone, who walk alone, will perhaps be serious workers in the art field.

—Agnes Martin, Writings / Schriften (English and German Edition, Kunstmuseum Winterthur / Edition Cantz, 1992), edited by Dieter Schwarz

as the crow flies are we to say what we see in a crow's flight? Is it not enough to say the crow flies purposefully, or heavily, or rowingly, or whatever. There are no words to capture the infinite depth of crowiness in the crow's flight. All we can do is use a word as an indicator, or a whole bunch of words as a directive. But the ominous thing in the crow's flight, the bare-faced, bandit thing, the tattered beggarly gipsy thing, the caressing and shaping yet slightly clumsy gesture of the downstoke, as if the wings were both too heavy and too powerful, and the headlong sort of merriment, the macabre pantomime ghoulishness and the undertaker sleekness—you could go on for a very long time with phrases of that sort and still have completely missed your instant, glimpse knowledge of the world of the crow's wingbeat. And a bookload of such descriptions is immediately rubbish when you look up and see the crow flying.

—Ted Hughes,"Words & Experience," Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 2001), edited by W.N. Herbert and Matthew Hollis

bird poetics

As the third day came around, with these four lines [of a poem] as a body or at least part of a body, I had acquired a structure capable of development. These lines I carried with me in my head as I walked over to the main camp for breakfast. I carried them back on my return, and with pad and pencil sat down on our porch looking out on a more placid stretch of the river. Between the river and the porch lay a meadow over which many different birds were disporting. Soon I found myself absorbed in their enterprises, and in particular noted the hop-hop-hop of a certain small bird. That hop-hop-hop was another device of my devil, this time more tempter than censor, to divert me from my appointed project. I had begun to construct a fantasy that poetry is the language and rhythm for birds, and that prose is for cows. Indeed I may still write that poem. I’ll tuck away the line: Prose is for cows.

—Melville Cane, Making a Poem: An Inquiry into the Creative Process (Harvest Book, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1952, 1960)

more there than the literal

...though the material of poetry is verbal, its import is not the literal assertion made in the words, but the way the assertion is made, and this involves the sound, the tempo, the aura of associations of the words, the long or short sequences of ideas, the wealth or poverty of transient imagery that contains them, the sudden arrest of fantasy by pure fact, or of familiar fact by sudden fantasy, the suspense of literal meaning by a sustained ambiguity resolved in a long-awaited key-word, and the unifying, all-embracing artifice of rhythm.

—Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942)

fewer blues

There are nine different words for the color blue in the Spanish Maya dictionary but just three Spanish translations, leaving six [blue] butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.

—Earl Shorris, The Last Word: Can the World’s Small Languages Be Saved (Harpers, 2000)

ideal reader

               ‘To serve the people,’
one must write for the ideal reader. Only for the ideal reader.
And who or what is that ideal reader? God. One must imagine,
one must deeply imagine
                     that great Attention.

—Denise Levertov, “Conversation in Moscow,” The Freeing of the Dust (New Directions, 1975)

[The poem is referencing the words of Pasternak.]