"Quoting the Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago in the foreword to his latest collection, Derek Mahon writes: 'To write is always to translate, even when we are using our own language ... Our words convey mere fragments of reality on which our experience fed.' Relying on a different material, the two activities are however essentially linked in this perspective: if writing is the act of translating an experience into words, translating is the act of conveying the written account of this experience in another language, culture and moment."
"I like Gerald Stern's mind. It's the mind of a bear who reads or a flower that talks. It—he—the poems—what's the difference—are always doing and going and falling in love, in love with love, among many other things. If American poetry is a tug of war between the exuberant and the pensive, as it seems to be—we still declare ourselves and each other little Whitmans or Dickinsons—Stern has for decades led the yawpish charge." On 'Waving Good-Bye'
"Though Gottfried Benn can scarcely be said to exist in the English-speaking world, there are a surprising number of prominent mentions of him. T. S. Eliot, for instance, in his essay 'The Three Voices of Poetry' goes so far as to associate one such voice—the first, 'the voice of the poet talking to himself—or to nobody'—with Benn. John Berryman allows him the end of one Dream Song, no. 53: 'and Gottfried Benn / said: —We are using our own skins for wallpaper and we cannot win.' In his novel Plexus Henry Miller is careful to leave the 1927 issue of Eugene Jolas's avant-garde magazine, transitions, lying around, and quotes in extenso from Benn's essay in it. Frank O'Hara has a tilt at him in one of his invariably disastrous and perplexing diatribes, when he seems to have his ill-fitting Hector the Lecturer suit on: 'Poetry is not instruments / that work at times / then walk out on you / laugh at you old / get drunk on you young / poetry's part of your self' ('To Gottfried Benn')." Introduction to Impromptus
"I've relinquished my role as poet in the Bay Area. I cringe at the suggestion of participating in public readings. I don't involve myself in writing conferences, mentoring, bookstore signings, or answering letters that involve questions like, 'Where do you get your ideas?' I've failed in all of these." Book Signings
"Just after World War II, a young Princeton student journeyed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, to visit Ezra Pound. The great poet had been tried for treason for broadcasts he made in Italy for the fascist government and, pleading insanity, wound up serving a dozen years in the psychiatric institution. To the astonishment of his young visitor that day in 1946, Pound greeted him as if he were a serious poet. Like an elder, he also offered advice. 'You don't really have anything to write about at the age of eighteen,' Pound warned. 'The way to do it is to learn a language and translate....'" W. S. Merwin, the Eternal Apprentice
"I first discovered haiku when I was in high school. The tiny genre came to me as part of my larger enchantment with Beat literature and Beat goings-on. On the Road was published when I was sixteen. Perfect timing. To a captive of a Catholic boys' high school in the suburbs of New York, Kerouac's novel offered a glimpse into a world of adventure involving sex, drugs, reckless driving, and bongo-playing that existed far beyond the confines of my parish. Along with Beat thinking came Zen, imported into Western culture at the time by prominent explainers such as D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts and embraced as a daring new sensibility in Beat fiction and poetry. And along with all that came haiku." Introduction to Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years
"Long before [Robert] Bly became permanently identified as the author of Iron John and a leader of the "mythopoetic" men's movement, in the 1960s and '70s he was a dominant force in the literary life of the United States. Primarily via his own little magazine and small press, he lobbed fire like a mutineer at his predecessors, teachers, and literary fathers, fiercely criticized his peers, and attracted droves of ardent younger followers. Surely Bly knew that one day, inevitably, a mutiny against him would arise." Captain Robert Bly, Ortega y Gasset, and the Buddha on the Road
"An unusually successful example of that most easily mangled of verse genres, the philosophical disquisition made fully poetic, Robert Conquest’s intricately argued poem 'A Problem' is in The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, an anthology that was always with me in the last few years before I left Australia in the early sixties. It’s a long time ago now but I can still remember the thrill of reading, for the first time, the line that sums up what he was really after in that poem. On the face of it he takes a painterly approach, meticulously registering all the nuances of the Ligurian landscape, and how the light falls on it from the sky: falls and alters. But he also says that the shifting patterns of light are 'Like the complex, simple movement of great verse.'" Interior Music
"Dear Emily D.,
Your bed is the same as my bed, almost.
You and I are out of fashion. We both prefer small beds.
Most beds of my time now sweep the floorboards in homes and showrooms, wooing the diameters. Even if they are just plywood, with foamrubber stomachs like dirty sheep, they crave epic square footage, acres of sunlight. In an age of despair, however covert, vast must be right.
This winter, I have been trying to choose my first bed, so I am aware of the vanities." Emily's Bed
"A stranger asks me to write an Aesthetic Statement. He demands my notion of the ideal poem, so he’ll know the secret of my love of some poems and my distaste for others. I feel his pain. Perhaps he wants to prosecute me should I praise a poet who deviates from my Platonic ideal. An aesthetic statement is of little use to a critic unless he’s a lover of manifestos, a maker of quarrels, or a host who treats his guests like Procrustes. Aesthetics is a rational profession for the philosopher, but for the working critic it’s a mug’s game. To write about your aesthetics is no better than revealing your secrets, if you’re a magician, or returning a mark’s stolen wallet, if you’re a pickpocket." Against Aesthetics
"The under-examined bone of contention in today’s poetry is the value of affect in art. More and more poets are suspicious of lyrical expression and devote themselves to emotionally neutral methods. The representation of affects—feelings that are often either transports or afflictions—has been increasingly muted in American and European art since the 1960s. Vehemence of feeling nonplusses the modern personality, a hostage to ambiguity and irony."
Against Conceptualism: Defending the Poetry of Affect
Laura Esther Wolfson:
"One week and three days. That is how long my manuscript has been with the agent.
"I came to the agent through a friend, who said that I should expect to hear back in six to seven weeks, at the earliest. That, she explained, was about normal for agents.
"The best, sanest response to sending out a manuscript,' continued my friend, "is to start writing something else right away."
"She has had two novels on the New York Times Best Seller list and is now at work on her third. And so, with her as my guide, here I am: back on the couch. Not the psychotherapeutic couch. Not the casting couch. The writing couch."
On the Couch: Thoughts on Sending My Manuscript to an Agent
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"As for the prevalence of tercets, and more recently, the couplet: my language... is so dense, so textured and damasked, that I find I need white space—to provide clarity, ballast, a matrix: something to pitch the fragments of language against or from which the text emerges. To give the reader (and the lines) some breathing room. The shorter stanza forms provide armature, something over which to trellis syntactically inverted or complicated phrases. Finally: Desire, Eros—these are my preoccupations, so couplets (the pairing, the parting, the reunion of them) feel right to me for that reason, too."—Lisa Russ Spaar, Acoustical Pleasures: An Interview with Lisa Russ Spaar by Emilia Phillips
"There are no rules.
"Or, you can modify that rule by observing that each work of art generates its own unique rules....
"Impulses, swerves, collisions, flights, descents, gags, indirections, surprises, exploding cigars, non sequiturs: all are allowed or encouraged, and all in some sense begin to create their own principles.
"There are no rules, but uniformity in art can make it feel as though there are rules: the more unconscious or unperceived (as with widely accepted fashions), the more confining." Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters
"My parents' friends were more important to me than usual, I think, because I was an only child and they were artists, funny, doing interesting things. Things I almost understood, paintings most of all; and songs, plays, movies, dances. Poetry readings were hard, I was dragged to too many, but by age five or so I got it that the other poets were often using language like my father—to be playful, sometimes like a game or a dance—not language to do weird and boring adult things, but rather language to discover things—the way I did." Love and Irony: Postcards from a Child of the New York School
"Merz raises no rhetorical façade. He does not try to impress with lexical or syntactic brilliance; whatever formal "modernism" he has assimilated, it consists here of little more than some suppressed punctuation between lines. If he is slightly ironic ... the irony does not make us sneer or snicker, but rather meditate more sincerely—this is the paradox of the irony—on a certain feeling of amorous uneasiness from which we may also suffer. Clearly, his goal is to sketch typical human situations in a way that opens the door onto all that is left unstated, unwritten ...." On the Strassenbahn with Klaus Merz's Poetry
A. E. Stallings:
"The financial crisis of recent years has brought periodic garbage strikes [to Athens] and turned every available wall into a canvas for graffiti and street artists. The statues of famous poets, warriors, philosophers, and statesmen now look out over frequent protest marches and occasional street battles, their blank marble eyes assailed by clouds of tear gas. Athens is a Balkan backwater at the omphalos of the world, a confrontation of edgy youthful energy and lethargic pensioner despair, a series of paradoxes, a city of losses and erasures. And Kiki Dimoula is her poet." Brass Tacks
"One of the usual defenses of reading widely in the Western tradition (or, say, in 20th century poetry) is that it improves your writing—that it’s the legwork necessary for the great flights. Being well-versed, and widely conversant, with the literature of the past is a crucial part of a writer’s education. How false this idea is, the Western tradition itself teaches us." Deeply and Irreverently: How and What to Read
"An anthology is like a library, its contents organized not by the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system, but by principles of the editor's own devising, designed to please and educate its readers, to delight and instruct. It is, like any library anywhere, a distillation and arrangement of available material, its poems surrounded by the white space which embodies a library's silence, attentiveness, and inward joy." Anthologizing
"I always write in response to what I read. If I'm not reading anything, I won't be able to write anything. I've said that certain poets wound you, and so you keep on going after them, and because they have hurt you, only they have the power of healing you, and in that conversation, I think, you're able to find yourself, to restore yourself again." Closer to the Water: An Interview with Valzhyna Mort
"If we look in particular at women poets who don't put motherhood at the center, or can't, or won't (and many of these poets are, biographically, living where their poems say they are), we see women in the midst of their own self-made narratives, murky but dynamic, unpredictable but full of self-understood value. They are engaged in a subversive project of renaming. The privilege I claim for them is a lack of a common plot and an ethical intervention that comes from a form of solitude that's both imagined and lived, with all its consequences. That version of solitude—written about, looked for, happened upon, or wandered into—offers lyric poetry a form with its own conventions and aesthetic history."
New Nature: Women Poets Escape Family—and Convention
"What is the difference between a mystery in which, and by means of which, one’s whole spiritual and intellectual being is elated and completed, and a mystery that merely deﬂates one’s spirit and circumvents one’s intellect? The latter, you might say, occurs in quotes. Nothing is more frustrating than listening to an inept or unprepared preacher (or poet!) defer to the 'mystery' of existence and God when more mystery is the last thing in the world his words need or can bear—nothing, that is, except perhaps plowing through some twelve-volume Teutonic tome explicating every last letter of the laws of God. I begin to think that anything that abstracts us from the physical world is “of the devil,” as we said in the baked—and sometimes half-baked—plains of West Texas where I was raised, though there we were more inclined to blame Satan for tempting us too close to the sweet stinks of the earth. What I crave—and what I have known, in fugitive instants—is mystery that utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it, some ultimate insight that is still sight. Heaven is precision." Varieties of Quiet
"What is there in our lives that disrupts time? Love is one thing and poetry is another. In 'Birthplace' I thought, 'In this poem I'm going to let time run free around my life'. It's a journey simultaneously in four directions. I mix the tenses up which does sort of reconfigure time. I think perhaps I couldn't have written quite like this when I was younger; it would have come out as obscure or as a pose, but now at fifty, at the technical midpoint of life, I can." The Slum Landlord, Time: Glyn Maxwell talks to Ellen Cranitch
"No technology of connection is working at my office or the rental house. A New Zealander would understand the cosmic message—it is summer, get off the computer, take a walk. Instead, with an acute sense of duty inspired by a large grant payment, I make an appointment, on a borrowed phone, to meet Bill Manhire, the country's first poet laureate... 'This is my job for five months,' I will tell people. 'To have coffee with poets, go to their readings and workshops, pore over their books.' My description produces envious snorts." Coffee with Poets in New Zealand
"Dickey said that he was, in Wordsworth's phrase, a poet of "the second birth," not one who, like Rimbaud or Dylan Thomas, had a natural instrument for poetry. The way a "made" poet such as Dickey catches up to a "born" poet is, "if at all, by years of the hardest kind of work, much luck, much self-doubt, many false starts, and the difficult and ultimately moral habit of trying each poem, each line, each word, against the shifting but finally constant standards of inner necessity." It could be said that Dickey brought a kind of athleticism to his work, with an athlete's dedication to a perfected performance that he recognized in the story of football player Jim Marshall: determination is more important than physical gifts. Dickey's preferred analogy for his process of composition was the mining of "low-grade ore." "I work like a gold-miner refining low-grade ore: a lot of muck and dirt with a very little gold in it. Backbreaking labor! Infinite! But when this kind of worker gets what he's after, he has the consolation of knowing that the substance he winds up with is as much real gold as it would be if he had just gone around picking up nuggets off the ground." Poets of the second birth often bloom late, and so it was with Dickey." Introduction to The Complete Poems of James Dickey
"To put the matter simply, there is no exact precedent in English verse for Frost’s dramatic narratives. Compare their style and structure to the narrative verse of Crabbe, Wordsworth, Browning, Hardy, and Robinson as well as other major narrative poets of Frost’s formative years—Longfellow, Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, and Bret Harte—and his originality is immediately apparent."
Robert Frost and the Modern Narrative
"Arnold famously argued for poems that provide both "truth" and "beauty." He also asserted that excellent verse possesses "liquid diction" and "fluid movement." Today, many of us would be quick to offer counterarguments to Arnold's pronouncements. Living in a more skeptical age, we might question his use of "truth." Aren't most readers of modern poetry accustomed to believing that there is no one truth; that each person holds to ever-changing beliefs and assumptions, often provisionally; and that the notion of an absolute truth is untenable in an age of science and materialism? After reading Arnold's examples from Homer, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton, mightn't we note that his own perception of "beauty" is too narrowly drawn? For instance, why does he explicitly deny Dryden, Pope, Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth the same status as those on his A-list? By what measure of his twin standards—truth and beauty—do they fail?" Canonicity and the New
"It was perhaps this sense of incompletion, this invocation of the artistic idea conceived, toyed with, and reluctantly abandoned, that drew Donald Justice to that western journey. [Henry] James's impressions survive only in stray letters and a few pages in a notebook, but from their incomplete matter and their troubled grandeur Justice wrote a sonnet as sad and knowing as any in American literature."
Henry James by the Pacific
"In Seamus Heaney's 1991 book Seeing Things, a book more about seeing than about things, one poem "Field of Vision," reminds me that, as Wallace Stevens reportedly said, all poetry is about writing poetry. I like to pretend it is otherwise. At any rate, Heaney's poem begins as a memory, an image, not an action; nothing has happened or, in the poem's moment, happens. We see enacted perception, but somehow we feel narrative structure and force." Why Do You Do Me The Way You Do: Beginnings and Endings in Lyric Poems
"Asked to compile a list of proscriptions, à la Pound, I was a little worried. My first impulse was to try to be funny. Then I started a project that involved reading thousands of pages of new, unpublished poetry. That put me in a more thoughtful and serious mood. It was as if all the young poets had been told beforehand what six or seven qualities would be rewarded and had gone charging after those alone. It comes down to a straining for effect. This is nothing new. But that's part of the point." Make Make It New New
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"In his essay 'Tales Within Tales Within Tales' (1981), novelist John Barth writes that 'we tell stories and listen to them because we live stories and live in them,' and that 'to cease to narrate, as the capital example of Scheherazade reminds us, is to die.' Luckily most of us don't have to spin tales with the life-or-death urgency of Scheherazade, but it is true that some people are better at telling stories than the rest of us. Why do we heed certain voices, hanging on every breath, while the logorrhea of others makes us want to put the phone down on the desk and do our taxes, or suddenly remember a pressing reason—a shrink appointment, an elapsed parking meter—to absent the premises?" Maurice Manning's "Provincial Thought"
"Writers have withered into worldliness and excess; writers have withered into shyness and restraint. Why do the latter virtues so often receive bad press, even from artists who embrace them? In my own experience, plainness can be difficult to separate from dullness, restraint from lack of vision or adequate technique; a young writer may embrace the glamour of excess in order to avoid parsing these discriminations. What's more, the association of artistic achievement with heroic willfulness is endemic, and it is clung to in twenty-first-century America with a fierceness empowered by its fragility: American artists are called great when they are at the frontier, taking the risk, disdaining the status quo, but also landing the movie deal. What happens to the poet who is destined to wither into restraint, the poet whose deepest inclination is to associate risk with submission?" The Various Light
"Poets old and young are often asked in interviews when and how they decided to become poets. The assumption is that there was a moment when the poet came to realize there can be no other destiny for him or her but to be a poet. This was followed by an announcement to his or her family; their mother exclaimed, "Oh God, what did we do wrong to deserve this?" while their father ripped out his belt and chased them around the room threatening to kill them. Telling the interviewers that there was no such decision in my case inevitably disappoints them. They want to hear something heroic and inspiring, and I tell them that I was just another high school kid who wrote poems in order to impress a couple of girls, with no other ambition beyond that." Preface to Selected Early Poems
"I am aware of the knife-edge we walk as artists when we realize that the compulsion to write the hard emotions refuses to be ignored. I am not alone in telling my students that when emotions are hard and overwhelming, the way to come at them is from the side, the 'slant' that Emily Dickinson advocates, and to look 'small'—to focus in on the object, the detail that might have just the metaphoric resonance you need. But I have also been accused of coldness for trying to exercise such restraint, and I suppose that will always be the risk, one I am obviously willing to take time and again." An Interview with Claudia Emerson by Susannah Mintz
"... it is the plight of the great Ulysses, the mighty and valiant hero, now naked, hungry, lost, and for all he knows forsaken by the gods, having to approach and beg succor from a gaggle of girls disporting themselves on the beach—that we should see him in such a situation, that he has come to this point from glory days on the plains of Troy!—this embarrassment itself makes him seem more real to us quite apart from the chivalrous step he takes to lessen it. The encounter, moreover, has a certain comic charm about it, since if Odysseus is in an awkward situation he is in no immediate danger. Indeed, the spark of that charm is so bright that it was able to be communicated across the centuries to reappear in Joyce's witty designation of Ulysses as 'the first gentleman in Europe.' That spark is the subject of this essay, which will consider how the presentation of the hero of the Odyssey as vulnerable wins our sympathy for him and adds to our sense of his human reality." Bare, Unaccommodated Odysseus
"Well, you know, if you bring up a poet like Keats, I mean how can you not love some of those odes? They’re so beautiful, they're so breathtaking, they’re so heart-wrenching, but when it comes right down to the truth of it, I prefer Coleridge's conversational poems. I would rather read Coleridge's 'The Nightingale,' frankly, than Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale.' I'm sure people would say I'm foolish." An Interview with Peter Everwine by Chard deNiord
"When I happened to read Rachel Wetzsteon's Sakura Park in 2008 I was impressed by the candor and courage of its obsessive meditations on loneliness, and by its pursuit of wittiness wanted not only for wit's self-armoring power but for wit's more interesting power to reveal the self in need of armor. I wrote to Wetzsteon in June 2008, praising eight of the Sakura Park poems in particular. In her gracious reply she said "on the one hand I feel it's my best book by far so far" (it was her third) but that she was now absorbed in a newer manuscript. That manuscript would become her posthumous collection Silver Roses, published at the end of 2010—a year after Wetzsteon took her own life on Christmas Day, 2009, at the age of forty-two. A poet's suicide always throws a new light on the poetry—a light sometimes lurid, sometimes in an awful way glamorous. For that reason I'm glad to know that I saw the merit of Sakura Park before its author's death." Art Against Loneliness
"... I do think there's a certain moral obligation towards clarity, because it's an act of communication, isn't it? He said naively. It's two monkeys, and one monkey is trying to say something that's really difficult, and slightly beyond what the language is capable of holding, and is trying to do so by the projection of the principle of equivalence into the syntagm and all that. For that reason alone, I think you're obliged to be as clear as possible. You have a greater obligation to clarity the more complex the idea you're trying to communicate." Interview with Ahren Warner
"I remember sitting in my Greystone apartment in Colorado Springs, gazing out over Monument Park, Pikes Peak looming there, as I turned from Ai on the cover of the American Poetry Review back to the poems printed in those pages, poems that would appear in her first book, Cruelty. Ai’s poetry found me when I was repeatedly reading Ted Hughes’s Crow, momentarily taken by the poetic strangeness of this mythic bird; but her raw imagery and the stripped-down music of her voice seemed even stranger, more foreboding. Ai’s poems are grounded in this world—naturally telluric—even when her characters are almost totemic. And back then her poems seemed like scenes from nightmarish movies imprinted on the eyeballs, yet the images were revealed so matter-of-factly, so damn casually. Upon reading a poem or two, I’d flip back to the APR cover and take another look at Ai. From the outset, she knew how to infect her reader through insinuation." The Method of Ai
"When you read poems of some length—a double sonnet, or a book-length verse diary—you might well envision each poem as a self-contained entity: a 'little world made cunningly,' in John Donne's phrase, or a 'machine made of words,' as William Carlos Williams wrote, propelled by the interactions among its own parts. When you read a very short poem—two lines, or twenty syllables—you might still ask about its moving parts, but you might also acknowledge that the parts do not move on their own: such a small object clearly depends, for much of its meaning, emotion, and force, on the expectations that we bring. Very short poems, in other words, can go a very long way to ask, and to answer, questions about what we expect out of poems in general, about what poetry—or a particular kind of poetry—is."
Games about Frames
"I began with one short, circumscribed, parenthetical, untitled poem, in a language I didn't know, a spark of encounter and revelation, purposely fragmentary, and from these four lines, Paul Celan's poetry has grown outward for me and become immense. The poem first appeared in 1967 in his book, Atemwende—"breathturn," or "change of breath"—a word Celan coined for the turning or breaking point, the crisis in writing and life, that these poems recorded. Four lines, two breaths: a poem that itself enacts a turning." 'The one pierced through': Four lines by Paul Celan
"When Szymborska realized she had been practicing what she elsewhere called 'magical thinking' and was implicated in the deaths of her fellow Poles, she abandoned communism to question the ways stories are made. Szymborska's latest book in English, Here, which combines her Polish book Here (2009) with other poems, contains many revisions of earlier works. The volume can be read as a deepening investigation into the ways in which narrative shapes experience."
Here and There: Wislawa Szymborska and the Grand Narrative
How did I become a very old poet, and a polemicist at that? In the Writers Chronicle of December 2010 I described myself as largely self-educated. In an era before creative writing classes became a staple of the college curriculum, I was "piecemeal poetry literate"—in love with Gerard Manley Hopkins and A. E. Housman, an omnivorous reader across the centuries of John Donne and George Herbert, Randall Jarrell and T. S. Eliot. I wrote at least a hundred lugubrious romantic poems. One, I remember, began
When lonely on an August night I lie
Wide-eyed beneath the mysteries of space
And watch unnumbered pricks of dew-starred sky
Drop past the earth with quiet grace ...
Deep down I longed to be one of the tribe but I had no sense of how to go about gaining entry. Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness
"I feel like Keats's watcher of the skies: a new planet has swum into my ken. I had heard of the expanse known as Timothy Donnelly previously, but I never really 'breath'd its pure serene' until I sat down with The Cloud Corporation. I inhaled, that is, I read. Then the feeling overtook me that all lovers of any art form will recognize: a combination of gratitude, wonder, appreciation, questioning, and a desire to go more deeply, to repeat and augment an initial experience. Wallace Stevens (about whom more later) said that 'the poem must resist the intelligence, almost successfully,' and everyone knows that the most important word in the aphorism is almost." Poetry in Review
"I concluded my most recent Books in Brief review with the phrase 'no more mosts,' suggesting frustration at the likelihood that any volume and by implication any editors could ascertain the best poetry that had appeared during the previous year. To my delight, this year’s BAP editor, Mark Doty, makes no such claim. For him, 'Best is problematic, if unavoidable; poetry is not an Olympic competition.' He chooses instead to identify 'the ones that engaged me most during a year of reading a great many poems.' I like that word: engage. Doty states clearly: 'I read (and read and read) through the filters of my own taste. . . . Anthology-making is, at least on one level, a form of self-portraiture.'" A Whirling Outside My Window
"Derek Mahon’s Selected Prose, which has superseded his previous volume of such writing, Journalism (Gallery Press 1996), is as close to an undisclosed autobiography as the reader is likely to get. In fact Mahon says as much in an author’s note: 'The present selection is not about writing only; photography, art and travel are here too. It could even be read as random fragments of autobiography. As it took shape I realized it was starting to look like a book of memoirs.' The new volume ... is Mahon unplugged, meditating on all things that have mattered to him over the stretch of his writing life to date." Literature Is Always Now
"Absence.... I look at my hand, this hand that's writing with a Bic pen in an everyday dime-store notebook, and was scraped along its outer edge when it tried to brace against a fall the other day (it looks like gray-tinged bacon), and was tended to by my wife, with soap and water, antiseptic cream, a Band-Aid, and a touch of spousal sympathy from her hand, just as light as a moth-wing's brush. However, I've read enough in lay texts on twentieth-century physics to know between the atoms, and in the atoms, this hand is mainly empty air: a tiny spritz of elements held in an overwhelming void. The same for a two-by-four, of course, a pitted meteorite, an I-beam, a tusk. But human flesh ... ? Yes, human flesh: a whiffle of 'me' in a framework filled by absolute dead-on zero." Annals of Absence
"I'm ready to accuse a great deal of contemporary political poetry—poetry of outrage, of cool ironic distance, of moral furor—of simplification that at least borders on sentimentality. And, more than this, I'm interested in the idea that many great political poems might not be those we recognize immediately as political—that is, they are poems born of complex situations in which no thinking person could help but feel strongly in multiple, conflicting ways. Ambivalence, not certainty, might be the natural position of the complex thinker at work on a difficult moral (political) subject. Perhaps that complex thinker, who I imagine lives in every great political poem, arrives at a strong conclusion. Perhaps he doesn't. Perhaps his conclusion is continued ambivalence. One version is neither more nor less 'political' than the other—though both certainly avoid sentimentality (or its cousin, dogmatism)." Uneasy Meditation
"'The Road Not Taken' is typical of Frost's skill with perspective and with mirrors: behind the neat, unfussy frontage is an experience of great depth and subtlety, and no small amount of wit. For the poem to appear wise to some and ironic to others is a credit to the sophisticated way in which Frost had become the poet 'for all sorts and kinds': no wonder it stands as such a beguiling poem in the minds of readers; no wonder it has been taken so much to heart. But the poem carried a more personal message besides, 'about a friend who had gone off to war', as he later recalled it, 'a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other'. That person was Edward Thomas." Summer 1915 from Now All Roads Lead to France: A Life of Edward Thomas.
"Visits to Washington have punctuated my life. I watched a victory parade in 1945. In my old age, the WaPo suggested I might be a yeti. My last trip was the most memorable, early in March 2011, when I received the National Medal of Arts. My companion Linda and I came down a few days early to look at paintings and sculpture—mostly the National Gallery, the Hirshhorn, and the Phillips. I can't stand long, so Linda has pushed me in a wheelchair through ten-thousand museums. On the day of the medal, she wheeled me from the Willard InterContinental Hotel to the White House. Waiting at the entrance to go through security, I looked up to see Philip Roth, whom I recognized from long ago. I admired all his novels. He saw me in the wheelchair—my enormous beard and erupting hair, my body wracked with antiquity—and said, 'I haven't seen you for fifty years!' How did he know me? We had met in George Plimpton's living room in the 1950s. I praised what he wrote about George in a late novel. He seemed pleased, and glanced down at me in the chair. 'How are you doing?' I told him fine, 'I'm still working.'
"He said, 'What else is there?'" A Yeti in the District
"May 2011: I had not forgotten that these pages existed, but I’d not read them since I wrote them in 1969 recording a visit of Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to give a poetry reading. I had been in correspondence with Allen for a few years. It started simply with a fan letter which he responded graciously to. The accessibility of a famous poet and cultural figure to a kid trying to write poetry at Arkansas State College in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was exhilarating. I had been reading him since I was in the tenth grade. It was the early sixties, and I, too, wanted to Howl." With Allen in Arkansas: An Ozark Diary
"Steiner, in spite of his reputation as a 'mandarin,' comes across in his writing as a brilliant student—the kind who raises a hand and asks the question no one else has thought of, much less can answer. A Steiner Question is not a question with a specific answer. He simply wonders aloud and starts speculating. The speculations are insights. The question itself is an insight. How could the country that produced Handel and Goethe go on to produce Hitler and Goring? Whatever happened to capital-T Tragedy? Or, as in this book: how are thought and style related?"
George Steiner, Last of the Europeans
"One way to think of Modernism in poetry is of fragments anxious about their origins. 'These fragments I have shored against my ruins,' wrote T. S. Eliot in (and of) The Waste Land in 1922. 'I cannot make it cohere,' wrote Ezra Pound some fifty years later, at the end of his epic avalanche of allusions and music and madness, The Cantos. Poetry has changed a lot in the last hundred years, but it still lives with and within this tension. The best of it draws equal strength from both poles: the power of the fragment depends upon the pull of its original context; but also, the credibility of the unity that any part implies depends upon the integrity and lonely singularity of that part. There is some combination of mastery and mystery: language has been honed to unprecedented degrees of precision, but it exists within—and in some way acknowledges—some primal and nearly annihilating silence. 'The beast that lives on silence,' as W.S. Graham put it, 'takes / Its bite out of either side':
I’ll give the beast a quick skelp
And through Art you’ll hear it yelp.
"We should be happy for the great things that proverbially come in small packages. In literature, we secretly think that size matters although we sometimes pretend that it does not. Just as tragedy seems deeper, or more important than comedy (it is 'serious,' after all), so a Big Bow-Wow elicits more attention than a polite utterance made with quiet modesty. This is, needless to say, a Western, especially an American, obsession. The late Grace Paley finally got tired of answering readers’ questions about when she would write her big novel. She wasn’t going to; she preferred stories. Does this signal a lack of ambition or simple self-knowledge, an understanding of what one wants to do and what one does best?" Kay Ryan's Delicate Strength
"Duncan thought of his life as an allegory in which everyday events held cosmic and mythic potential. In the theosophical household where he was raised, quotidian reality was regarded as a spiritual revelation. One's reading of Shakespeare or the circumstances of one's birth or world-historical events such as wars or natural disasters were clues to cosmic mysteries, and reading became an act of spiritual hermeneutics. For Duncan's adoptive parents—as for his poetics—the work of poetry was 'to arouse in a contemporary consciousness reverberations of old myth, to prepare the ground so that when we return to read we will see our modern texts charged with a plot that had already begun before the first signs and signatures ... were worked upon the walls of Altamira or Pech-Merle.'"
Foreword to Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus
"Or closure, as it's called among poets, but not a 'we need closure on this' sort of thing, certainly not that cheap and cheesy 'because we have to get on with our lives,' though at the end of all poems is the return to the day as it was, its noon light or later, supper and whatever madness long over, reading in bed those few minutes, next to the little table lamp. But to come out of the poem's tunnel of words—the best way is to be blinking slightly, released from some dark, eyes adjusting, what was ordinary seen differently now. Or not." The End Inside It
"Oswald acknowledges the Iliad as debt and detour. ‘This is a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story.’ She speaks of stripping away narrative, and this purposeful reductiveness clarifies our view. Through it we can look freshly, to paraphrase her, at what Homer was looking at. And what we see there is remarkable.
"What we see above all is that the atmosphere of epic has no expiry date. The soldiers here are not ciphers any more than they are merely symbols in the Iliad. In fact, the opposite is true. They are the brothers, husbands, sons of every war. And as we put down Memorial we wonder whether we first met them in Homer’s epic or saw them on last night’s news bulletin."Afterword to Alice Oswald's Memorial
"One summer half a century ago, Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell spent an afternoon on a bench in Kensington Gardens, talking about contemporary poets. 'Cal was for Plath that day, and Gunn—and Larkin,' Jarrell's wife later wrote. 'Randall was for Larkin, Larkin, and Larkin.' Philip Larkin has often had that effect on readers—of immediate sympathy and half-crazed delight. I admit to my own mixed feelings—when I read him I want to run out and press his poems upon strangers, and I want to keep them entirely to myself." Going, Going
"There are as many reasons for breaking poems into sections as into lines or stanzas. For me, one is the charm of juxtaposition, of creating an aesthetic relation between sections. Another is that I feel compelled by all that is open, incomplete, fragmentary. Often I like to think of creating a sequence of sections that do not relate directly to each other but that collectively relate to a tangential subject. That way I get two aesthetic satisfactions: unity and disjunction. The Duino Elegies and Four Quartets perform these kinds of magic for me." Pure narrative is like crabgras
"This is a book about ambition. The ambition that I know best is writerly ambition, and its peculiarities. The writer knows that he or she writes for the man waking up in the car who can't remember who he is, as well as for the child whose inner life is being invaded. The writer writes, too, for 'the darling' who needs to discover her own inner resources. The writer writes against panic. And this is a book about reclaiming the writer's ambition, that idiosyncratic drive." Ambition
"The train ride from Angers to Aix-les-Bains took some seven hours, including the change in Lyon, but I had selected a book to read, during the trip, that vanquished the tedium: the 729 pages of The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry. Suitable to the long journey was indeed the variety of the anthology (eighty-four poets, ranging from the nineteenth-century Cuban, José Martí, to a Peruvian and two Mexicans all born in 1962); and as we sped along, it was amusing to imagine Latin American landscapes that I had never seen except through the words I was reading and contrast them to the French fields, rivers, and hills that I was glimpsing, through the window, whenever I looked up from the page. It was a little like reading Catullus and listening to Louis Armstrong, as described by the Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas (b. 1917), who floats away 'on the torrent, on the waves / that come out of this chair, this wooden table, this material / that is me and my body in the moment of this chance ...'" The Landscapes of Latin American Poetry
"My first engagement with Ruth Bidgood's poetry took place when New Welsh Review's then-editor, Francesca Rhydderch, asked me to review Bidgood's 2004 volume New & Selected Poems for the magazine. Looking back now at the notes I made on the volume is interesting. Little more than twenty pages into the poetry itself, I find my scribbled assessment that 'these are, absolutely, well-balanced poems, gently languaged into being without fuss or pyrotechnics'. A few pages later, at the end of the early piece 'Burial Path', I discover a startled exclamation about the 'almost mythic descent into darkness' that this particular poem seems to detail." Ruth Bidgood: An Appreciation
"Nobody wants his grave spray-painted and then vomited on, but these things happen to Jim Morrison's grave in Paris, and those who do it maintain they are not being disrespectful, or dishonoring his memory; they are being sincere in their homage and tribute. It would make an interesting trial, ethically speaking."
"It’s not just about being Ireland’s ‘most European’ or ‘most French’ or ‘most cosmopolitan’ poet.... It’s more about the way in which Mahon negotiates cultural saturation, how he plays his game of constantly sorting the gold from the detritus, weighing them up, and finishes up by keeping both. This is why there are so many landmarks in his poems, what Baudelaire called ‘Phares’ or ‘Lighthouses’, by which the artist navigates, but against which he also risks shipwreck: other writers, painters, poets, the ancients and the moderns, and all their accumulation of great works and monuments. But there’s also a lot of, well… rubbish: trash, junk, scraps, cast-offs, lost things: a clutter in search of a contex; and his poems give voice to that too. Mahon knows that a culture’s dustbin is the double of its library: its disused shed the forgotten twin of its museum." A Fin de Siècle Mahon
"Though I came to like the app better as I settled into it, I was never wholly at home. I couldn’t figure out a way, exactly, to review it as an object or text except to have recourse to a description of my own ambivalence exploring it. Its notes are excellent, its productions learned, its films finely produced, but I still felt thornily lost in the thicket of my own encounter. Was this reading or wasn’t it? Is this production and distribution of simultanaeity a significant form of newness? Is this the future of reading or merely one possible future? Is this a mirror of our own distractedness or a tool that can make our reading more accessible?" The Waste Land App
Maureen N. McLane:
"Was Troilus nought in a kankedort? Was he not at a difficult, critical moment, that abyssal moment before erotic disclosure? Was he not worrying about the right words to say, the right words to elicit the right response, the lover's answering love, the body perhaps then pledged, then possessed? It's only humans as far as we know who can use words to get bodies together. The word as the body evanesced in a breath, a breath bearing intelligible sound." My Chaucer / Kankedort
A. E. Stallings
"... I think there are rare moments for most writers when the poem somehow comes out even better than you had hoped and when you do have this surge of energy and think—'I am a genius!' But then there is the other 98% of the time, when you are disgruntled with everything you've ever written, or despair of writing a poem again, and think, 'I'm an imposter!' Maybe you think both these things in the same day." An Interview with A. E. Stallings by Beth Gylys
"Surprisingly, now is a good time to be a young British poet: a time of possibility and enterprise, expectation and friendly competition. Listen to the headlines, of course, and you'd think there could hardly be a worse time." Worth Their Salt: Younger British Poets
"Not all of our memories give us the feeling that they have to do with our past. Some seem to come up from a chasm that is deeper and vaster than our past; they seem to come from before we were born. But this isn't so strange. These memories that seem so difficult to locate come from that period of our early childhood when ideas and concepts haven't as yet achieved the scope and coherence they one day will have, when they will give us at once a world and an idea of ourselves. During the period I'm thinking of, we are as yet outside of what one day we will be able to recognize and identify as our individual lives. We perceive things, people, events; we are struck by them, but without being able to analyze them with the tools of the adult; they are simply there before us, silent, without a before or after and without any relation to the reality around us: they are pure presences, though each is closed upon itself and full of enigma. And this is why today if we remember them, it is as though they are both outside the past and a part of our beginnings." My Memories of Armenia
"A god is simultaneous. There is no essence in the god that holds itself apart from his other qualities, a manifold condition mortal language cannot record, save by the awkwardness of the hyphen (prophet-poet-hunter) set in perpetual loop. But even that naming contains an order the god's own nature denies as accurate. Why can Apollo brag to Cupid about his hunting prowess?
... I can strike wild beasts—I never miss.
I can fell enemies; just recently
I even hit—my shafts were infinite—
that swollen serpent, Python, sprawled across
whole acres with his pestilential paunch.
His arrow never misses because the arrows themselves are prophetic: they've struck dead their prey before they've ever been launched. They are a form of the god's own desire—a desire different from human desire. Human desire, as Socrates points out, arises in us from a sense of what we lack. We want only what we do not possess. But what does a god lack?" The Laurel Crown
"Starting from the everyday experience of being in a car heading into the city on a clogged highway, the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, Tomas Tranströmer, wrote:
I know that I have to go far away,
straight through the city, out
the other side, then step out
and walk a long time in the woods.
Walk in the tracks of the badger.
("Further In," from Stigar , tr. Robert Bly)
More than an invitation to wildness, or a marker of the contrast between the civilized and the natural worlds, this, the first badger to appear in Tranströmer's poetry, was a manifest nod to Robert Bly and his role as guide." Tranströmer and the Badger.
"We never see it this way, but the MFA aesthetic—that workshop consensus, that unexamined battery of nuances—is treated not as a premise or proposition to be questioned, not even as an 'authority' to be questioned at the bumper-sticker level, but as dogma, an article of faith. To be believed, not inquired into. That’s why the MFA workshop isms are referred to as 'verities and pieties.' And that’s why my favorite students have been those who took the bit in their teeth and ran when they perceived that they were being herded into some meaning corral that would trivialize or undo their work and weaken their powers." An Interview with Linda McCarriston by Kathleen Tarr.
"I just feel lucky. I don't feel like I own [a poem]. I made it, but that's different. It's more about the pleasure that's just there when it's done, whether anyone sees it or not. I see it myself, quietly. I'm not showing anyone." An Interview with Jack Gilbert by Chard deNiord.
"Shockley isn't simply a formalist, nor does she always seem radically innovative: the new black includes love poems and poems in narrative and epistolary modes that provide accessible moments of relief against the more demanding work. And no matter how experimental, the book as a whole allows, in Greenberg's words, 'subject matter to remain at the core.'" Innovation in Form, Form as Innovation
"When critics play parlor games, they imagine how they would have reviewed the controversial books of the past. Critics are later judged, not by the book they failed to pan, but by the book they failed to praise. Most are certain that, given the chance, they would have recognized the genius of Lyrical Ballads, or Leaves of Grass, or The Waste Land. We pour bile on the heads of the dolts of 1798 and 1855 and 1922 who didn’t realize what was on the desk before them." The Unbearable Rightness of Criticism
"English is not my first language, though it is the language in which I write. I feel the real medium for me is silence, so I could be writing in any language. To inflect the inner silence, to give it body, that's all we're doing. You use the voice to make the silence present. The real subject in poetry isn't the voice. The real subject is silence. It's like in architecture, where the medium is not really stone or metal, but space. We use materials—brick, glass, whatever—to inflect the immaterial, space." The Subject Is Silence
"In an essay on Wallace Stevens, the poet and novelist and winner of this year’s TS Eliot award John Burnside wrote that 'poetry is, quite literally, the song of the earth ... is how we imagine the world and, as such, is not merely a political but an ecological and ontological activity ... What makes Stevens’s poetry distinctive in this respect, however, is that his vision is always of a world in its most diverse, complex and subtle state: nobody knows better than Stevens that there is as much darkness in the song of the earth as there is light, as much grief as there is joy.'
That evaluation of Steven’s sensibilities as a poet could, in equal measure, apply to Burnside himself...." Between Worlds
"There was never any 'Martian school'. That was a kind of fiction, an invention of James Fenton's, who wrote a review of my first book and Craig Raine's second. Craig was very helpful to me in my growth as a poet and, in the early days, he and I used to swap poems and pronounce on them." An Interview with Christopher Reid by Kathryn Maris
"The questions of compassion and suffering, beyond their clichéd, hackneyed consumption, seem endless. I rarely, in my practice in the U.S., seek medical narratives as source for my poems. But the overarching reality of suffering and living is a different matter. I am not sure what my poetry gives to my medicine or takes away from it. We live in an intensely administered world and we are automatons half the time, it seems. Obviously I am somewhat uncomfortable talking about it." A Conversation with Fady Joudah by David Baker
"What I would like to look at is the idea that research into the world of hard facts and bodies of knowledge—especially those conventionally thought of as outside the domain of poetry—can enhance, enrich, and open out the poetry we write. I think it's more or less understood that, in a wider sense, a poet's research includes every perception and experience in this life, starting with the first slip of consciousness.... What I'm talking about is a more focused kind of investigative fact-gathering used to broaden the poet's vision and language, to expand the container called 'poetry.'"
"Myself, I think poems ought to be action-packed, like old-time Westerns. Let the bad guys shoot it out with the Earp brothers. Let the cavalry thunder over the ridge! And if the good guys get killed or the troopers arrive too late, so much the better; that's called tragedy, which is what paid the bills at Shakespeare's house." An Interview with David Kirby by Tom C. Hunley
"I count myself a yearner after significance, as Robert Penn Warren called himself. I've experienced that personal yearning for meaning—call it the divine, if you like—and I take that yearning to be evidence of the possibility of the existence of its object. Why should I yearn for something that isn't there?... Organized religion is another matter." An Interview with David Bottoms by Gregory Fraser
"In the closing lines of his great poem 'Art and Life,' exploring Vermeer's painting of a milkmaid, Robert Hass zeroes in on our absorption in that 'small stream of milk,' and on the power of painted images: 'Something stays this way, something comes alive / We cannot have, can have because we cannot have it.' The power of a painted paradise depends, paradoxically, on our awareness of its terrible limits. There's something a little tortured in Hass's formulation of the paradox, and that's as it should be. Throughout the body of his work, now available to us in The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems, Hass is torn between an overwhelming desire to turn to images and a simultaneous need to turn away." Moving Images
"Why African-American innovative poetics? Mainstream African-American poets—for the purposes of this essay, let’s reductively say that “mainstream” contemporary poetry is that which adheres to a linear narrative and stable speaker, and that “innovative” poetry is that which pushes an anti-linear, anti-narrative, hybridized aesthetic—are also important. But for African-American poets, this issue of how to write about something—that sticky notion of subject matter—seems particularly fraught, because of course the subject of race itself is particularly fraught." Revelatory and Complex: Innovative African-American Poetries
"The Anglo-Saxon riddles had no solutions, as though resolution was not their aim. They ask readers to believe many interpretations at once. What's black and white and red all over? A sunburnt penguin. A sunburnt nun. A newspaper. Riddles work because language keeps moving, won't sit still. Anglo-Saxon poetry, even at its most devotional, engages language's propensity to travel." Beyond the Word Exchange: Translation and the Travel of Language
"The Vita nova of Dante (c. 1292-95) ... has been called a mystical itineranium mentis in Deum (mind's journey to God); a hagiography of "St. Beatrice"; a biblical Acts of Beatrice's Disciple; a Bible of Love; an autobiography in an Augustinian vein; the first book in vernacular Italian; the preface to the Divine Comedy; a treatise on poetry by a poet and for poets; a handbook of the art of poetry; an affirmation of a new poetics; an allegorical tractate against the corrupt Church and in favor of monarchy; an allegory of the enlightenment of the Aristotelian-Scholastic passive intellect by the active intellect; a "Joachist document, designed to mark the long-precluded withdrawal of the Holy Eucharist from a world not worthy of this great miracle"; a sentimental novella; and more besides. There is good reason for having many perspectives on Dante's youthful book. It is a complex work, full of inconsistencies and obscurities. In addition, close readers of the Divine Comedy know that it is never a good idea to underestimate Dante's subtlety and genius for packing a lot into a little space. In anything that Dante writes we expect there to be more than meets the eye, and there almost always is. " Dante's Vita nova: An Introductory Note, a Preface, and an Excerpt
"Great poetry and trite poetry exert a similar effect: both kinds impel me to write. Not the writing of poetry, but—however inadequately—of criticism: in a spirit of celebration or repudiation, as the case merits. Unless we audit what we read, and champion what we truly admire, some of the finest voices of our time and of times past will be silenced by neglect, elbowed out of the way by the charmingly aggressive networkers and shouted down by the loudmouthed attention-seekers." 4x4: Questions and Responses
"Brewing a perfect pot of tea was our secret pleasure, our first sip was conspiratorial, the second and third a signal to begin a conversation. In between tea times, we found ways to remember them to stay connected. On one of her travels, Denise bought me a tiny book with illustrations and instructions for each step. I would search Seattle's bakeries and import shops for the most buttery shortbread to bring when we next visited. Her English upbringing meant she could out drink me, insisting that I drink one more cup, eat one more cookie. I'd always accept even though I was buzzing from caffeine and with trying to keep up my half of the conversation." The Almost Wilderness: Remembering Denise Levertov [Start 2012]