sexual phenomenon

June 14, 2019

Versification is as sexual a phenomenon as birdsong; it is typically male display, elaborated more to dishearten and drive off competition by other males than to seduce the oblivious female, whether she be an illiterate human or a foraging hen bird. The male display is sexual but it is not about having or doing sex; it seeks to elaborate a fundamentally banal and momentary interaction by artifice and invention. Once penetration has been achieved, silence falls – for bird and poet.

Germaine Greer
Phalluses and Fallacies
New Statesman 20th February 2014

Lost & found

May 25, 2019

Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counselled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defence one of the most esoteric poets in world literature — and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!

Wislawa Szymborska
Letter to Michal in Nowy Targ
Literary Life
Trans. Clare Cavanagh

something we once knew

March 28, 2019

It was language I loved, not meaning. I liked poetry better when I wasn’t sure what it meant. Eliot has said that the meaning of the poem is provided to keep the mind busy while the poem gets on with its work — like the bone thrown to the dog by the robber so he can get on with his work…Is beauty a reminder of something we once knew, with poetry one of its vehicles? Does it give us a brief vision of that ‘rarely glimpsed bright face behind / the apparency of things’? Here, I suppose,  we ought to try the impossible task of defining poetry. No one definition will do. But I must admit to a liking for the words of Thomas Fuller, who said: ‘Poetry is a dangerous honey. I advise thee only to taste it with the Tip of thy finger and not to live upon it.  If thou do’st, it will disorder thy Head and give thee dangerous Vertigos.

P.K. Page
The Filled Pen: Selected Non-Fiction

door to the temple

March 13, 2019

I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.

Mary Oliver
Upstream: Selected Essays

Orpheus

March 12, 2019

Orpheus,
after Lot’s wife,
the second-most remembered
victim of life’s rearview mirror,
might have preferred the life of a pillar of salt
to living out his days
second-guessing and revisiting
the same lightning bolt
agony every time his chin moved
toward his shoulder.

Orpheus,
after his head-turning no-oh shit-oh no-no moment,
is second-most remembered
as the archetypal poet,
as word-wielding, web-weaving charmer.
And what poet, having completed the last line
of his greatest creation yet, could not
look back over the irresistible brilliance
he has just brought forth
from the depths?

Orpheus,
even after years of painful recrimination,
may never have seen Eurydice as second-most important
love of his life.
But what poet has not been haunted
by the dread possibility that seeing the world
with the poet’s wonder,
exploring its subterranean mysteries,
and coaxing its unspeakable depth
into words, might just be
the only thing worth living for?

Adelia Prado
Trans. Ellen Watson

not just the words

January 31, 2019

What poetry is made of is so old, so familiar, that it’s easy to forget that it’s not just the words, but polyrhythmic sounds, speech in its first endeavours (every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome), prismatic meanings lit by each others’ light, stained by each others’ shadows. In the wash of poetry the old, beaten, worn stones of language take on colours that disappear when you sieve them up out of the streambed and try to sort them out.

And all this has to travel from the nervous system of the poet, preverbal, to the nervous system of the one who listens, who reads, the active participant without whom the poem is never finished.

Adrianne Rich
Someone is writing a poem

Poet

January 26, 2019

The poet is the priest of the invisible.

Wallace Stevens
Adagia

an atonement

January 19, 2019

Geoffrey Hill, the English poet renowned for ‘difficulty,’ said in a well-known essay that he thinks of a poem as an atonement. Actually he said ‘at-one-ment,’ to describe the coming together in the rightest way of the sound and the matter that makes of any real poem something final, something imbued with grace and sacred energy, something understood and rare as the full engagement in life’s acts is always rare.

Dave Smith
Afield with a Man and a Gun
Northwest Review vol. 49, no. 2, June 2011

Dysrhythmia

January 18, 2019

Old people spit with absolutely no finesse
and bicycles bully traffic on the sidewalk.
The unknown poet waits for criticism
and reads his verses three times a day
like a monk with his book of hours.
The brush got old and no longer brushes.
Right now what’s important
is to untangle the hair.
We give birth to life between our legs
and go on talking about it till the end,
few of us understanding:
it’s the soul that’s erotic.

Adelia Prado
Trans. Ellen Watson

Poet

January 13, 2019

I think of the poet in the twenty-first century as a woman standing in a dark doorway.

She is a homemaker, but an odd one.

She hovers in a dark doorway. She needs to be there at the threshold to find a balance, to maintain a home at the edge of the world.

She puts out both her hands. They will help her hold on, help her find her way.

She has to invent a language marked by many tongues.

As for the script in which she writes, it binds her into visibility, fronting public space, marking danger, marking desire.

Behind her in the darkness of her home and through her pour languages no one she knows will ever read or write.

They etch a corps perdu.* Subtle, vital, un-sizable body.
Source of all translations.

Meena Alexander
What use is poetry