10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Don Paterson

“Poetry is unlike other art forms because you can’t really do it for a living. It seems more a helpless disposition. I always think poetry may be one corner of a larger syndrome. It often involves obsessive and addictive personalities – and mental illness. Most poets can’t drive a car and the ones who do drive shouldn’t.”

“Poetry is the science of nuance in language.”

“A poetic form is essentially a codified pattern of silence. We have a little silence at the end of a line, a bigger one at the end of a stanza, and a huge one at the end of the poem. The semantic weight of the poem tends to naturally distribute itself according to that pattern of silence, paying special care to the sounds and meanings of the words and phrases that resonate into the little empty acoustic of the line-ending, or the connecting hallway of stanza-break, or the big church of the poem’s end.”

“Mediocre art is far worse than bad art. Bad art does not waste our time.”

“The poem, in a sense, is no more or less than a little machine for remembering itself … Poetry is therefore primarily a commemorative act.”

“Poems are deliberately unstable statements, where you’re supposed to see yourself in the thing — if the poem is any good.”

“I think there are real mistakes in thinking you have something called “your voice”, because that just leads rapidly to self-impersonation. Then you just sit down to write another poem that sounds like you, and that’s just self-censorship, and it leads to terrible repetition. The big danger is that people fall in love with their own voices. I’m sure I do too, but I try to avoid it.”

“If you write poetry, it’s your own damn fault.”

“People need to learn to have patience with the language. Most people can write a pretty good line, but a really good line can start with a tiny gesture or small shift in language or shift, that takes time. Big revisions are necessary in the beginning, larger seismic shifts, but I always think that publication is the point of being finished, and if you don’t have that in mind, that idea of public art, the whole relationship is incorrectly configured from the start. As you start to anticipate that condition and somebody else’s eye on it, then that really helps you write your best lines. You have to read it as someone else’s poem.”

—Don Paterson


16 thoughts on “10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Don Paterson

    1. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond, but thank you, I really appreciate the link. It sounds like a great opportunity, and it just happens that I only live about 50 miles from the Emily Dickinson’s Museum in Amherst….


    1. You are welcome John,, and thank youI I’m so glad you like that quote! I read that quote in an interview that Paterson did with the Guardian just a few weeks ago and it inspired me to seek out more quotes by him.


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