Poems arise. I can’t say I’m going to write a poem now. I always have four or five on the go, a phrase or a sentence with richness. Unlike with a novel, or a biography, where the story carries me along, in a poem you must be more passive. Anna Akhmatova talked about waiting for the Muse to come, but for me it’s not so grand. The poem just rises. I catch a few words and write them down in a little notebook when I travel, and on the computer, at home, but in the end I always write poems by hand. I can do it anywhere, in trains, or travelling.

How do I know a poem is alive and good? It’s like jazz – you always know.

Elaine Feinstein
Interview by Vivian Eden for Haaretz

enough white space

February 26, 2019

I know what I want is impossible. If I can make my language flat enough, exact enough, if I can rinse each sentence clean enough, like washing a stone over and over again in river water, if I can find the right perch or crevice from which to record everything, if I can give myself enough white space, maybe I could do it. I could tell you this story while walking out of this story. I could — it all could — just disappear.

Maggie Nelson
The Red Parts

a place filled with secrets

February 19, 2019

My poetic life started before I was even born, I believe, but really I’ve been a working poet for about a decade. As a child, I’d notice things the other children didn’t; I saw the world as a place filled with secrets, in-between colours, textures, whispers, and hidden spaces. I could make a world out of the smallest moment. I still do. Being a poet feels like having two bodies — one in this world, and one in some other. Does this sound like you?

Lisa Marie Basile
If You Want To Become a poet

dreaming minds

February 8, 2019

I imagine poets stitching the world together. Long silver threads of text. Lines prompting reading, dreaming minds not to see everything by itself and separate, but to see the seams often unseen in the dark expanses across space and time. This is, perhaps, a kind of sorcery. A power not to wield, but to hold. To practice holding.

Ellie A. Rogers
Movements
Ecotone: Reimagining Place (Fall/winter 2017)

the writing process

January 27, 2019

For me, the writing process is something related to like exercising your body, taking a walk, stretching. It’s better if you do it on a regular basis. You won’t be as stiff, so all my life I’ve tried to write every day. It doesn’t have to be great. Doesn’t have to be even good. Just keep that pen rolling. Write down you know, whether you’re writing a journal of what’s been happening during the day or signs you saw that day or conversations you overhead.

It really doesn’t matter what you’re writing every day whether you’re working on a project at every given moment or not, but keep the pencil, the pen moving and the more you write, the more you feel writing as a process, as a world that can be shaped and reshaped and re-envisioned. I really love the word “revise,” like a new vision, revision or something and of course when you’re young you don’t realize that that’s the most fun part of writing, going back to something and, you know, throwing parts out, adding parts in, giving another scene, sharpening a conversation.

But the more you write, the more you treasure that part of it. So I still stick to my primitive travel with a pencil sharpener at all times, my primitive tactics and when I was a kid I felt happy to participate in the cheapest art as I saw it. You know, it seemed like kids who wanted to be ballerinas, for example, you know, that cost their parents a lot of money, a lot of tutus, a lot of lessons, a lot of shoes and to be a writer was like a dollar, $1 for a notebook, a pencil, a pencil sharpener.

So I always carry my tools with me and it’s very portable art, so I believe in writing every day and revising frequently and there’s nothing scary or negative about revision. It’s a very positive building, making part of the process.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Interview on AdLit.org

a way of being or thinking

January 10, 2019

This is the truth — I really don’t know how to write a poem. I scribble out 80 percent of what I write. What comes up in a book is just what survives. I want to write in a way that makes me discover something that I don’t know. I think poetry is a way of being or thinking, a way of speaking or thinking out loud as you go.

Marie Howe
Interview with Shivani Singh
Daily Free Press March 16th 2016

The poem is a body and the body a poem. This is not something I can prove, nor even something that is necessarily true, but it does have the ring of truth about it. This is a more intuitive relationship but one I think we are all fairly conversant with and one with which most poetry lovers will agree. The one true topography of self we can chart, navigate, and map is the body. The visible self leads to the more ethereal and ineffable parts of self, the parts that poetry tries to give symbolic meaning to, to invoke that presence. And if we look closer, we see that it’s not just that language gives the body presence, shape, resistance, love, affirmation, and intervention. And it is not just that the bodies of particular poets give their language a certain shape and definition, but rather that in the end, our particular idiosyncratic languages are our bodies. We exist only in the space of that language, and we use it to move a craft forward, to draw and redraw the limits of the self, both internal and external. We can argue that this is poetry’s true power, to shape reality — and that is truly what power is: the choice and ability to redraw and recast our personal narratives.

Chris Abani
Introduction to: New Generation of African Poets

desire to make a poem

January 5, 2019

Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost everything, in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it – indeed the world’s need of it- these never pass.

Mary Oliver
A Poetry Handbook

more of my silence

December 25, 2018

My poems express more of my silence than of my talking. As music is a kind of silence. Sounds are needed for different layers of silence to be highlighted.

Anna Kamieńska
1970

My voice. What I’ve been getting as voice for a few years is more like voices. I am so empty from all the things I’ve been through in my life, and from living in a foreign culture that remains forever foreign, that I am bombarded constantly by other voices when I sit down to write. I kind of don’t have a self now, it’s a rote thing, but I seem to hear what everyone else is saying, particularly the dead. This is quite interesting. The dead have to translate themselves, or be translated by me or into me when they speak, so they are somewhat flat musically. I hear their voices in the front of my head and then somehow translate that into poetry. I’m never sure whether I’m really hearing other voices or am inhabiting my imagination. Sometimes I know for sure a dead person is talking to me, but not always. I am obviously walking some line between charlatanism and authenticity that is scary and satisfying….

I sometimes think that good poets open themselves to all the voices in the air, and they are there, of the live and dead, of animal and plant and inert matter, of whatever inhabits the rest of the universe. And to a vast unconscious or sleeping assemblage of souls. My job has become to interpret the nature of the cosmos as it is presented to me by these voices, but I suspect that “the dead” speak through the voices of any poets that are open to them, the way you can open up when you write a poem and tap words from just anywhere.

But I began writing as a young woman whose voice, or kind of voice, had never before appeared in poems. I invented a voice for myself when there had scarcely been any female poets, and then a voice for myself as a young mother. I allowed my children’s voices in, and then the voices of all my friends, the people on the street, anyone, really, who hadn’t been in the poem before was welcome, to the extent I could hear them. I knew I couldn’t hear everyone, but I tried. By the time I wrote The Descent of Alette I was creating voices for the homeless and oppressed as I encountered them, for my dead brother who had suffered from PTSD, for anyone I felt needed representation in poetry. I feel that poetry is, and is for, everyone. But we are poetry, we are somewhat measurable vibrant bundles of “wave lengths,” moving and perceptually collaged selves perceived as wholes. Anyone is the universe.

Alice Notley
Talk to the dead
Interview with Adam Plunkett