learning to read

September 25, 2018

To read is to translate, for no two persons’ experiences are the same. A bad reader is like a bad translator: he interprets literally when he ought to paraphrase and paraphrases when he ought to interpret literally. In learning to read well, scholarship, valuable as it is, is less important than instinct; some great scholars have been poor translators.

W H Auden
The Dyer’s Hand

what the storyteller does

September 20, 2018

path and mist

I believe strongly that what we do as poets is but a variant of what the musician does, what the historian does, what the storyteller does, what the painter and what the sculptor does and what film makers do. My work as a poet relies on interdependence. I write in solitude but my work is not solitary. I am partner at one time with painters in whose work I see poems, in other times with composers’ work in which I hear the lines of poems, even in critical pieces containing the language of poetry.

Darrel Bourque
Call and Response: Conversations in Verse

beyond speech

September 20, 2018

Luca Merli

The language of poetry specializes in doubt. Without the doubters, everyone is cut off at the first question. Poetry does not presume to know, but is angling to get a glimpse of what is gradually coming into view; it aims to rightly identify what is looming; it intends to interrogate whatever is already in place. Poetry, whose definition remains evasive by necessity, advocates the lost road; and beyond speech — waiting, listening, and silence.

C.D. Wright
The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All

(How’s that for a title, boys and girls?)

go deeper and deeper

September 16, 2018

You have to look back at all those bad words, bad metaphors, everything started wrong, and then see how it came into being, the slow progress of it, because you’re always fighting to find out what it was you want to say. You’ve got to go deeper and deeper each time. You wonder why you didn’t drown at the time – deeper and deeper.

Anne Sexton
Interview in No Evil Star

sum of our dreams

September 13, 2018

sky trees and sea

Books are not only the arbitrary sum of our dreams, and our memory. They also give us the model of self-transcendence. Some people think of reading only as a kind of escape: an escape from the “real” everyday world to an imaginary world, the world of books. Books are much more. They are a way of being fully human.

I’m sorry to have to tell you that books are now considered an endangered species. By books, I also mean the conditions of reading that make possible literature and its soul effects. Soon, we are told, we will call up on “bookscreens” any “text” on demand, and will be able to change its appearance, ask questions of it, “interact” with it. When books become “texts” that we “interact” with according to criteria of utility, the written word will have become simply another aspect of our advertising-driven televisual reality. This is the glorious future being created, and promised to us, as something more “democratic.” Of course, it means nothing less than the death of inwardness – and of the book.

Susan Sontag
Letter to Borges

Writing

September 13, 2018

lane and trees and walls

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?

I had started out in silence, written as quietly as I had read, and then eventually people read some of what I had written, and some of the readers entered my world or drew me into theirs. I started out in silence and travelled until I arrived at a voice that was heard far away — first the silent voice that can only be read, and then I was asked to speak aloud and to read aloud. When I began to read aloud another voice, one I hardly recognized, emerged from my mouth. Maybe it was more relaxed, because writing is speaking to no one, and even when you’re reading to a crowd, you’re still in that conversation with the absent, the faraway, the not-yet-born, the unknown and the long-gone for whom writers write, the crowd of the absent who hover all around the desk.

Rebecca Solnit
The Faraway Nearby

dare to put words on paper

September 11, 2018

solitude

What made me be a writer was that I was a passionate reader. I began reading at a very, very early age, and I’ve been a reading junkie ever since — I read all the time. I probably spend more time reading than any other thing I’ve done in my life, including sleeping. I’ve spent many, many days of my life reading eight and ten hours a day, and there’s no day that I don’t read for hours, and don’t ask me how I can do all the other things — I don’t know. The day has pockets — you can always find time to read.

Reading set standards. Reading opened up to me all these norms, or — to put it in a more naive and probably truthful way — ideals. So that to be part of literature, to be even the humblest, lowest member of the great multitude of people who actually dare to put words on paper and publish them, seemed to me the most glorious thing one could do.

Now, in this sort of book-drunken life … in this relation to reading, which is where the writing comes — I didn’t discover I had a talent; I discovered I wanted … to emulate, to honour, by trying to do it myself, as well as continuing to read it and love it and be inspired by it.

And I mean this most passionately. That’s where the standards came from, that’s where the ideas came from of what was good, what was right, what was better, that there was always something better and whatever you could do was by definition not good enough. The only thing that was good was what was hard to do, what you had to work very hard to do, or what was better than anything you could do.

Susan Sontag
lecture on the project and purpose of literature given at the 92nd Street Y.

turned into writers

September 11, 2018

Morning mist

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

Rebecca Solnit
The Faraway Nearby

Only love

September 11, 2018

Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and be just toward them.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a young poet

the power of poetry

September 4, 2018

a dance on the edge of time

I think that people have this idea of poetry with a capital P that is very outdated, and it’s white, very male, and very digestible. That’s not the power of poetry — the power of poetry is to be able to respond to real life and to politics and to one’s body and the most intimate thoughts; to render it in a way that is surprising and sonically interesting, and allowing the reader to feel playful in language, and to push the limits of what language can do.

Morgan Parker
interview for Nylon