10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Jane Hirshfield

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“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

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