10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by

IMG_1120 (3)

“Poems give us permission to be unsure, in ways we must be if we are ever to learn anything not already known. If you look with open eyes at your actual life, it’s always going to be the kind of long division problem that doesn’t work out perfectly evenly. Poems let you accept the multiplicity and complexity of the actual, they let us navigate the unnavigable, insoluble parts of our individual fates and shared existence.”

“Art-making is learned by immersion. You take in vocabularies of thought and feeling, grammar, diction, gesture, from the poems of others, and emerge with the power to turn language into a lathe for re-shaping, re-knowing your own tongue, heart, and life.”

“When I write, I don’t know what is going to emerge. I begin in a condition of complete unknowing, an utter nakedness of concept or goal. A word appears, another word appears, an image. It is a moving into mystery.”

“I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being.”

“Creativity itself is a joyous unlatching. The act of creative imagining, inventing, saying differently, crafting a metaphor or image, then crafting another metaphor or image when you go further or when you revise – all these take whatever you think “is” and make clear that other possibilities exist as well. The sense of possibility, the amplitude and freedom that sense of malleability brings – for me, that cannot help but be joyous.”

“The secret of understanding poetry is to hear poetry’s words as what they are: the full self’s most intimate speech, half waking, half dream. You listen to a poem as you might listen to someone you love who tells you their truest day. Their words might weep, joke, whirl, leap. What’s unspoken in the words will still be heard. It’s also the way we listen to music: You don’t look for extractable meaning, but to be moved.”

“Poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery. Poems do not simply express. They make, they find, they sound (in both meanings of that word) things undiscoverable by other means.”

“The creative is always an act of recombination, with something added by new juxtaposition as making a spark requires two things struck together.”

“Art keeps its newness because it’s at once unforgettable and impossible to remember entirely. Art is too volatile, multiple and evaporative to hold on to. It’s more chemical reaction, one you have to re-create each time, than a substance. Art’s discoveries are also, almost always, counter to ordinary truths.”

“A poem makes clear without making simple. Poetry’s language carries what lives outside language. It’s as if you were given a 5-gallon bucket with 10 gallons of water in it. Mysterious thirsts are answered. That alchemical bucket carries secrets also, even the ones we keep from ourselves.”

—Jane Hirshfield

Invented Poetry Forms – The Sonnette


Like the monosyllabic sonnet which we recently discussed, today I will talk about another invented poetry form inspired by the traditional sonnet – the sonnette. Invented by the American poet, children’s author, museum curator, magician, and Boy Scout executive G. Sherman Ripley sometime in the early 1900s, the sonnette is basically a miniature or half sonnet consisting of seven lines (exactly half of the sonnet’s usual fourteen). It has two stanzas: a quatrain (4 lines) followed by a tercet (3 lines) with the quatrain having a rhyme scheme of abba. while the tercet has one of cbc. And just like its inspiration, the lines are metered, usually written in iambic pentameter.

As you can see, meter is definitely not my strong suit, but here is my own feeble attempt at a sonnette (for you to use as an example if you would like to try writing one yourself):

Ode to a Wannabe Baby Boomer Rocker

Once he dreamed of being the next Springsteen,
but he settled for a working man’s wage
and a once-a-week gig on a bar stage.
What seems like a dream is life in between

the hours he gets to strum guitar and sing
(he’s a remnant of the Rock and Roll age
in a time where Hip Hop and Rap’s now king).

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Howard Nemerov


“Robert Frost had always said you mustn’t think of the last line first, or it’s only a fake poem, not a real one. I’m inclined to agree.”

“I would talk in iambic pentameter if it were easier.”

“Writing is like the relationship with your bowels. First you can, then you can’t. Finally, you must. Only then should you reach for the paper.”

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.”

“I’ve never read a political poem that’s accomplished anything. Poetry makes things happen, but rarely what the poet wants.”

“It may be said that poems are in one way like icebergs: only about a third of their bulk appears above the surface of the page.”

“Both poet and painter want to reach the silence behind the language, the silence within the language. Both painter and poet want their work to shine not only in daylight but (by whatever illusionist magic) from within.”

“A lot happens by accident in poetry.”

“I think there’s one thing which distinguishes our art – we don’t consider. We don’t think. We write a little verse because it comes to us.”

“I’ve thought of the last line of some poems for years and tried them out, It wouldn’t work because the last line was much too beautiful for the poem.”

—Howard Nemerov

Invented Poetry Forms – The Monosyllabic Sonnet

P1010048.JPGInterestingly, you will find many invented poetry forms tend not to be created brand new from whole cloth, but rather are either a variation on an existing traditional form or a mash-up of two different ones. The former is certainly true about a form I recently discovered while perusing Miller Williams’ excellent book “Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms”. Created by the British scholar, publisher, and light verse poet Frank Sidgwick in the early 20th century, the monosyllabic sonnet (also known as a word sonnet) follows most of the rules of a traditional sonnet with one exception (as its name indicates). It has 14 lines and usually uses either the rhyme scheme of an Italian or English sonnet, but each line consists of just one syllable instead of the 10 syllables of iambic pentameter. You may notice I said, “usually uses either the rhyme scheme of an Italian or English sonnet.” That is because Sidgwick’s original monosyllabic sonnet “An Aeronaut to His Lady” actually combines the two, beginning with the rhyme scheme of the opening octet of the Italian (abbaabba) and ending with the closing quatrain and couplet of the English (cdcd ee). I think you will agree when you read it below, it would be near impossible to write a more elegant and perfect monosyllabic sonnet than this:

An Aeronaut to His Lady



–Frank Sidgwick

As you see, it is indeed a tricky form to write well, but that didn’t stop me from giving it a couple of tries. My first uses the rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet (abbaabbacdecde):

To My Little Boy
(Who Doesn’t Want to Go Home Quite Yet)



The second is my take on a monosyllabic sonnet utilizing the English sonnet rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg:

Elegy For an Aspiring Surfer/Gravedigger Who Drowned

Graves –

If you do decide to take up the challenge of trying to write your own monosyllabic sonnets (and I hope you do), my advice is to do what I recommended with previously discussed poetry forms with minimal words (such as the rothko, the two-by-four, and the Lewis Carroll square poem) and come up with appropriate titles to provide exposition and set up the premise of your poems. Monosyllabic sonnets are a bit difficult to write, so don’t get discouraged! Just keep playing with the form until you come up with something that you feel works for you. And please don’t be shy about sharing your efforts. I’d love to see them!

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Art by Randall Jarrell


“A poet is a man who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times.”

“Most poets, most good poets even, no longer have the heart to write about what is most terrible in the world of the present: the bombs waiting beside the rockets, the hundreds of millions staring into the temporary shelter of their television sets, the decline of the West that seems less a decline than the fall preceding an explosion.”

“Human life without some form of poetry is not human life but animal existence.”

“Art matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament and the most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives, but because it is life itself.”

“Poetry is a bad medium for philosophy. Everything in the philosophical poem has to satisfy irreconcilable requirements: for instance, the last demand that we should make of philosophy (that it be interesting) is the first we make of a poem; the philosophical poet has an elevated and methodical, but forlorn and absurd air as he works away at his flying tank, his sewing-machine that also plays the piano.”

“The safest way to avoid the world is through art; and the safest way to be linked to the world is through art.”

“A poem is, so to speak, a way of making you forget how you wrote it.”

“It is always hard for poets to believe that one says their poems are bad not because one is a fiend but because their poems are bad.”

“I think that one possible definition of our modern culture is that it is one in which nine-tenths of our intellectuals can’t read any poetry.”

“There is in this world no line [of poetry] so bad that someone won’t someday copy it.”

—Randall Jarrell



10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Robert Pinsky


“Poetry’s medium is not merely light as air, it is air: vital and deep as ordinary breath.”

“A sentence is like a tune. A memorable sentence gives its emotion a melodic shape. You want to hear it again, say it—in a way, to hum it to yourself. You desire, if only in the sound studio of your imagination, to repeat the physical experience of that sentence. That craving, emotional and intellectual but beginning in the body with a certain gesture of sound, is near the heart of poetry.”

“An underestimated element in poetry, that reading aloud makes clear, is the pause. I mean especially the force of a pause or a couple of pauses close together, contrasted with a longer unit of grammar.”

“Poetry is not easy. Or should I say, real poetry is not easy.”

“I have always been thinking about the sounds and shades and aromas of words – fitting them together or disrupting their customary march – more or less every second of my life, waking and sleeping.”

“‘Write’ is almost the wrong verb for what I do. I think ‘compose’ is more accurate because you’re trying to make the sounds in your mind and in your voice. So I compose while I’m driving or in the shower.

“If a poem is written well, it was written with the poet’s voice and for a voice. Reading a poem silently instead of saying a poem is like the difference between staring at sheet music and actually humming or playing the music on an instrument.”

“If what you want to do is make good art, decide what’s good and try to imitate it.”

“The last thing a young artist should do in poetry or any other field is think about what’s in style, what’s current, what are the trends. Think instead of what you like to read, what do you admire, what you like to listen to in music. What do you like to look at in architecture? Try to make a poem that has some of those qualities.”

“Jazz and poetry both involve a structure that may be familiar and to some extent predictable. And then, you try to create as much surprise and spontaneity and feeling and variation while respecting that structure.”

—Robert Pinsky


10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Ezra Pound


“Poetry is a language pared down to its essentials.”

“The primary pigment of poetry is the Image.”

“The Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.”

“Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something. Don’t use such an expression as ‘dim land of peace.’ It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstraction.”

“And the good writer chooses his words for their ‘meaning’, but that meaning is not a a set, cut-off thing like the move of knight or pawn on a chess-board. It comes up with roots, with associations, with how and where the word is familiarly used, or where it has been used brilliantly or memorably.”

“Rhythm is form cut into time.”

“One discards rhyme, not because one is incapable of rhyming neat, fleet, sweet, meet, treat, eat, feet but because there are certain emotions or energies which are nor represented by the over-familiar devices or patterns.”

“Poetry is a very complex art…. It is an art of pure sound bound in through an art of arbitrary and conventional symbols.”

“Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, squares, and the like, but for the human emotions. If one has a mind which inclines to magic rather than science, one will prefer to speak of these equations as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite.”

“Poets who are not interested in music are, or become, bad poets.”

—Ezra Pound