“A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
― Robert Frost
Don’t pick a fight with a poet.
Don’t raise your hand on a whim.
Whether it’s wrong or right,
there’s a lesson in life,
and to learn it, you’ll have to give in,
cause a poet knows, you can’t win.
~ “Don’t Pick a Fight With a Poet” by Madeleine Peyroux
The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader are obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right. . . .
People complain about the obscurity of poetry, especially if they’re assigned to write about it, but actually poetry is rather straightforward compared to ordinary conversation with people you don’t know well, which tends to be jumpy repartee, crooked, coded, allusive to no effect, firmly repressed, locked up in irony, steadfastly refusing to share genuine experience—think of conversation at office parties or conversation between teenage children and parents, or between teenagers themselves, or between men, or between bitter spouses: rarely in ordinary conversation do people speak from the heart and mean what they say. How often in the past week did anyone offer you something from the heart? It’s there in poetry. Forget everything you ever read about poetry, it doesn’t matter–poetry is the last preserve of honest speech and the outspoken heart. All that I wrote about it as a grad student I hereby recant and abjure—all that matters about poetry to me now is directness and clarity and truthfulness. All that is twittery and lit’ry: no thanks, pal.
~ Garrison Keillor, Good Poems for Hard Times (from Introduction)
“I keep coming back to the statement because it gets at the truth. It’s another way of accounting for the fact that, if a poem is any good, you can repeat it to yourself as if it were written by somebody else. The completedness frees you from it and it from you. You can read and reread it without feeling self-indulgent: whatever it was in you that started the writing has got beyond you. The unwritten poem is always going to be entangled with your own business, part of your accident and incoherence – which is what drives you to write. But once the poem gets written, it is, in a manner of speaking, none of your business.” ~ Seamus Heaney
This poetry, I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
~ Jalaluddin Rumi
The poets stand in the rain.
They wear no raincoats.
They have no umbrellas.
They are discussing the shadow of a shadow of a shadow.
But their poetry is already soaking wet—
They have not developed their reality muscles
So they walk with a limp while admiring the color of a vein in a leaf.
~ Mahvash Mossaed “The Poets” in My Painted Dreams. Golmehr Publication, 2001
“In the act of writing the poem, I am obedient, and submissive. Insofar as one can, I put aside ego and vanity, and even intention. I listen. What I hear is almost a voice, almost a language. It is a second ocean, rising, singing into one’s ear, or deep inside the ears, whispering in the recesses where one is less oneself than a part of some single indivisible community. Blake spoke of taking diction. I am no Blake, yet I know the nature of what he meant. Every poet knows it. One learns the craft, and then casts off. One hopes for gifts. One hopes for direction. It is both physical, and spooky. It is intimate, and inapprehensible. Perhaps it is for this reason that the act of first-writing, for me, involves nothing more complicated than paper and pencil. The abilities of a typewriter or computer would not help in this act of slow and deep listening.”
~ Mary Oliver
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent upon the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close.”
~ Thich Nhat Hahn
And it was at that age . . . Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
~ Pablo Neruda, from “Poetry” (full poem)
“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.”
~ Allen Ginsberg
Ginsberg came to my house one afternoon
and said he was giving up poetry
because it told lies, that language distorts.
I agreed, but asked what we have
that gets it right even that much.
We look up at the stars and they are
not there. We see the memory
of when they were, once upon a time.
And that too is more than enough.
“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.”
~ W. S. Merwin
“I do think that all of us think in poems. I think of a poem as being deeper than headline news. You know how they talk about breaking news all the time, that – if too much breaking news, trying to absorb all the breaking news, you start feeling really broken. And you need something that takes you to a place that’s a little more timeless, that kind of gives you a place to stand to look out at all these things. Otherwise, you just feel assaulted by all of the tragedy in the world.”
~ Naomi Shihab Nye
“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”
~ W.B. Yeats
By Dorothea Lasky
I wanted to tell the veterinary assistant about the cat video Jason sent me
But I resisted for fear she’d think it strange
I am very lonely
Yesterday my boyfriend called me, drunk again
And interspersed between ringing tears and clinginess
He screamed at me with a kind of bitterness
No other human had before to my ears
And told me that I was no good
Well maybe he didn’t mean that
But that is what I heard
When he told me my life was not worthwhile
And my life’s work the work of the elite.
I say I want to save the world but really
I want to write poems all day
I want to rise, write poems, go to sleep,
Write poems in my sleep
Make my dreams poems
Make my body a poem with beautiful clothes
I want my face to be a poem
I have just learned how to apply
Eyeliner to the corners of my eyes to make them appear wide
There is a romantic abandon in me always
I want to feel the dread for others
I can feel it through song
Only through song am I able to sum up so many words into a few
Like when he said I am no good
I am no good
Goodness is not the point anymore
Holding on to things
Now that’s the point
~ Dorothea Lasky, “Ars Poetica” from Black Life. Copyright © 2010 by Dorothea Lasky.
When you find a man
Every part of you
Who makes each one of your hairs
Into a poem,
When you find a man,
As I am
Of bathing and adorning you
I will beg you
To follow him without hesitation,
It is not important
That you belong to me or him
But that you belong to poetry.
~ Nizar Kabbani
“And when you think about it, poets always want us to be moved by something, until in the end, you begin to suspect that a poet is someone who is moved by everything, who just stands in front of the world and weeps and laughs and laughs and weeps . . . “
~ Mary Ruefle
“If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.”
~ David Carradine
“All you need now is to stand at the window and let your rhythmical sense open and shut, open and shut, boldly and freely, until one thing melts in another, until the taxis are dancing with the daffodils, until a whole has been made from all these separate fragments.”
~ Virginia Woolf, Letter To A Young Poet
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
~ Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1979, (full poem)
Tonight I Am In Love
by Dorianne Laux
Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
with the men and women who
uncapped their pens and laid the ink
on the blank canvas of the page.
I am shameless in my love; their faces
rising on the smoke and dust at the end
of day, their sullen eyes and crusty hearts,
the murky serum now turned to chalk
along the gone cords of their spines.
I’m reciting the first anonymous lines
that broke night’s thin shell: sonne under wode.
A baby is born us bliss to bring. I have labored
sore and suf ered death. Jesus’ wounds so wide.
I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored
in dim rooms with their handful of words,
battering their full hearts against the moon.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek.
Wake, now my love, awake: for it is time.
For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love!
What can I do but love them? Sore throated
they call from beneath blankets of grass,
through the windtorn elms, near the river’s
edge, voices shorn of everything but the one
hope, the last question, the first loss, calling
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears.
Whenas in silks my Julia goes, calling Why do I
languish thus, drooping and dull as if I were all earth?
Now they are bones, the sweet ones who once
considered a cat, a nightingale, a hare, a lamb,
a fly, who saw a Tyger burning, who passed
five summers and five long winters, passed them
and saved them and gave them away in poems.
They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.
~ Laux, Dorianne. “Tonight I Am In Love.” Facts About the Moon: Poems. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006.
This week’s playlist features music by Wilco, Simon and Garfunkel, Ryan Adams, and more.