Literature is an uttering, or outering, of the human imagination. It lets the shadowy forms of thought and feeling – heaven, hell, monsters, angels and all – out into the light, where we can take a good look at them and perhaps come to a better understanding of who we are and what we want, and what the limits to those wants may be. Understanding the imagination is no longer a pastime, but a necessity; because increasingly, if we can imagine it, we’ll be able to do it.

Margaret Atwood
Aliens have taken the place of angels
The Guardian, Friday June 17, 2005

Dear Anna:

Did I say that the human might be filed in categories? Well, and if I did, let me qualify – not all humans. You elude me. I cannot place you, cannot grasp you. I may boast that of nine out of ten, under given circumstances, I can forecast their action; that of nine out of ten, by their word or action, I may feel the pulse of their hearts. But of the tenth I despair. It is beyond me. You are that tenth.

Were ever two souls, with dumb lips, more incongruously matched! We may feel in common – surely, we oftimes do – and when we do not feel in common, yet do we understand; and yet we have no common tongue. Spoken words do not come to us. We are unintelligible. God must laugh at the mummery.

The one gleam of sanity through it all is that we are both large temperamentally, large enough to often understand. True, we often understand but in vague glimmering ways, by dim perceptions, like ghosts, which, while we doubt, haunt us with their truth. And still, I, for one, dare not believe; for you are that tenth which I may not forecast.

Am I unintelligible now? I do not know. I imagine so. I cannot find the common tongue.

Large temperamentally – that is it. It is the one thing that brings us at all in touch. We have, flashed through us, you and I, each a bit of universal, and so we draw together. And yet we are so different.

I smile at you when you grow enthusiastic? It is a forgivable smile – nay, almost an envious smile. I have lived twenty-five years of repression. I learned not to be enthusiastic. It is a hard lesson to forget. I begin to forget, but it is so little. At the best, before I die, I cannot hope to forget all or most. I can exult, now that I am learning, in little things, in other things; but of my things, and secret things doubly mine, I cannot, I cannot. Do I make myself intelligible? Do you hear my voice? I fear not. There are poseurs. I am the most successful of them all.

Jack

Jack London
Letter to Anna Strunsky, 3rd April 1901

Can you understand

October 17, 2019

But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it feel this way to you?

Kazuo Ishiguro
Nobel prize acceptance speech 2017

Meaning

September 12, 2019

Religion, mysticism and magic all spring from the same basic ‘feeling’ about the universe: a sudden feeling of meaning, which human beings sometimes ‘pick up’ accidentally, as your radio might pick up some unknown station. Poets feel that we are cut off from meaning by a thick, lead wall, and that sometimes for no reason we can understand the wall seems to vanish and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite interestingness of things.

Colin Wilson
The Occult

The first time I was really able to envision femininity as a kind of power was while watching Paris is Burning in college, encountering the world of drag for the first time. The knowledge that my femmeness was something I could put on and take off, something I could play with and shapeshift into, made me feel so in control of it, and made me feel powerful for choosing it. The ability to alter our images and to play with the way that we present our bodies is a fundamental queer and femme superpower[…]we think that we understand ourselves and then use that understanding to write poems about our bodies, but it’s just as common in my experience to have written poems about my body for five years and then be like, Oh, that’s who I am?

[…]

I mean having a body is such a fucking trip, you know? The other day I was talking to Danez Smith, and they were like, Ugh I hate having a body, I wish I could just be a presence — which I totally sometimes relate to. But also, the body — our materiality — is the only way that we know how to exist in the world.

I’m always drawn to the language of the body because that language, which I was born into, has completely determined how I’ve been allowed to imagine myself. The first time I ever made a chapbook of my poems—printed at a FedEx and stapled together — I called it Women Only Write Body Poems, which is a joke that I still find funny. But for better or for worse, it’s a job that women who write have always found themselves doing.

But despite some of the poems in the book, I don’t actually think that the total transcendence of our material forms is what I’m after, because that also seems like a way of checking out of the whole problem. I think that I want to learn how to live in a dynamic and fruitful and sexy relationship with the body.

Franny Choi
Queerness, Cyborgs, and Cephalopods: An Interview with Franny Choi
Paris Review 21st May 2019

multiple realities

August 29, 2019

There is infinity in everything. Not understanding this means you either don’t want to or can’t see the multiple realities surrounding you.

an alchemist of life

February 28, 2019

I would have preferred if you had loved me less and understood me more. But perhaps you didn’t love me enough, or didn’t have the imagination, madness, or balls to become an alchemist of life like I was, to spin gold out of the boredom and emptiness that surround us.

Margarita Karapanou
Rien ne va Plus
Trans. by Karen Emmerich

broken

February 26, 2019

In me, something is broken. I try over and over again to understand what happened.

Anaïs Nin
Nearer the Moon: The Previously Unpublished Unexpurgated Diary, 1937-1939

talking into possibility

December 1, 2018

Poetry is for me one form of conversation. It is a way of talking back and talking into things —talking back and talking into memory, and ancestry; talking into the geographies I inhabit and the family I am part of; talking back at calamity and experience; talking into relationship, talking back and talking into the languages that have shaped my understanding of the world I live in; talking back and talking into history; talking into possibility and into hope.

Darrel Bourque
(Authors’ Preface) Call and Response: Conversations in Verse
Jack B. Bedell and Darrell Bourque

sun and grass

I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.

Rebecca Lindenberg
Why Write Poetry?