Poetry is an intimate act. It’s about bringing forth something that’s inside you – whether it is a memory, a philosophical idea, a deep love for another person or for the world, or an apprehension of the spiritual. It’s about making something, in language, which can be transmitted to others – not as information, or polemic, but as irreducible art.

Dorianne Laux
The Poet’s Companion: A Guide To The Pleasures Of Writing Poetry

Don’t know

January 20, 2020

Before I write a poem, I ask myself what poetry is. I don’t know, and I still don’t know, even though I’ve written hundreds of poems. I have swarms of questions about poetry buzzing around my head. What is it for? What does it do? How is it done? Can I do it? Do I know how to do it? Then while I’m writing a poem: Is this any good? What good will it do? Will anyone think this is a poem? Do I think it’s a poem? Then after I write a poem: How is this a poem, really? What does it mean? Where did it come from? Does it fit anywhere?

Mary Meriam
The Scandalous Confessions of a Lesbian Formalist Poet
The Critical Flame, June 2019

poems are bodies

January 18, 2020

I do think there are poems that work better out loud than on the page. Spoken word poems can be exhilarating in performance and one-dimensional on the page. Likewise, there are poems that rely on the authority of the type itself, and the physical relationship between the words, the white space on the page, and the reader. I often tell my students that poems are bodies; we visually take them in and feel them in our guts even before we read the words. William Carlos Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow” is pretty unglorious out loud. I’ve heard a recording of Williams reading it. His voice sounds like the Sherriff on Deputy Dawg, and he reads the poem without emphasis or opinion; it’s over before you know it. Now, on the page, that poem is endlessly compelling. Near-rhymes, stanzas that are visually constructed to look like wheelbarrows, the splitting of compound words into their constituent parts: wheel from barrow, rain from water. I think as my work has matured it may have become less entertaining at a poetry reading and more interesting on the page. As I have aged I have also become shy.

Diane Seuss
Interview in The Smoking Poet (Winter 2009/2010 issue)

writing is inevitable

January 16, 2020

I write for nothing and for no one. Anyone who reads me does so at his own risk. I don’t make literature: I simply live in the passing of time. The act of writing is the inevitable result of my being alive.

Clarice Lispector
A Breath of Life

the true intensity of life

January 16, 2020

We…talk of the purpose of art and poetry, and how when we read a poem or look at a painting we are led into the true intensity of life, the one right here as we walk down the street and are struck again, as if for the first time, by the changing of the leaves from green to gold, that brief glimpse into the final hallway. Maybe the purpose of art is to help us apprehend the loud silences, the shimmering depths, the small intensities of ants going about their business, tunnelling out whole cities beneath our sidewalks, and awake us to the absolute mystery that is life. Art asks us to contemplate death rather than to simply imagine it or even press ourselves up against it as we do in our youth. It’s coming, no matter how fast we run from it or toward it, and art asks us to stop and confront death rather than being merely tolerant of, tempted or titillated by it.

Dorianne Laux
Interview in The Smoking Poet (Winter 2010-2011 Issue)

arousing a reader sexually

January 11, 2020

Though the novel (The Story of O) is clearly obscene by the usual standards and more effective than many in arousing a reader sexually, sexual arousal doesn’t appear to be the sole function of the situations portrayed. The narrative does have a definite beginning, middle, and end. The elegance of the writing hardly gives the impression that its author considered language a bothersome necessity. Further, the characters do possess emotions of a very intense kind, although obsessional and indeed wholly asocial ones; characters do have motives, though they are not psychiatrically or socially ‘normal’ motives.

Susan Sontag
The Pornographic Imagination

imitating yourself

January 4, 2020

When you sit down to write a poem, you really don’t know where you’re going. If you know where you’re going, the poem stinks, you probably already wrote it, and you’re imitating yourself. You have to follow where the poem leads. And it will surprise you. It will say things you didn’t expect to say. And you look at the poem and you realize, ‘That is truly what I felt.’ That is truly what I saw.

Philip Levine
So Ask: Essays, Conversations, and Interviews

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

Ernest Hemingway
Death in the Afternoon

a poem is ‘true’

January 3, 2020

There’s a tendency to confuse the speaker of a poem with the author of the poem. And there’s a tendency to believe that a poem is ‘true’ — whatever that means to the reader — instead of seeing it as framed language or storytelling. I’m not immune to the confusion either. Painting is a way to commit to imagination without being called a liar.

Richard Siken
Interview with Kathleen Rooney for the Poetry Foundation

It’s true that many of Machen’s stories are about unwise explorations of a world beyond the one that’s revealed to the senses. But like Walter de La Mare, it wasn’t so much the supernatural as the mysterious qualities inherent in what we think of as our everyday environment that fascinated Machen. He had a life-long interest in esoteric traditions, for a time joining an occultist society along with the poet WB Yeats, and in later life was increasingly drawn to a mystical version of Christianity.

William Blake wrote that “if the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern”. When he wrote of London giving a foretaste of infinity, Machen expressed the same thought.

Machen became one of the founders of psycho geography – the practice of exploring the human environment, especially in cities, without any definite purpose or preconception of what you may find. When he writes of wandering about London and coming on streets he could never find again, he’s usually interpreted as hinting at occult experiences of the kind described in his tale of the mysteriously vanishing garden. But he may mean something different, and perhaps more valuable.

Our exclusive concern with purposeful action crowds out a vital part of human fulfillment. Some of the most valuable human experiences, observes Machen, come about when we simply look around us without any intention of acting on what we see. When we set aside our practical goals – if only for a moment – we may discover a wealth of meaning in our lives, which is independent of our success or failure in achieving our goals. Matter may not be soft and ductile as Machen’s reclusive mystic believes, but our lives are changed when we no longer view the world through the narrow prism of our purposes.

John Gray
A Point of View: The doors of perception