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The ABCs of Poetry — Poets and Writers on Poetry and the use of Language
compiled by Sharmagne Leland-St John
Poets are like magicians, searching for magical phrases to pull rabbits out of people's souls.
—Glade Byron Addams
Always be a poet, even in prose.
—Charles Baudelaire, "My Heart Laid Bare," Intimate Journals, 1864
Poetry is life distilled.
The poet doesn't invent. He listens.
Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
Your prayer can be poetry, and poetry can be your prayer.
Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression
of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality
and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
—T.S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent, 1919
Poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and
blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.
—Paul Engle, New York Times, 17 February 1957
Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as
Poetry is not always words.
Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.
Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them.
Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.
Poetry is to philosophy what the Sabbath is to the rest of the week.
—Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827
Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.
Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out...
Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.
It takes more time and effort and delicacy to learn the silence of a people than to learn its sounds.
Some people have a special gift for this. Perhaps this explains why some missionaries, notwithstanding
their efforts, never come to speak properly, to communicate delicately through silences. Although they
"speak with the accent of natives" they remain forever thousands of miles away. The learning of the
grammar of silence is an art much more difficult to learn than the grammar of sounds.
—Ivan Illich, Celebration of Awareness, 1969
You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you. —Joseph Joubert
Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.
A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely
formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music... and then people
crowd about the poet and say to him: "Sing for us soon again;" that is as much as to say, "May new
sufferings torment your soul."
When you write there is the sound that each word makes as it falls against another word, and there is also
the sound of silence in between the words. That is the sound you must listen for.
—Sharmagne Leland-St. John
It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.
The crown of literature is poetry. It is its end and aim. It is the sublimest activity of the human mind.
It is the achievement of beauty and delicacy. The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes.
—W. Somerset Maugham
A prose writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital
letter, and keeps on writing prose.
—Samuel McChord Crothers, "Every Man's Natural Desire to Be Somebody Else" The Dame School of Experience, 1920
I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain,
and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.
—Pablo Neruda, quoted in Wall Street Journal,, 14 November 1985
Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.
—Edgar Allan Poe
Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader
recognizes as his own.
Each man carries within him the soul of a poet who died young.
—Sainte-Beuve, Portraits Littéraires, 1862
He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in
all his life.
—George Sand, 1851
Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
—Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, 1821
A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman
—Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 1957
You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick...You're back with the mystery of having been moved
by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps... so that something that is not in the poem
can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.
—Dylan Thomas, Poetic Manifesto, 1961
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference
between the lightning bug and the lightning.
—Mark Twain, American writer and journalist
Every poet knows the pun is Pierian, that it springs from the same soil as the Muse...a matching and shifting
of vowels and consonants, an adroit assonance sometimes derided as jackassonance.
—Louis Untermeyer, American poet and anthologist, Bygones, 1965
A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
The poet is in the end probably more afraid of the dogmatist who wants to extract the message from the poem
the poem away than he is of the sentimentalist who says, "Oh, just let me enjoy the poem."
—Robert Penn Warren, "The Themes of Robert Frost," Hopwood Lecture, 1947
To have great poets there must be great audiences too
A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
When you use words, you're able to keep your mind alive. Writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.
Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.
The smell of ink is intoxicating to me - others may have wine, but I have poetry.
Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read.
—Frank Zappa, Chicago Tribune, 1978
Language is like a river, it flows, and building a dam may not work. New words are coined when there's a need.
It is the manifestation of a society in constant change. Like all things new, most will go out of fashion
few will be accepted into mainstream usage. A linguistic purist is an oxymoron, unless the language one
studies is Latin.
—China Daily, January 13, 2007