10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Stephen Dunn

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“All good poems are victories over something.”

“Poetry does so many different things, it’s difficult to say anything definitive about its role, which of course varies from culture to culture. It can range from being stories of the tribe to the private lyric, to being as W.H. Auden said “the clear expression of mixed feelings” to nonsense verse. “

“I don’t let a poem go into the world unless I feel that I’ve transformed the experience in some way. Even poems I’ve written in the past that appear very personal often are fictions of the personal, which nevertheless reveal concerns of mine. I’ve always thought of my first-person speaker as an amalgam of selves, maybe of other people’s experiences as well.”

“And the words we find are always insufficient, like love, though they are often lovely and all we have.”

“If the motive of writing is for some people a kind of exercise in dirty laundry, that’s one thing. I’ve always thought of my poems as meant to be overheard, as I think all of these poems are. It seems to me if you get experience right, even your most painful or humiliating experiences – if you get those experiences right for yourself and make discoveries as you go along and find for them some formal glue – they will be poems for others.”

 “A good many of my poems over the years have alluded to or taken on the political. Stevens has a line in one of his essays: “Reality exerts pressure on the imagination.” Inevitably what is omnipresent in the culture exerts its pressure on our imaginations to respond to it, even if indirectly. But in this case the backdrop of 9/11, coincident with the breakup of a marriage, the finding of new love, some kind of personal cataclysm… all of those were forces informing the poems in some way. “

“I wrote poetry for seven or eight years, maybe longer, before I could say I was a poet. If people asked, I’d say I wrote poetry; I wouldn’t go further. I was in my mid- to late-thirties before I felt that I was a poet, which I think meant that I had begun to embody my poems in some way. I wasn’t just a writer of them. Hard to say what, as a poet, my place in the world is. Some place probably between recognition and neglect.”

“Perhaps basketball and poetry have just a few things in common, but the most important is the possibility of transcendence. The opposite is labor. In writing, every writer knows when he or she is laboring to achieve an effect. You want to get from here to there, but find yourself willing it, forcing it. The equivalent in basketball is aiming your shot, a kind of strained and usually ineffective purposefulness. What you want is to be in some kind of flow, each next moment a discovery.”

“There’s a certain pleasure in violating the strictures of your education. The trick is, if you’re going to explore ideas in a poem, to be suspicious of ideas and suspicious of your own mind at the same time. It’s often a matter of orchestration and pacing. Of shaping some kind of dialectic flow.”

“The world is always somewhat vicious. I take that as a given, but at various times in various circumstances that fact will be no more than a shadow or an echo behind some poem. Other times it will be more manifest. I try to write myself into articulations of half-felt, half-known feelings, without program. I’m always working toward getting my world and, hopefully, the world outside of me into a version that makes sense of it. Viciousness requires the same precision as love does.”

—Stephen Dunn

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