Category Archives: Quotations

Making Poetry


And also…

“I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams… Man… is above all the plaything of his memory.”

“Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all.”

Andre Breton


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Why Write Poetry?

Poetry isn’t prose
Just written down in rows

I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it. — Rebecca Lindenberg, from Why Write Poetry?

Most poetry is not that difficult, in the way that most music is not. But it does require a degree of attention, and a willingness to relate to the experience that prose does not necessarily require.

A poem should dip deeper into the unknown than prose is able. Much ‘literary’ prose is designed to manufacture an experience in a reader by simply (or not so simply) describing it. Poetry should have more magic in it.

Or are there thoughts and feelings that language cannot touch?

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Wilder Flowers

Hannan_Chaos 800

“I have faded into the habit of secretly existing under your skin. It is unbelievably dark under there; I am happy.” — Katherine Mansfield, from The Letters of Katherine Mansfield

Don’t come to me thinking
I want what’s best for you.
I have an emptiness in me,
and before it pleases,
it hunts.

Nikushoku Tori

“A kiss is the beginning of cannibalism.” — Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality

Before you touched me,
I was a cage full of
wild things.

My mother used to say,

‘be wary of wolves,
they can smell
the beds of lambs
from miles away.’

so every night
I would sleep naked
and wake up smelling of the moon,
for my mother never knew,
that it is not the wolf
who sleeps with the lamb,
it is the lamb who must first learn
how to run with the wolves.

What I’m trying to say is,
I always wondered
what hell would feel like.
I just never imagined
that I would love it
so goddamn much.

— Pavana

“I want to do things so wild with you that I don’t know how to say them.” — Anaïs Nin

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Poetry is Not a Luxury

I read a lot of poetry. I have a book of poems with me most of the time, not usually to distract me from a moment or a thought, but to give me a deeper understanding into such things that make us human. To pay attention.

The title of this post is taken from an essay by Andre Lourde:

“… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

To paraphrase Gregory Orr, how did we get so screwed up that most people see poetry as a complex, elite art that is removed from real life? Yes, it deals with life’s complexities, and it challenges us to think and feel. But in fact it’s about being human. And about paying attention to what that means.

I Want to Write Something So Simply

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

— Mary Oliver, in Evidence: Poems

It’s also about exploring what is truly important:

“… the idea of alienation. And loss. I believe that that’s the beginning of poetry. Poetry begins with alienation, and poetry speaks against our vanishing. The lyric poem in particular seems to me to have the burden and the splendor of preserving the human image in words, as the most intense form of discourse. Poetry speaks about and against loss in its root function. I see the writing of a poem as a descent. The descent is psychological. That which is darkest in human experience. It can be in yourself, it can be in others, it can be in the death of someone you love. It’s a descent into the unconscious. You try to unearth something. You try to bring something to the light.” — Edward Hirsch

Listen to Jo Shapcott talking about the relevance of poetry today:

Allow a little poetry into your life; the words, in truth, will dance for you if you let them.

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Hope for the past

Robert Frost

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.

— David Ray, from Thanks, Robert Frost.

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July 7, 2014 · 10:50 pm

Choice Relics

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips — not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.” — Henry David Thoreau

“We are cups…constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” — Ray Bradbury

“Speak less”
my mother used to say,
“words are precious,
and your life depends
on the amount we are each given;
keep them close to your heart
and write what you cannot say –
for the pieces you share with this world
are the ones that will keep you a part of it
even after you are gone.”

— Pavana पवन

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — “Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” — John Steinbeck

“Words save our lives, sometimes.” — Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

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June 27, 2014 · 12:01 am

Quiet Ceremonies

The lovers say nothing.
Love is the finest of the silences,
the one that trembles most and is hardest to bear.

— Jaime Sabines, from ‘The Lovers’

So beautiful was the sound of their voices that by degrees they scarcely listened to the words they framed. Long silences came between their words, which were no longer silences of struggle and confusion but refreshing silences, in which trivial thoughts moved easily.

— Virginia Woolf, from The Voyage Out

Those Of Us Who Think We Know

Those of us who think we know
the same secrets
are silent together most of the time,
for us there is eloquence
in desire, and for a while
when in love and exhausted
it’s enough to nod like shy horses
and come together in a quiet ceremony of tongues.

It’s in disappointment we look for words
to convince us
the spaces between the stars are nothing
to worry about,
it’s when those secrets burst
in that emptiness between our hearts
and the lumps in our throats.
And the words we find
are always insufficient, like love,
though they are often lovely
and all we have.

— Stephen Dunn

For language to have meaning there must be intervals of silence somewhere, to divide word from word and utterance from utterance. He who retires into silence does not necessarily hate language. Perhaps it is love and respect for language which imposes silence upon him.

— Thomas Merton, from Disputed Questions

Maybe the silence you move through
shaped me, the way

a church bell ringing resonates
long after the ear ceases to perceive it,

the way waves space themselves
until they stop.

Nick Flynn, from ‘Man Dancing with a Paper Cup’

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June 3, 2014 · 4:07 pm

Breaking it Gently

“Basically we are all looking for someone who knows who we are and will break it to us gently.”

— Robert Brault

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April 30, 2014 · 5:30 pm



“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” — Terry Pratchett

“I’ve learned that waiting is the most difficult bit, and I want to get used to the feeling, knowing that you’re with me, even when you’re not by my side.” ― Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

“… as long as nothing happens between them, the memory is cursed with what hasn’t happened.” ― Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair

“I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.” — Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

“The wait is long, my dream of you does not end.” ― Nuala O’Faolain, My Dream of You

“Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.” — Paulo Coelho

“It’s only terrible to have nothing to wait for.” — Erich Maria Remarque, Three Comrades

“When I am dead, even then,
I will still love you, I will wait in these poems.” — Muriel Rukeyser, ‘Then’.

“Just when normal life felt almost possible — when the world held some kind of order, meaning, even loveliness (the prismatic spray of light through an icicle; the stillness of a sunrise), some small thing would go awry and veil of optimism was torn away, the barren world revealed. They learned, somehow, to wait those times out. There was no cure, no answer, no reparation.” — David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

“Maybe it lasts a minute, and maybe it’s an hour. All I know is that kiss, and how soft her skin is when it brushes against mine, and that even if I did not know it until now, I have been waiting for this person forever.” — Jodi Picoult, Sing You Home

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April 8, 2014 · 1:46 pm