On Poetry

John Adams: “You will never be alone with a Poet in your pocket.”

Marjorie Agosín: “Poetry has saved me from oblivion, from forgetting, and from walking the earth as a stranger.”

Charles Alexander: “If ‘what is a poem?’ ever has a definitive answer, I don’t know that I’d like to write poems anymore.”

Kazim Ali: “A poet, a maker of things, using the very language that was designed to control, obfuscate, curse, becomes his own mother.”

Yehuda Amichai: Poets always have to be outside, in the world—a poet can’t close himself in his studio. His workshop is in his head and he has to be sensitive to words and how words apply to realities. It’s a state of mind.”

Brother Antoninus: “When a poem fails to survive it is probable that it suffers from a deficiency, not from an excess — a deficiency of prime energy, usually.”

Alfred Arteaga: “A poem is the meaningful quanta of connection.”

John Ashbery: “I feel that poetry is going on all the time inside, an underground stream.”

Tiffany Atkinson: “Metaphor is all about im–pertinence — the breaking of the usual communicative and associate rules to produce invigorating strangeness . . . Our tolerance of this tension, dislocation, unfamiliarity, apparent irrelevance, as writers and as readers, is something worth nurturing, and perhaps something intrinsic to poetry itself.”

Elizabeth Austen: “I believe poetry is also a bridge between solitudes. At its best, it transports us — through the nonlinear and irresistible persuasion of music and metaphor — into a state of receptive empathy.”

Azorín: “Landscape and feeling . . . are identical; the poet transfers himself to the object described and through his means of describing it, reveals his own spirit.”

Alexander Baird: “The odd thing for me is that poetry is the primary form and, although I have written novels, there are passages in those novels which started out by being written as poems. And, as I began to write them, I saw that I was dealing with something which was not perfectly crystallized as a poem seems to be — the thing was jelling in another way and I suddenly realized that I had stopped thinking of it as a poem and had started thinking of it as prose. There is no clear demarcation line for me.”

Michael Baldwin: “I think it is in my poetry that the sort of wider honesties tend to break through . . . it was by writing a poem about Caryl Chessman [kidnapper, executed in California in 1960] that I became convinced that I was against capital punishment, whereas my conscious convictions until then had been in favor of capital punishment. So I tend to find that I reach a greater honesty in my poetry and a greater involvement (which often converts me) than I find in my ordinary living.”

Toni Cade Bambara: “So you can write pretty, so what? What does all that pretty stand for? In the end, what difference does it make that it’s so pretty? What risk have you taken?”

Mary Jo Bang: “Poetry rests on the assumption that language is unstable.”

Adèle Barclay: “Small poems do a lot of heavy lifting and they’re hard to pin down. They counter rules about narrative and metaphor and conceit; they can be quite radical because they’re saying: this is all you need.”

Willis Barnstone: “A translation is a friendship between poets.”

Charles Baudelaire: “Who among us has not, in his days of ambition, dreamed the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and rhyme, sufficiently flexible and uneven to adapt to the lyrical movements of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jolts of consciousness?”

Sandra Beasley: “I think of poems as ideas and insights gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation on the ‘poem’ available to the poet at the given moment. There’s no one definitive version . . . Poems are clouds you get to ride for a little while, if you’re lucky. Then the vapor yields to rain. Then you start over.”

Marvin Bell: “Writing poetry is a way of life, not a career.”

Charles Bernstein: “Poetry is an aversion of conformity in the pursuit of new forms.”

Wendell Berry: “But though I am happy to think that poetry may be reclaiming its public life, I am equally happy to insist that poetry also has a private life that is more important to it and more necessary to us.”

David Biespiel: “Becoming a poet means not studying yourself but that which you pass through. […] Becoming a poet means reshaping destruction into playfulness.”

Elizabeth Bishop: “Many poets don’t like the fact that they have to translate everything into words.”

R. P. Blackmur: “Good poets gain their excellence by writing an existing language as if it were their own invention.”

Richard Blanco: “Poems teach you even if you are the author.”

E. D. Blodgett: “Poetry is that without which we no longer know who we are or how we should perceive our way through the world’s dark wood . . . Poetry may be composed of mere words, but words are the soul’s bread.”

Christian Bök: “Poetry is to speak in a way that is not spoken.”

Eavan Boland: “There is nothing settled about a poet’s identity. The becoming doesn’t stop because the being has been achieved. They proceed together, attached in ways that are hard to be exact about.”

Roberto Bolaño: “True poets don’t belong to any country. For them the only borders that ought to be respected are the borders of dreams, the trembling borders of love and lovelessness, the borders of courage and fear, the golden borders of morality.”

Dionne Brand: “Poetry is here, just here. Something wrestling with how we live, something dangerous, something honest.”

Claire Braz–Valentine: “Poetry has been my crutch, my spirituality, my savior, my in-road and my exit. I cannot imagine a day in my life without reading a poem, anyone’s poem. My house is filled with poetry.”

Joseph Brodsky: “Language is metaphysical, and often rhyme reveals the interrelatedness of notions and situations in the language that are not registered by the poet’s rational consciousness. Sound — the poet’s ear — is a form of cognition, of synthesis, that does not parallel analysis but encompasses it.”

James Broughton: “It is better to live poetically than to write good poems.”

Elizabeth Brown-Guillory: “The mark of great poetry, or any other creative expression, is to delight, instruct, inspire, and heal.”

John Burnside: “One poem is only a drop in the moral ocean — but a lifetime’s work . . . becomes something more like a wave.”

Steph Burt: “A terrific sonnet seeks the company of other sonnets, by the same author and by other authors — it does not want to be the only sonnet in the world. In liking, and in defending my liking for, poems that strike others as minor . . . I think I am honoring lyric poems’ request for appropriate company, and honoring that small-scale traditionally feminized (or feminine), apparently inconsequential or ornamental species of writing, lyric itself. I am also trying to understand . . . many styles of being, many ways to live in the world.”

Michael C.: “Poetry is such a dense, compact form of language. It packs pages and pages of meaning into just a few verses. In a world where we are surrounded by anonymous, thoughtless, prosaic prose . . . [poetry is] a breath of fresh air. And that ability to convey lots of meaning very succinctly is vital in any walk of life.”

David Carradine: “If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.”

Rachel Carson: “If there is poetry in my book about the sea it is not because I deliberately put it there but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out poetry.”

Paul Celan: “Poems are paradoxes. Paradoxical is the rhyme that gathers sense and sense, sense and countersense: a chance meeting at a place in language-time nobody can foresee, it lets this word coincide with that other one — for how long?”

Ken Chen: “Poems are territory-inventing objects.”

Eric Cheyfitz: “It is a pity that books are not issued in movable type, or printed in pencil, without titles or signatures, as a way of encouraging readers to play with the text, as a way of insisting that the readers have to be necessarily the writers of the texts they are reading, as a way of stressing that no text is definitive but exists only in a process of continuous revision within a community of readers. It is within this context of communal play that I believe the best poems are composed — what appears on the page is only a small fragment of the work that takes place.”

Sharon Chmielarz: “Sometimes while writing poetry I have the concentration of a bug circling a stone—I believe in my skin that the stone will reveal itself to me if I can just feel it right with my six legs.”

John Ciardi: “The minimum requirement for a good poem is a miracle.”

Hélène Cixous: “Poetry exists only by taking strength from the unconscious, and the unconscious, the other country without boundaries, is where the repressed survive.”

Lucille Clifton: “Poets come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

Leonard Cohen: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

John Coleman: “Poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity.”

Katharine Coles: “The poet’s job is just this: to stand beside herself, outside herself, in order to understand something about how an individual human subjectively encounters the world, in which and against which she is a stranger, even to herself.”

Billy Collins: “Stop writing poetry unless you’re doing things that you can only do in poetry. And that means exercising your imaginative freedom, because in a poem you have the greatest imaginative freedom possible in language. You have no allegiance to plot, consistency, plausibility, character development, chronology. You can fly. Clear the trees at the end of the runway, and off you go. So if you’re not taking advantage of the giddy imaginative liberty that poetry offers, you should try a form that’s a little more restrictive. ”

Robert Conquest: “Anybody who thinks he has found out the truth about everything is very unlikely to ever make a poet . . . the interest is on the frontier between what he knows and what he doesn’t know, rather than in organizing what is known.”

Julia Copus: “All poets need a good ear; they are, in effect, word musicians.”

Jayne Cortez: “Sometimes I rewrite and have several versions of the same poem. I’m always taking pieces apart, rearranging and intensifying. I count a lot on instinct. I believe you have to find the balance between your own voice and the content of your poetry.”

Peter Covino: “Poetic language can often reclaim and recontextualize awkwardness; and part of my contemporary project in poetry is to ensure that a queer language be preserved while also recovering a language that may have been queered out of the history during that transition into more standardized English.”

Hart Crane: “It is as though a poem gave the reader as he left it a single, new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate, but self-evident as an active principle in the reader’s consciousness henceforward.”

Victor Hernández Cruz: “Forget about history textbooks; poems are the best way to study and teach history. Poems are testaments of the actual experience of living through a personal and public event; they are the closest thing to the truth.”

J. V. Cunningham: “A poem is a convergence of forms.”

Maria Damon: “Poetry is a coast, a liminal discourse between the culture of cosmopolitan harbor cities and the wilderness of the ocean, between the seeming stability of land and the seeming fluidity of the sea, between the semantic, semiotic, and sonic worlds.”

Kwame Davis: “The making of poems begins with failure, the inability to articulate, the inability to do justice to the noise that surrounds me. . . I have hoped that my body will still somehow carry traces of the unheard and unapprehended world on it, and that when the time is right for me to make poems, it will know where to find the poetry.”

Madeline DeFrees: “The great thing about poetry is if you live long enough and write long enough, there’s nothing that at some point won’t be relevant.”

Michelle Detorie: “A lot of my practice as both a poet and visual poet is grounded in an engagement with ideas of divination and magic.”

W. S. Di Piero: “Good descriptive poems are like perfume made tactile.”

Emily Dickinson: If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

Denis Donoghue: “Poems are not so important as the poetic process, the transforming power that spiritualizes the world, turning visibility into invisibility, the world into ourselves.”

Mark Doty: “A poem is a voiceprint; someone in particular speaks, and becomes , in the most accomplished poems, unmistakable. … Poetry concretizes the singular, unrepeatable moment; it hammers out of speech a form for how it feels to be oneself.”

Frederick Douglass: “Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture makers — and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.”

Camille Dungy: “When I write poems about nature, I am writing poems about loss. The place I was born into no longer exists . . . I have traveled enough and moved enough to know that home is not a place. I am thinking perhaps home is not a language either. Language is too easy to lose. Perhaps home is memory.”

Andrew Durbin: “Language, details, individuals — all of them information — rub against one another, stack together to form a kind of visual poetry that strives to give that information definite, personal shape.”

Craig Dworkin: “Difficult and frightening times may require all the more difficult and extreme poetry: an unyielding writing that will refuse to mitigate a world which we should not find comforting, and from which we should not be distanced.”

Amal El-Motar: “Poetry’s the means of translation, not the end.”

T. S. Eliot: “The poems I have loved the most are those I have understood the least.”

Mohsen Emadi: “As a poet, I try to embrace the world. To discover the rhythms of being in different languages, cultures, and geographies. . . I have tried to translate the poetry of all the regions in which I have lived.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Language is fossil poetry.”

Theodore Enslin: “I have drawn upon my training as a musician in my attempt to create a poetry. . . . I have often said that I would take it as a great compliment if I was referred to as a composer who used words instead of notes.”

Jenny Factor: “Poetry, more than any other medium, changes language, growing and redirecting the stream of what it is possible to say. Sometimes it takes the surprise questions and risks outside of one’s own to broaden one’s sense of those linguistic possibilities.”

Tarfia Faizullah: “The world isn’t material for my poems; it’s its own fabric and when I’m not writing, I’m disconnected from it. For me, what keeps me going is mindfully rolling around in the world and feeling it in my whole body.”

Leslie Feinberg: “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.”

Richard Feynman: “What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

Wallace Fowlie: “Great poetry must train the mind in certain transformations.”

Sigmund Freud: “Everywhere I go, I find a poet has got there before me.”

Robert Frost: “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting.”

Rita Gabis: “A poem carries within it our hope and our ghosts, our individual experience and our social history. A poem does this better than any other art form because it is a moment or, in a longer poem, a collection of moments. And that is the truth of the lives we lead; we exist moment to moment.”

Roxane Gay: “Reading poetry is such a thrill that I often feel like I am getting away with something . . . When I read poetry, good poetry, I forget to breathe and my body is suffused with something unnamable — a combination of awe and astonishment and the purest of pleasures.”

Bartlett Giamatti: “Poems are the real children of love poets.”

Reginald Gibbons: “The poet’s reading list has to include the poet’s own poems (both finished and in progress). But the poet has to read them for what she or he did not already know is in them. Not easy!”

Jack Gilbert: “The hard part for me is to find the poem—a poem that matters. To find what the poem knows that’s special . . . I want to experience or discover ways of feeling that are fresh. I love it when I have perceived something fresh about being human and being happy.”

Allen Ginsburg: “Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”

Nikki Giovanni: “Poems know no boundaries. They, like all Earth citizens, were born in some country, grew up on some culture, then in their blooming became citizens of the Universe.”

Louise Glück: “Poetry survives because it haunts and it haunts because it is simultaneously utterly clear and deeply mysterious; because it cannot be entirely accounted for, it cannot be exhausted.”

José Gorostiza: “Poetry, for me, is an investigation of certain essences — love, life, death, God — that happen with such force that they break language open — in such a way as, speaking with the greatest transparency, to allow language to cross over into those essences.”

Traci Gourdine: “Once the [poem] is written, I ‘play’ it with my voice, listening to the notes I’ve laid down. I then tune not only for meaning but for the musicality of the thing. As with music, I feel that a poem also has emotional value by its sound and timing. I can hear when a word may stumble the piece by breaking the mood, or a line break is ruining the tempo.”

Mark Granier: “It’s a bat-like sense, to shape a vessel out of sounds/images, ‘the music of what happens’, and sometimes a poem declares itself out of practically nothing: a chord twangs, an echo bounces, and suddenly there is a little self-contained room, a whole sonic realm.”

Robert Graves: “Poetry began in the matriarchal age, and derives its magic from the moon.”

Timothy Green: “Poems are the songs of our interconnectedness as human beings . . . I imagine a world with 7 billion poets, and it’s a better world.”

Jeff Greer: “Poetry leaves spaces.”

Linda Gregerson: “We badly need an intelligent political poetry in America.”

Andrew Greig: “Certainly more in vacancy than pensiveness, words start to collect and arrange themselves, usually to a voice, a sounding that seems to guide where they would go . . . All one can do is try to tune the poem to itself. That is what the tinkering, the dreamy noodling, the replaying of phrases, the testing of keys is for. A perfectly tuned poem is rare. I am not sure if I have written one . . . The poem itself feels self-sourcing. It must be tuned to itself. It should please itself.”

Eliza Griswold: “Choose to let painful moments render you tender rather than tough. The act of writing poetry will encourage this process; poems encourage us to return to what baffles us.”

Philip Gross: “Several previous directions in my poetry have built themselves around the germs of work discarded from collections a few years earlier as being not (or not yet) my voice, not yet me. If that is true, if I trust it, then part of the job of writing is the not or not-yet writing, cultivating the shape of the space around the edges.”

Durs Grünbein: “Poetry is in larger part born from the desire to start over as often as possible.”

Jorge Guillén: “Something of our emotions escapes us, something that is irreconcilable to logical symbols rationally articulated. At this barrier set up by the inability to equate the soul and the word, many pause. Though deeply moved, they do not know what to say. But in spite of all these difficulties, the poet — dissatisfied, perhaps, but still the supreme sayer — delivers to us at last his victorious expression.”

Donald Hall: “Sound was my doorway into poems and I believe you taste sounds. You chew on them. And they are delicious.”

Matthea Harvey: “Poems tend to have instructions for how to read them embedded in their language. I don’t think all poems need to be written in conversational language—those are often great poems but there should also be poems of incoherent bewilderment and muddled mystery.”

Robert Hass: “That’s one of the first things poetry is: a physical structure of the actual breath of a given emotion. And so the first thing for me about teaching poetry has been putting that breath into people’s bodies.”

Anthony Hecht: “Any good poet, of whatever kind, formalist or free-verser, creates his own music, which in due course we come to identify with his style.”

Martin Heidegger: “To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods.”

Miguel Hernández: “We, poets, are the wind of the people: we are born to pass blowing through their pores and to guide their eyes and their feelings to the highest beauty.”

Jane Hirshfield: “Poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery. Poems do not simply express. They make, they find, they sound (in both meanings of that word) things undiscoverable by other means.”

Tony Hoagland: “The poet, unlike the seeker, is not trying to get somewhere, or to improve herself . . . Poets are not dedicated to self-purification.”

Daniel Hoffman: “I work for poems as close as speech can come to seeming scooped from the living flow of feelings, poems that grow from joy, from love, from the great consolation of humor, no less than poems that suffer and poems that think.”

Trish Hopkinson: “Writing and reading poetry helps me interpret the static in my world — the noise, the many alternate voices.”

Fanny Howe: “Poetry itself is a part of the mind reserved for resistance to force. Poetry doesn’t just help someone survive, it is a survivor itself: fluid, protean, as it passes through walls, and brings a particular beat to a way of thinking and being.”

Rebecca Gayle Howell: “I believe that every poem, or movement of poems, possesses its own song, shape, form; it is my job to listen deeply, to seek the song the poem is already singing.”

Ted Hughes: “Every poem that works is like a metaphor of the whole mind writing, the solution of all the oppositions and imbalances going on at that time.”

Vicente Huidobro: “Make poetry, but don’t drape it around things. Invent it.”

Kara Jackson: “Poetry is my favorite chaos.”

Major Jackson: “I relish the alterable space of a sentence along with words’ inherent satellite meanings, shaped and hammered to rhythms in my head. Their force and propulsion feel like lifelines shared with friends. Many poets show the way and what we pray for is a passage into the living: song, prayer, coveted conversations.”

Josephine Jacobsen: “Poetry is energy, and it is poetic energy that is the source of that instant of knowing that the poet tries to name.”

Stacy Jenne: “I am a paramedic for the money, a poet for the sanity, and a rancher for the hell of it.”

Juan Ramón Jiménez: “Poetry in its conception should be sacred, winged, and full of grace, and the proper realm of poetry is mystery and enchantment.”

Saeed Jones: “Read five poems for every one poem that you write. You have to understand the broader landscape and community in which your work exists.”

Pierre-Jean Jouve: “Poetry is a soul inaugurating a form.”

Marilyn Kallet: “Poetry began me, gave me a place where I could imagine and shape my life, my voice, my way of being both in language and in the world. A life.”

Ilya Kaminsky: “Poets are not born in a country. Poets are born in childhood.”

Zvonko Karanović: “Poetry has taught me that humans become the strongest precisely when they are the most hurt.”

Patrick Kavanaugh: “A man (I am thinking of myself) innocently dabbles in words and rhymes and finds that it is his life. Versing activity leads him away from the paths of conventional happiness . . . poetry made me a sort of outcast.”

Mimi Khalvati: “I hear couplets trying not to talk, but to float seeds on the air.”

James Kirkup: “Poets are the true makers of any language, for they protect it from debasement, expand it with imaginative inventions and sayings, and constantly uphold the noble spirit of its native dignity.”

Sophie Klahr: “Some deep part of me thinks that this is all poetry is, at best: a clear record of a moment where something catches.”

Ted Kooser: “I’m not saying it’s not all right to write challenging poetry. But the reader I’m interested in is the average person on the street.”

Antjie Krog: “You cannot breathe as deeply anywhere as in a poem.”

Maxine Kumin: “There is no pleasure comparable to the secret pleasure of a new and gratifying poem, a poem that feels complete and without problems, a poem that emerged mysteriously, blinding growing its own connective tissue as it evolved.”

Stanley Kunitz: “You cannot write a poem until you hit upon its rhythm. That rhythm not only belongs to the subject matter, it belongs to your interior world, and the moment they hook up there’s a quantum leap of energy. You can ride on that rhythm, it will carry you somewhere strange.”

Harriet Barron Lane: “A poem can save you.”

Robert Langbaum: “The poem exists not to imitate or describe life but to make it manifest.”

Dorothea Lasky: “A poem must not be what we thought it was, it must be and only be everything that is yet to be.”

James Laughlin: “Many people want to get out of the world they’re in. The great poets create their personal worlds.”

Ann Lauterbach: “Poets, perhaps more than other writers, need to solve the riddle of memory in relation to language, because everything we write is, in a sense, experienced as an event.”

Ursula K. Le Guin: “In poetry, beauty is no ornament; it is the meaning. It is the truth.”

John Paul Lederach: “To some degree the haikuist is constantly trying to capture the full complexity of a human experience, but in the fewest words possible.”

Ed Bok Lee: “Sometimes I think people who love poetry wander around this world missing a certain layer of skin that others seem to naturally have. Whenever I write a poem, I suddenly feel completely fortified, with language. Language, word by word, forms a kind of extra layer of skin, and, for a while, things seem to make sense.”

Li-Young Lee: “I think our intellect accounts for about 1% of how we live. And my whole question, personally, is how to bring that other 99% into the poem. The part that’s totally secret . . . I’m not interested in public knowledge.”

David Lehman: “By temperament and inclination I favor both kinds of poems — the kind that celebrates and the kind that criticizes; the kind that affirms a vow and the kind that makes merry; the poem of high seriousness that would save the world and the poem of high hilarity that would mock the pretensions of saviors.”

Ágnes Lehóczky: “Embroidering others’ voices into one’s own, overall, means for me that by numbing, or erasing the ‘I’, one can gain knowledge not only of the other but through the other of one’s unknown, less known, never known and re-imagined selves.”

Brad Leithauser: “A well-made poem is a regimented attempt, against all odds, to safeguard against time some important facet of oneself.”

Alex Lemon: “Everything I see is shifting, vibrating. . . . Visual changes have played a significant role in my poetic development. They’ve destabilized me, helped me embrace the unruliness of the world and accelerated the broadening of my imagination.”

Denise Levertov: “Daydreaming is not a luxury to the poet.”

Jeffrey Levine: “Every time we write a poem we announce to the world what we think a poem is. . . . Each poem is trying to tell you something you don’t already know. Sometimes it takes a poem several years to get through to us. Be attentive. Listen closely. Try things. Try other things.”

James Liddy: “I was extraordinary before I ever became a poet. But I think that poetry is a terrible way of being extraordinary, it’s a terrible way of being a bit outside, of being compelled to take an attitude which is not the attitude of other people. I think it’s the kind of back door into normality or simplicity.”

James Longenbach: “The greatest poems we will write already exist, and the work of a lifetime is to recognize them as our own.”

Federico García Lorca: “Intelligence is often the enemy of poetry, because it limits too much, and it elevates the poet to a sharp-edged throne where he forgets that ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall on his head.”

Audre Lorde: “The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

John Livingston Lowes: “The incommunicable, unique essence of the poem is its form.”

Douglas Luman: “The idea of poetry as one of the last living descendants of a kind of magic is a palpable and unavoidable force.”

Elizabeth Macklin: “The process of clothing intensity of feeling in poetry is intended to place intensity where it can be examined from all sides, not flinchingly or too hot to handle, as it is in real life.”

Haki Madhubuti: “Fine poetry is like a tuning fork: it regulates, clears, and challenges the brain, focusing it and bringing it in line with the rest of the world.”

Nadezhda Mandelstam: “The poetic gift won’t tolerate vanity.”

Sally Wen Mao: “My entire self is built around this wonder, this movement, this search for adventure. I seek adventures, and they float back as poems eventually.”

David Mason: “The Greeks had it fundamentally right: poetry is making, construction, fabrication. It is the most active engagement with experience possible through the medium of words.”

William Matthews: “Poems are made from artfully discovered details.”

Vladimir Mayakovsky: “I did not work all my life to caress the human ear by writing pretty poetry. No, on the contrary, I have always managed to upset somebody. My main work — is criticizing all that I think is wrong, against which I must fight.”

J. D. McClatchy: “A poet—as distinct from other, perhaps more persuasive, kinds of writers—can only unstitch the weave of tangled threads. Poems are meant to complicate our sense of things, not pamper them.”

Maerwydd McFarland: “Poets have an obligation to give voice to doubt.”

Heather McHugh: “The oddity and opportunity of verbal life seemed not just a poem’s object but its fundamental subject: In a poem, theme and instrument could not be told apart . . . .A logophiliac hunger craves amazement. And words can blaze! — most brightly where (like fires) their logs are interlaid with airs. They can flow — or flock — or fluster! From their arrangement in measures, uncontainability pours forth. . . . (And so it is with us: We can’t contain ourselves.)

Margaret Menges: “The world is so exquisite and it sings a thousand melodies to us in the course of a day. To me, poetry is stepping back from the world in order to be more intensely a part of it. Through poetry, I get to sing back.”

William Meredith: “It is the nature of the work that a poem is getting at something mysterious, which no amount of staring at straight-on has ever solved.”

Thomas Merton: “Many poets are not poets for the same reasons many religious [people] are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves . . . They never become the [person] or the artist who is called for all the circumstances of their individual lives.”

W. S. Merwin: “I have a faith in language. . . It’s the most flexible articulation of our experience and yet, finally, that experience is something that we cannot really articulate. We can look out and see the sunlight in those trees, but we can’t convey the full unique intimacy of that experience. That’s the other side, one of those things that makes poetry both exhilarating and painful all the time. It’s conveying both the great possibility and the thing that we can’t do.”

Philip Metres: “In its radical forms, in its sometimes alienating obduracy, poetry — the cockroach of artistic forms, oldest and most durable — is a dark night’s companion.”

Billy Mills: “Interesting themes alone do not transmute language to poetry.”

Czesław Miłosz: “The very idea of poetry presupposes immense transformation. In poetry, form is profoundly of the essence, completely apart from meter, rhyme, or whatever stylistic approach is taken. The very essence of the act is to distill the material of life. In prose, on the other hand — and here we return to the autobiographical elements again — the distinction is not so explicit at all, meaning that it’s much more difficult to find a form.”

Oskar de Milosz: “Poetry appears to us as bound, more rigorously than any other mode of expression, to the spiritual and physical Movement of which it is a generator and a guide.”

Gabriela Mistral: “I write poetry because I cannot disobey the impulse, it would be like blocking a spring surging up in my throat.”

Ange Mlinko: “So this is poetry in the conventional sense, where language and kineticism and imagery converge deliciously.”

Marianne Moore: “Form is the outward equivalent of a determining inner conviction and the rhythm is the person.”

Andrew Motion: “I’ve always wanted to write poems that look like a glass of water but turn out to be gin. I want them to look completely simple. I want [my poems to] create a limpid surface through which you look down into the interesting, complicated world of a life of feeling.”

Erín Moure: “Leakages in languages, idioms, paradoxically, nourish individual languages so that they may thrive. In ways not rigid, not sealed, not marking strict identitarian limits of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, but not losing identity either. My poems as a whole reflect, I think, that identity finds its stability in uncertainty, in the fluidity of limits, in the ‘not yet’.”

Les Murray: “Poetry beckoned to me from the start by its not putting humans above other subject matter.”

James Mustich: “Poetry teaches the mind to compose itself, and the earlier the lessons begin, the more resonant they prove.”

Sawako Nakasayu: “I work mostly in poetry because it claims to be neither fiction nor non-fiction, because it acknowledges the gap between what really was or is, and what is said about it. Is the woman really in a box? It depends on who you ask, how they see it, or what constitutes a box. I like to claim that all of my poems are ‘true’.”

Andrés Neuman: “Borrowed clothes, poems migrate from body to body, from mouth to mouth. No language is entirely native to poetry. Its writing translates the words into a different language, whose grammar is not yet fully established.”

Denise Newman: “There is a largely untapped potential to insert poetry into the mix of daily life in myriad forms and places . . . Language is fundamental to experience — it is the very air we breathe — and who better than poets to remind us that words, along with everything else, are alive and fleeting.”

Norman Nicholson: “The first impulse towards poetry is not to express something or to say something, but it’s like a musician who wants to play a piano: it’s the desire to join in this exuberance which poetry is, I think, and it’s only later that you may find that you have something to say.”

Doireann Ní Ghríofa: “Writing[‘s] given me this strange quirk, of discovering potential windows framing everything I see. These windows and the process of gazing through them is what gifts me my poems. . . Through looking at what lies beyond the glass, I create a poem from what is hidden within.”

Naomi Shihab Nye: “It reminded me of a poet’s comfort in unusual perception. Seeing things ‘differently’ always opens up possibilities of seeing the world in more intriguing, less predictable ways.”

Peggy O’Brien: “All true poems as they negotiate the treacherous gap between inspiration and execution are translations.”

Frank O’Hara: “The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages.”

Gregory Orr: “In lyric poetry, disorder is dynamic.”

Jacqueline Osherow: “Laugh if you like, but there is a realm of poetry in which you have access not merely across geography, but chronology and materiality and, if you’re really cooking, language itself.”

Stephen Owen: “This poet from another land and from a different culture is writing in part for us, writing at least in part what he imagines will satisfy us.”

Greg Pak: “When I was a kid, poetry gave me permission to start writing instinctively, with almost nothing in my head.”

Cesar Pavese: “The source of poetry is always a mystery, an inspiration, a charged perplexity in the face of the irrational — unknown territory. But the act of poetry — if one may make a distinction here, separating the flame from the fuel — is an absolute determination to see clearly, to reduce to reason, to know.”

Octavio Paz: “Poetry is the present, between the cluttered past and the uninhabited future.”

Pascale Petit: “I see each poem as a sculpture or an installation. I can’t envisage life without these objects made from words. And they have to be as solid and as physically real as I can make them . . . Like the drawings I made when I was five, they can fold discreetly away into books. I love that — the portable nature of poetry. I like that you can open a collection of poems and vanish inside it, and keep reopening it and vanish deeper.”

Carl Phillips: “Any successful poem — one that is true to human experience — will resist closure. To be resonant is to resist absolute closure.”

Emilia Phillips: “For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how poets can render landscape — or, at the very least, the atmosphere of that landscape — in language. I believe increasingly that the sound of language can help render space and the sound that echoes around in that space.”

Robert Pinsky: “Poetry is the most bodily of the arts. … In jazz, as in poetry, there is always that play between what’s regular and what’s wild.”

William Plomer: “I think a poet who is any good is bringing something new into existence, and he can’t expect people to take to something new, because people don’t. They like what flatters their prejudices and their interests. They like what they’re used to, and you’ve only to glance at the history of poetry . . . and you can make a long list of poets . . . who wrote almost in isolation, because they were ahead of their time.”

Stanley Plumly: “the content of the poem includes the ways that all the things in a poem connect, not just its narrative — because there’s never just one narrative in a poem.”

Clare Pollard: “Form should be an alert, improvised response to the subject. True poetry is anarchic.”

Doc Pomus: “The most important thing is to be the poet. Not the famous poet. There’s so many uncontrollable intangibles that make up recognition and success. It’s the life we choose that sets us up, in the hierarchy of humans, that proves our courage, and understanding, and sensitivity. I’d rather be the worst poet than the best agent.”

Dawn L. Potter: “Poets create something out of nothing; they use words to shape what has, till now, been wordless.”

Cindy B. Potts: “Poetry is inherently political.”

Ezra Pound: “It really matters that great poems get written, and it doesn’t matter a damn who writes them.”

Kevin Powers: “I hope my poetry reflects those places where my curiosities and compulsions overlap.”

Diane di Prima: “The poem can be ritual or dance, prayer or dirge. It is music, story, riddle, lullaby. Song, spell, enchantment. Hex or blessing. Serenade or reverie. There is nowhere it can’t go, nothing the poem can’t be.”

Carl Frederik Prytz: “A very good poem could say as much as a novel of two or three hundred pages.”

John Crowe Ransom: “There cannot be another art whose meaning offers so many dialectical possibilities as verse. Is not that a happy thought?”

Thomas Rayfiel: “Poems (some, not all) contain a nutrient my mind instinctively hungers for. They inform what I do.”

Eugene B. Redmond: “The informing and forming of my poetics and the context in which I began to ‘make’ poems has been a sight-, sound-, and soul-filled whirl-world of word-sniffing, word-shifting, and word-riffing.”

James Reeves: “Poetry is anti-specialization.”

Evgeny Rein: “It is poetry itself that makes the dead speak.”

Donald Revell: “I believe that poems are presences, themselves the consequence of vivid presentations. . . . The creative act is continuous, before, during, and after the poem. An attentive poet delights in this continuity. It is her actual Nature and natural habitat.”

Graeme Revell: “A poetic technology must satisfy by somewhat greater conditions than simple technical capacity. Like any poetry, it must open up a space of multiple meanings.”

Adrienne Rich: “The moment of change is the only poem.”

Lola Ridge: “All life is the domain of poetry; not only the ancient rituals of love and birth and death, but all vast happenings, from wars, strikes, the endless crucifixion of labor to the being of the smallest flower.”

Michael Symmons Roberts: “But we have the edge over the great poets of the past. We are not dead.”

Elizabeth Robinson: “What is a book? An inkling, a cave. A material dimension that intersects with a world-in-the-making.”

Tomasz Różycki: “Every poet has to be lonely.”

Mary Ruefle: “There is a world that poets cannot seem to enter. It is the world that everybody else lives in.”

Muriel Rukeyser: “Poets have always known that one’s education has no edges, has no end. . . Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.”

Mona Lisa Saloy: “Through poetry, human beings can relive trauma, injury, catastrophe . . . and reacquaint ourselves with our most inner resources, our ability to regenerate and manifest as whole again. . . . It is through verse that we make some sense of our world. Poets are not journalists snapping photos. Poetry weaves words to record not just what happens but what sense we can make of it, what is important for us to consider, what is good for us to keep.”

Bruno Schulz: “All poetry is mythmaking.”

George Seferis: “To say what you want to say you must create another language and nourish it for years with what you have loved, with what you have lost, and what you will never find again.”

Tom Seibles: “Engaging in public poetry with my friends furthered my belief in poems as part of our social discourse, poems as a way to kid with, shake up, or soothe my fellow citizens. I still see poems as public documents, meeting places for thirsty souls — people dissatisfied with the given terms of our lives, who want something more daring, more true.”

Diane Seuss: “It’s possible that the desire for poetry is the only sustainable desire I’ve ever experienced . . . Even though I’d been writing since I was a kid, I didn’t realize that poetry was everything I could ever need until I went through menopause.”

Murray Silverstein: “Poetry is the repository for the lyric impulse, the spontaneous feeling of rapture and ecstasy and dread, in relation to something outside yourself.”

Charles Simic: “Poetry proves again and again that any single overall theory of anything doesn’t work. Poetry is always the cat concert under the window of the room in which the official version of reality is being written.”

John Simon: “But I do think poets are needed by a society to keep language adventurous.”

Sharron Singleton: “What I love most about poetry is how it enables one to see small miracles and epiphanies in daily life and how economy, spareness and compression of language can reveal the extravagance and multiplicity in all of life.”

Jeffrey Skinner: “Revision is the process a poem endures to become its best self. Or, if you are the poet, you are the process a poem endures to become its best self.”

Jessica Smith: “Visual poetry calls attention to the medium of poetry, showing that written language isn’t a transparent score for oral performance. […] I also think about that white space is a place where the reader’s own thoughts intervene, like the weft of the weave of the page.”

Tracy K. Smith: “A poem is often concerned less with telling a story than it is with perspective, disturbance, the irresistible allure of what sits barely decipherable in the distance. A poem soars over the landscape of memory like a bird of prey. When it sees something living, something with heat and texture and blood in its veins, it dives down and lifts the thing up, disappearing. Then the poem becomes something else: the tree to which the bird returns; the clouds overhead, roving in wind; the ground from which a figure squints, looking up.”

Gary Snyder: “As poets . . . the place we do our real work is in the unconscious, or myth-consciousness of the culture; a place where people decide (without knowing it) to change their values.”

Antun Šoljan: “Who in the future wishes to find out the truth about our age, or who decides to write, for whatever reason, its true history, will not find anywhere more reliable testimony than in poetry.”

Bernard Spencer: “A lot of unrecognized poems, I think, are lived through every moment of your life. It depends on how alert or how undisturbed you are, or how excited and attentive you are at that very moment when the opportunity comes.”

A. E. Stallings: “There are no tired rhymes. There are no forbidden rhymes. Rhymes are not predictable unless lines are.”

Gerald Stern: “I believe now more than I ever did before in my first poems and more and more I feel that nothing was wasted.”

Wallace Stevens: “Content yourself with the thought that every poet’s language is his own distinct tongue. He cannot speak the common language and continue to write poetry any more than he can think the common thought and continue to be a poet.”

Robert Louis Stevenson: “The true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing . . . For to miss the joy is to miss all.”

Peter A. Stitt: “You are leaving it up to each reader to make his or her own poem out of the raw materials you have given.”

Mark Strand: “When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger . . . in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context.”

Judith Lee Stronach: “I was trying in my poetry to understand and get close to my experience and then to find a language for it.”

Ira Sukrungruang: “Poetry exists in this dream state . . . Even the look of a poem connotes a dream — meaning coming from arrangement and sound.”

Pireeni Sundaralingam: “In certain cases, poetry allows scientists to cast their net wider, like the algae within the fungus [of lichens], gathering in data they might otherwise have difficulty accessing. In more than a few instances, poems may provide the type of case study evidence that instigates subsequent experimental exploration by scientists.”

Don Swann: “Poetry is something like desert water. Words on the page are perennial, but of course the experience of reading them is ephemeral. We dip into the pages and drink. Sometimes we sip, and other times we let the words and rhythms pour over us like a good hard summer rain. And then we move on to the next page and the next thing in our lives, whatever it might be — although if it’s a good poem we might return again to the perennial source, and more than once.”

May Swenson: “I only want to live in [the world], laugh at it, relish it. I want to paint horses, ride horses and hear music and weep and write poetry and read my own poetry out loud to myself. I want to learn to be beautiful and also to create beauty and I want my happiness no matter how little, sharp, and sweet.”

Allen Tate: “If the poem is a real creation, it is a kind of knowledge that we did not possess before. It is not knowledge ‘about’ something else; the poem is the fullness of that knowledge.”

James Tate:  “Poetry says things that nothing else can.  It snares the edges of the unspeakable.  It grazes dreams…This is that magnificent dance of language that cannot be translated into prose.”

Adam Tedesco: “Isn’t this what the best poems do, break our heads, until open to new possibility?”

Craig Morgan Teicher: “On any given day, even at my most inspired and lucid, I don’t think I’m that clever. But 10 of me, 15 of me, 50 of me over many days: That’s a team capable of writing one hell of a poem.”

Dylan Thomas: “The best craftsman always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.”

Rosemary Thomas: “The mind feels what the spirit thinks in poetry.”

Mónica de la Torre: “Does the poet enunciate a poem that is part of a discourse that relates to everyday reality? Does he write a text that could be enunciated in a different reality, but that isn’t in our own? Is a poem a script for what could be said in another world? If a poem is a bridge, to where does it lead?”

J. B. Trend: “Poetry does not really depend on the colour or vowel-harmony or beauty of the original verbal sounds, but on the colour of the poetic emotions; and in most modern poetry the nuance of the poetic emotions is more important than the nuance of the words.”

Galsan Tschinag: “Poetry is an enormous counterforce against the oppressing weight of the material world. It is a spice in everyday life, a sting against habit, it changes life, which is more and more outweighed by consumption.”

Marina Tsvetaeva: “A lyric poem is a created and instantly destroyed world.”

Melissa Tuckey: “Poetry has a lot to offer a world in crisis . . . For centuries, poets have given voice to our collective trauma: naming injustices, reclaiming stolen language, and offering us courage to imagine a more just world. In a world such as ours, poetry is an act of cultural resistance.”

Brian Turner: “Poems offer pathways into the countries within, paths that might otherwise grow wild and unnoticed.”

Chase Twichell: “Cutting a poem apart is a way of making holes in it, windows, a way of keeping it open for a while, so that you can enlarge and refine your sense of it while it’s still rough. The important thing is this: don’t start polishing a poem until you’re pretty sure of its structure.”

Vincent Van Gogh: “One can speak poetry just by arranging colors well.”

Tomas Venclova: “Every great poet is similar to himself.”

Kees Verheul: “Because he cannot escape the task of raising his voice against cruelty and injustice, the poet is par excellence the victim in a repressive society.”

Cecilia Vicuña: “Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry.

Jean Vilar: “Le poète a toujours le dernier mot.” / “The poet always has the last word.”

Ellen Bryant Voigt: “The image then, can reproduce not only what the poet sees but at the same time how the poet sees.”

Andrei Voznesensky: “Languages are many, poetry is one.”

Derek Walcott: “Style sits easily on good poets, even in conversation. In intimacy, their perceptions go by so rapidly that a few drinks with them are worth a book on poetics.”

Anne Waldman: “Is part of the poet’s vow to perpetually catch, distill, refine, re-imagine where one walks, what one notices?”

Belle Waring: “The smartest thing I ever did was to adopt a big, strong, beautiful cat. To write poetry, it helps to be in a liminal state. My cat has mastered this.”

Tom Warner: “The poem [a line] will become — if it’s to get that far, since my notebooks are full of confused false starts — exists somewhere in the rub of words. Patterns begin to emerge in the language and more language comes from the patterns. . . . The poem should be so much its own thing that the poet can read it back and discover the web [of meaning and association] beneath the text.”

Michael Warr: “Ultimately, there is no protective divide between the acts of the poet and acts of the society and system in which they create.”

Barrett Watten: “A poem can be a stretch of thinking.”

Daniel Weissbort: “Poetry happens everywhere but sometimes, often, it happens in languages that do not attract attention. We are the poorer for not experiencing it.”

George Whalley: “Each poem is a unique discovery; each poem is a new problem.”

Lesley Wheeler: “Can a poem be a monument? I think so. A book doesn’t have the simplicity of a pillar or the accessibility of a garden, but there’s a public role, too, for the productive difficulties of intensely patterned language. We need to read poetry, alone and together, because it helps us remember (and imagine) what’s lost and imagine (and remember) a way forward.”

David Whyte: “Poets have never used the word balance, for good reason. First of all, it is too obvious and therefore untrustworthy; it is also a deadly boring concept and seems to speak as much to being stuck and immovable, as much as to harmony. There is also the sense of unbalancing that must take place in order to push a person into a new and larger set of circumstances.”

Richard Wilbur: “One does not use poetry for its major purposes, as a means to organize oneself and the world, until one’s world somehow gets out of hand.”

Miller Williams: “The truth of a poem rests in the insight to which a reader comes, and not in the poem’s biographical details.”

Christian Wiman: “Poetry, which is a kind of quantum entanglement in language, is not simply a way of helping us to recognize the relations we have with people and places but a means of preserving and protecting those relations. . . Who knows by what unconscious routes poetry is reaching into lives that seem to have nothing to do with it?”

Jeanette Winterson: “If I break my leg, I’ll see a doctor. If I break my heart, or if the world breaks my spirit, I’ll go to a poet.”

Charles Wright: “Poetry is the dark side of the moon. It’s up there, and you can see the front of it. But what it is isn’t what you’re looking at. It’s behind what you’re looking at.”

Franz Wright: “I believe the challenge for young writers is to set their sights or raise the bar higher than merely communicating with other writers. It would be thrilling to see a poetry directed at and addressed to the individual human beings who make up what we refer to as humanity, but this takes much more than talent, it requires a tremendous capacity for solitude, self-reliance and patience, also a kind of primal sincerity, as though involved in something that is a life-or-death matter.”

John Yau: “I don’t think I began writing poetry out of a desire to talk to someone, to send (one could say) a love poem to either a specific or general you, but out of the recognition that there was no one to talk to.”

William Butler Yeats: “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

Gary Young: “I only abandoned the idea of a scientific career when I started college and decided poetry was more exact than science in describing and understanding the world.”

Kevin Young: “All poems question the idea of what makes up a poem, or they should.”


Last updated 1.21.2019




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