like a long love affair

April 16, 2019

Translating most or all of a poet’s work is more like a long love affair than anything else. If we’re poets ourselves, and write our own poetry, our own work is more or less a marriage: “for better or for worse.” And there doesn’t seem to be any court that anybody knows about that can divorce us. So a long term commitment to another poet has to fit somewhere, has to be scheduled at odd hours and on odd days, always a bit clandestine, compared with the primary relationship. And, like so many long love affairs, these relationships often start as flirtations.

Edward Smallfield

Translating Jaime Gil de Biedma: Process and problems

writing poetry

April 13, 2019

When writing poetry one is always assisted and even carried away by the rhythm of all things outside, for the lyric cadence is that of nature: of the waters, the wind, the night. But in order to shape prose rhythmically, one has to immerse oneself deeply within oneself and detect the blood’s anonymous, multivaried rhythm. Prose is to be built like a cathedral: there one is truly without name, without ambition, without help: up in the scaffolding, alone with one’s conscience.

Rainer Maria Rilke

The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke

 trans. Ulrich Baer


April 9, 2019

Poetry is not just relief; poetry is tension. Poetry is departure. Poetry is return. Poetry is memory.

Emily Jungmin Yoon, 

A Cruelty Special to Our Species

an intimacy going

April 6, 2019

Every work has a shape. I work in a lot of different kinds of forms and a lot of the poems are long. I’m aware of using musical forms. I’m quite influenced by the symphonic form, for example, the sonata form. But I feel it’s really necessary to make as much of the formal construction of it as I can obvious and at the same time there’s an intimacy going on that has to do with the use of the human voice and the fact that one is talking to others and there’s the possibility of having some sort of enormous performance thing happen, as if performing a play.

Alice Notley

Seeing the future: a conversation with Alice Notley

I am in the path of Blake, but so far behind him that only the wings on his heels are in sight. I have been writing since I was a very little boy, and have always been struggling with the same things, with the idea of poetry as a thing entirely removed from such accomplishments as ‘word-painting,’ and the setting down of delicate but usual emotions in a few, well-chosen words. There must be no compromise; there is always only the one right word: use it, despite its foul or merely ludicrous associations; I used ‘double-crossed’ because it was what I meant. It is part of a poet’s job to take a debauched and prostituted word, like the beautiful word, ‘blond,’ and to smooth away the lines of its dissipation, and to put it on the market again, fresh and virgin. Neuburg blabs of some unsectarian region in the clouds where poetry reaches its highest level. He ruins the truth of that by saying that the artist must, of necessity, preach socialism. There is no necessity for the artist to do anything. There is no necessity. He is a law unto himself, and his greatness or smallness rises or falls by that. He has only one limitation, and that is the widest of all: the limitation of form. Poetry finds its own form; form should never be superimposed; the structure should rise out of the words and the expression of them. I do not want to express only what other people have felt; I want to rip something away and show what they have never seen. Because of the twist in myself I will never be a very good poet: only treading the first waves, putting my hands in deeper and then taking them out again.

Dylan Thomas
Letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson 15th October 1933

keepers of the unsayable

March 31, 2019

If poets are the keepers of the unsayable, then silence, not language, is a poet’s natural element, the realm where the unsayable lives. Poets fetishize silence as much as words; they are disturbed and comforted by the sounds that interrupt it. This is what John Keats means by Negative Capability, his notion of a poet’s basic qualification, the need for ‘being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.’ This a fancy way of describing ambivalence, also a basic qualification for a poet, the ability to passionately hold two opposing feelings at once. Poets need ambivalence in order to acknowledge the unsayable and speak nonetheless. The hidden subject of all poems is the silence that surrounds them, the things that can’t be, that will never be said; a real poem points to everything beyond it.

Craig Morgan Teicher
Ars Poetica: Origin Stories

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


March 26, 2019

But in my poetry I’m searching, I’m searching for myself.

Forough Farrokhzad
Letter to Ebrahim Golestan June 1967

soul set in motion

March 23, 2019

For a poem is a mental affair: for its reader as much as for its author. ‘Her’ portrait is the poet’s state conveyed through his tune and choice of words;  a reader would be a fool to settle for less. What matters about ‘her’ is not her particularity but her universality. Don’t try to find her snapshot and position yourself next to it: it won’t work. Plain and simply,  a love lyric is one’s soul set in motion. If it’s good, it may do the same to you.

Joseph Brodsky
section IX of Altra Ego,
On Grief and Reason

harrowing authenticity

March 23, 2019

Instead of regarding Sexton’s as poetry of harrowing authenticity, one which `used such direct expression that there could be no pretending that she was saying anything other than she was’, I propose that her writing (poetry, prose and paratextual clarifications, for which read obfuscations) is characterised by strategies of distortion, occlusion and denial. In the words of `The Room of My Life’ : `nothing is just what it seems to be. ‘ Contra conventional readings of the frank truthfulness of Sexton’s writing, hers is a poetics of subterfuge, disorientation, and misdirection. Where, for example, Richard Howard suggests that she wears `[her] heart on [her] sleeve’, ” I argue that her interest lies in `camouflage’, masks, and concealment.’ My close reading of the contradictions in and between texts,   and of their indeterminacy and aporia, indicates that these are self-conscious, manipulative, and ultimately successful practices – that hers is not a poetry of revelation but one of disguise, not a search for certainty but an exercise in provisionality.

Joanna Ruth Gill
The Cracked Mirror: Ann Sexton’s Poetics of self-representation