Another 10 Great Quotes About Poetry and Writing by Billy Collins


“The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme.”

“Usually the poems are written in one sitting. There’s always a groping towards some satisfying ending. But I’d say the hardest part is not writing. Once the writing starts, it’s too pleasurable to think of it as a difficulty.”

“II think a good poem should have some inscrutable part. You can’t quite explain it. The poem can only explain itself to a certain limit and at that point you enter into a little bit of mystery. That for me is the perfect poem: to begin in clarity and to end in mystery.”

“I think the pleasure of form is that you have a companion with you besides all the poetry you have ever read.”

“There’s a lot of unconscious activity that goes on I think in the composition of a poem.”

“By clarity I don’t mean that we’re always in kind of a simple area where everything is clear and comforting and understood. Clarity is certainly a way toward disorientation because if you don’t start out – if the reader isn’t grounded, if the reader is disoriented in the beginning of the poem, then the reader can’t be led astray or disoriented later.”

“I think clarity is the real risk in poetry because you are exposed. You’re out in the open field. You’re actually saying things that are comprehensible, and it’s easy to criticize something you can understand.”

“Some difficulty is warranted and other difficulty I think is gratuitous. And I think I can tell the difference. There are certainly very difficult poets that I really enjoy reading.”

“I’m trying to write poems that involve beginning at a known place, and ending up at a slightly different place. I’m trying to take a little journey from one place to another, and it’s usually from a realistic place, to a place in the imagination.”

“When I’m constructing a poem, I’m trying to write one good line after another. One solid line after another. You know a lot of the lines – some hold up better as lines than others. But I’m not thinking of just writing a paragraph and then chopping it up.”

-Billy Collins

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