10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by W.H. Auden


“In the eyes of others a man is a poet if he has written one good poem. In his own he is only a poet at the moment when he is making his last revision to a new poem. The moment before, he was still only a potential poet; the moment after, he is a man who has ceased to write poetry, perhaps forever.”

“Language is the mother, not the handmaiden, of thought; words will tell you things you never thought or felt before.”

“No poet or novelist wishes he were the only one who ever lived, but most of them wish they were the only one alive, and quite a number fondly believe their wish has been granted.”

“I just try to put the thing out and hope somebody will read it. Someone says: ‘Whom do you write for?’ I reply: ‘Do you read me?’ If they say ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Do you like it?’ If they say ‘No,’ then I say, ‘I don’t write for you.’ “

“The poet who writes “free” verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry and darning for himself. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor – dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor.”

“The chances are that, in the course of his lifetime, the major poet will write more bad poems than the minor, simply because major poets write a lot.”

“A writer, or at least a poet, is always being asked by people who should know better: “Whom do you write for?” The question is, of course, a silly one, but I can give it a silly answer. Occasionally I come across a book which I feel has been written especially for me and for me only. Like a jealous lover I don’t want anybody else to hear of it. To have a million such readers, unaware of each other’s existence, to be read with passion and never talked about, is the daydream, surely, of every author.”

“A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.”

“But if a stranger in the train asks me my occupation, I never answer “writer” for fear that he may go on to ask me what I write, and to answer “poetry” would embarrass us both, for we both know that nobody can earn a living simply by writing poetry.”

“The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow-poets. The actual audience he gets consists of myopic schoolteachers, pimply young men who eat in cafeterias, and his fellow-poets. This means, in fact, he writes for his fellow-poets.”

-W. H. Auden



Constrained Writing Forms – The Lipogram


Instead of my usual presentation of a poetry form, today’s post will be in the same vein, but about a slightly different topic -constrained writing. Interestingly all poetic forms (both invented and traditional) are examples of constrained writing, but not all constrained writing is poetry. It can be applied to different types of writing and all of the literary arts including novels, short stories, essays, song lyrics, speeches and even technical writing. So exactly what is constrained writing? It is a literary technique in which the writer imposes certain rules or limitations on themselves. These limitations can involve subject matter, length (of the words, lines or sentences, or even the whole work itself), order, and vocabulary. Now you are probably already familiar with some of the more common forms – acrostics, anagrams, palindromes, and abecedarians, but today I would like to discuss one you may not be, the lipogram.

The lipogram is simply writing where one or more letter of the alphabet is omitted. Since it would not be not much of a challenge to just leave out rarely-used letters such as X or Z, usually the most frequently-used ones are chosen to be avoided like a vowel (especially E and O) or S and T. Many lipograms are totally original work, but I would like to concentrate on the variation where the writer attempts to recreate a pre-existing text (usually something well known like a famous poem, novel, or play) minus a particular letter. For demonstration purposes, let’s select probably one the most infamous sequence of words in the English language, the first few lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy by William Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–

Now let’s try rewriting it without the letter S (at this point, access to a thesaurus would be handy). Here is my own humble attempt:

To be, or not to be–that be the query:
Whether it be nobler in the mind to be attacked by
The catapult and arrow of appalling fortune
Or to wield a weapon in defiance of an ocean of trouble
And by challenging end it. To die, to nap–
No more–

You will notice without an S, I had to sacrifice plurals, and make many other changes. By substituting synonyms for many of the words, the meaning and flavor may been altered (hopefully slightly)as well as the meter and length of the lines, but I have tried to retain the original’s spirit. Okay, let’s do it again, by getting rid of the letter E:

To subsist, or not to subsist–that is my inquiry:
If it is so virtuous in our minds to put up with
Slings and arrows of atrocious fortuity
Or to carry arms against a flood of irritations
And by opposing finish it all. To abandon our mortal coils,
to not snatch forty winks from this point onward –

One nice thing about writing lipograms is that it helps develop your skill in making appropriate word choices. For instance, I originally was going to substitute “pass away” for “sleep”, but decided to go with the longer phrase “abandon our mortal coils” because I felt it sounded more Shakespearean.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the form, it is time for some actual poetry. The following example is my first experiment in writing verse that is a lipogram based on a well-known poem (one of my personal favorites). First here is the original:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

–  Robert Frost

And here it is converted into a lipogram by rewriting it without the letter I (while keeping the original rhyme of abaabcbcb):

 Flame and Frozen Water

Some say the world shall end by flame,
Some say by frozen water.
From what we’ve seen of lust and shame,
We’ll stand by those who favor flame.
But should the earth be a double martyr,
We feel we know enough of hate
To say that, yes, frozen water
Too makes a great
Means for slaughter.

So what do think of the lipogram? Is it just a word game, a complete waste of time, or a valid literary form? I personally feel that it is the latter, but I would love to hear your opinion.

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Mary Oliver


“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”

“Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost everything, in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it–indeed the world’s need of it–these never pass.”

“Poetry is a serious business; literature is the apparatus through which the world tries to keep intact its important ideas and feelings.”

“Poetry is one of the ancient arts, and it began, as did all the fine arts, within the original wilderness of the earth. Also, it began through the process of seeing, and feeling, and hearing, and smelling, and touching, and then remembering–I mean remembering in words–what these perceptual experiences were like, while trying to describe the endless invisible fears and desires of our inner lives.”

“Look for verbs of muscle, adjectives of exactitude.”

“The three ingredients of poetry: the mystery of the universe, spiritual curiosity, the energy of language.”

“Rhythm is one of the most powerful of pleasures, and when we feel a pleasurable rhythm we hope it will continue. When it does, it grows sweeter.”

“He is exactly the poem I wanted to write.”

“The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely, or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers–has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way.”

“It’s very important to write things down instantly, or you can lose the way you were thinking out a line. I have a rule that if I wake up at 3 in the morning and think of something, I write it down. I can’t wait until morning – it’ll be gone.”

-Mary Oliver

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by W.H. Auden

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“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”

“A poet must never make a statement simply because it is sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true.”

“It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.”

“Adjectives are the potbelly of poetry”

“Poetry is the only art people haven’t learned to consume like soup.”

“The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us. I do not know if such increased awareness makes us more moral or more efficient. I hope not. I think it makes us more human, and I am quite certain it makes us more difficult to deceive.”

“You will be a poet because you will always be humiliated.”

“What is a Professor of Poetry? How can poetry be professed?”

“Rhymes, meters, stanza forms, etc., are like servants. If the master is fair enough to win their affection and firm enough to command their respect, the result is an orderly happy household. If he is too tyrannical, they give notice; if he lacks authority, they become slovenly, impertinent, drunk and dishonest.”

-W. H. Auden

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Stanley Kunitz


“The poem comes in the form of a blessing, like rapture breaking on the mind.”

“Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul. The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race.”

“I want to write poems that are natural, luminous, deep, spare. I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.”

“A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of.”

“You must be careful not to deprive the poem of its wild origin.”

“End with an image and don’t explain.”

“The poem in the head is always perfect. Resistance begins when you try to convert it into language.”

“Few young poets are testing their poems against the ear. They’re writing for the page, and the page, let me tell you, is a cold bed.”

“Poetry today is easier to write but harder to remember.”

“The ear writes my poems, not the mind.”

– Stanley Kunitz

Five Clerihews by Joan Erickson (and One More by Myself)

Dan Witz InstallationMy good friend and fellow poet, Joan Erickson, recently emailed me to let me know that while perusing this blog, she read my post on clerihews, and decided to try writing a few of her own. She included the three that she wrote in her email, then a few days later (apparently still in the grip of clerihew fever) sent me two additional ones. I thought all five captured the spirit of the form splendidly, so I  have asked her kind permission to publish them here, which she graciously granted. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have:

Five Clerihews by Joan Erickson

George Burns’
radio show made me lose concerns
on days that weren’t always sunny.
He and his wife Gracie were so funny!

Ed Sullivan
was a real fan.
Had the Beatles on his show –
the screaming and singing made him glow.

Norman Rockwell
didn’t have to sell
his paintings in a gallery.
Everyday people paid his salary.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
was the president who felt
we had nothing to fear –
except fear – is this clear?

Eleanor Roosevelt gave birth
to six babies. For what it’s worth,
later confessed – had no idea how
to feed or care for a baby. Wow!

Writing clerihews must be contagious, because immediately after reading Joan’s delightful one about F.D. R., I was inspired to pen the following about another U. S. President:

Abraham Lincoln
was always thinkin’
that more was less.
That is why he didn’t deliver a longer Gettysburg Address.

Mmmmm… I just had a brainstorm for an interesting poetry project. Since now I have posted clerihews about four different U. S. presidents (Donald Trump, Richard Nixon, Franklin Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln), we just need 40 more about each of the others (yes, there are technically 45 presidents, but in reality only 44 because Grover Cleveland was elected to two non-consecutive terms and is counted twice) to have an entire gallery of presidential clerihews. So how about it, dear reader? Will you accept the challenge of writing a clerihew about one of the remaining presidents, and either send it to me in an email or leave it in the comments of this post? Please do! If we can gather enough, I will publish them all in a future post.


Invented Poetry Forms – The Acrostic Selfie Poem

386The name of this form is fairly self-explanatory. An acrostic selfie poem is a short, usually whimsical self portrait in verse, in which the first letter of each line spells out the poet’s name. I can’t actually say who first invented the form since the acrostic name poem goes back at least to the Middle Ages, but I first utilized the concept myself about 15 years ago while teaching a poetry workshop for children at the public library in Sterling, MA. If a poet is feeling ambitious, one can use their full legal name, but it is quite acceptable to settle just for your first name like I did when I wrote the following example as a model for my students  (I hope you will enjoy reading it and that it will inspire you to try writing your very own):


 Polite to inanimate objects,
 Always apologizing to furniture he bumped into,
 Until all his friends and family complained
Like a chair really cares if you are sorry!”