On Longer Poetry and Other Writing

  • “Free verse is not, of course, free.” —Mary Oliver (in A Poetry Handbook)
  • “I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.” —A. E. Housman
  • “Whenever you can shorten a sentence, do. And one always can. The best sentence? The shortest.” —Gustave Flaubert
  • “To have written one good poem . . . is an unlikely and marvelous thing. . . . It’s like sitting out in the yard in the evening and having a meteorite fall in one’s lap.” —Randall Jarrell
  • “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
    —Emily Dickinson
     
  • “An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.”
    —Charles Bukowski
     
  • “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” —Voltaire
  • “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.” —Robert Frost
  • “I have no fancy ideas about poetry. It doesn’t come to you on the wings of a dove. It’s something you work hard at.” —Louise Bogan
  • “But there is another way of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.” —Annie Dillard
  • “Poetry is more than the shape of its verse, it’s more than its line-turnings, and its pirouettings. It’s a combination of some form of truth, wisdom, and a new way of seeing it, of saying it—as a refreshment of what you know.” —Seamus Heaney
  • “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between ‘lightning’ and ‘lightning bug.’” —Mark Twain
  • “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all details and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” —William Strunk [this is why I recommend that haiku should not be as short as possible but as short as necessary]
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
    —Leonard Cohen
  • “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” —Kahlil Gibran
  • “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth / There is no happiness like mine. / I have been eating poetry.” —Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry,” Reasons for Moving, 1968
  • “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” —Paul Valéry
  • “Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.”
    —Carl Sandburg, Poetry Considered
  • “Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.” —Carl Sandburg, Poetry Considered
  • “Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.”
    —Carl Sandburg, Poetry Considered
  • “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” —Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, 1821
  • “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” —Plato, Ion
  • “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” —William Butler Yeats
  • “Poetry . . . should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” —John Keats
  • “A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” —Oscar Wilde
  • “To see the Summer Sky / Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie— / True Poems flee.”
    —Emily Dickinson
  • “A poem begins with a lump in the throat.” —Robert Frost
  • “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” —Percy Byshe Shelley
  • “Poetry is man’s rebellion against being what he is.” —James Branch Cabell
  • “‘Therefore’ is a word the poet must not know.” —André Gide
  • “The poem is the point at which our strength gave out.” —Richard Rosen
  • “It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.” —Stephen Mallarme
  • “The true poet is all the time a visionary and whether with friends or not, as much alone as a man on his death bed.” —William Butler Yeats
  • “since feeling is first” —E. E. Cummings
  • “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” —Novalis
  • “There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.” —John Cage
  • “Who can tell the dancer from the dance?” —William Butler Yeats
  • “Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement.” —Christopher Fry
  • “The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” —Jean Cocteau
  • “Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as geometry.” —Gustave Flaubert
  • “Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket.” —Charles Simic
  • “To have great poets there must be great audiences too.” —Walt Whitman
  • “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.” —A. E. Housman
  • “Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.” —Thomas Babington Macaulay
  • “Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.” —Salvatore Quasimodo
  • “Each man carries within him the soul of a poet who died young.” —Sainte-Beuve, Portraits littéraires, 1862
  • “You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.” —Joseph Joubert
  • “God is the perfect poet.” —Robert Browning
  • “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” —Carl Sandburg
  • “The worst fate of a poet is to be admired without being understood.” —Jean Cocteau, Le Rappel á l’ordre, 1926
  • “Poetry is life distilled.” —Gwendolyn Brooks
  • “Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.” —Thomas Gray
  • “He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.” —Oscar Wilde
  • “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
    —Robert Frost
  • “You don’t have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.”
    —John Ciardi, Simmons Review, Fall 1962
  • “A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote.” —Yevgeny Yentushenko, The Sole Survivor, 1982
  • “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” —T. S. Eliot, Dante, 1920
  • “Poetry is the art of substantiating shadows.” —Edmund Burke
  • “Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.” —Robert Frost
  • “Poetry, like the moon, does not advertise anything.” —William Blissett
  • “Happiness is sharing a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry with a shade tree. He doesn’t eat much and doesn’t read much, but listens well and is a most gracious host.” —Astrid Alauda
  • “A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.” —Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 1957
  • “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” —Dead Poets Society
  • “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
  • “I don’t create poetry, I create myself, for me my poems are a way to me.” —Edith Södergran
  • “The word ‘Verse’ is used here as the term most convenient for expressing, and without pedantry, all that is involved in the consideration of rhythm, rhyme, meter, and versification . . . the subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertains to the mathematics.” —Edgar Allan Poe
  • “The poem . . . is a little myth of man’s capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we seeit is, rather, a light by which we may seeand what we see is life.” —Robert Penn Warren, Saturday Review, 22 March 1958
  • “A poem should not mean / But be.” —Archibald MacLeish, Ars Poetica, 1926
  • “It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.” —W. H. Auden
  • “Breathe-in experience, / breathe-out poetry.” —Muriel Rukeyser
  • “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 the Wall Street Journal, 14 November 1985
  • “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
  • “Mathematics and Poetry are . . . the utterance of the same power of imagination, only that in the one case it is addressed to the head, in the other, to the heart.” —Thomas Hill
  • “A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.”
    —Jean Cocteau
  • “A poet must leave traces of his passage, not proof.” —Rene Char
  • “[A poem] begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” —Robert Frost, “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Collected Poems of Robert Frost, 1939
  • “Poetry comes with anger, hunger and dismay; it does not often visit groups of citizens sitting down to be literary together, and would appall them if it did.” —Christopher Morley, John Mistletoe
  • “Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” —Edgar Allan Poe
  • “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” —Robert Frost
  • “Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” —Carl Sandburg
  • “Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” —Samuel Johnson
  • “The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.” —Jean Cocteau
  • “Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” —Don Marquis
  • “The poetry of the earth is never dead.” —John Keats
  • “A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer. . . . He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.” —E. B. White
  • “The poet . . . may be used as a barometer, but let us not forget that he is also part of the weather.” —Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination, 1950
  • “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” —Rita Dove
  • “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” —G. K. Chesterton
  • “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” —Salman Rushdie
  • “Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them.” —Dennis Gabor
  • “Poetry is the yearning for wholeness.” —Ilya Kaminsky