10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Karl Shapiro

“The public has an unusual relationship to the poet: It doesn’t even know that he is there.“

“As to the proper length of a poem, there’s no ‘proper length’. It should be complete, should present a whole, rounded idea. But keep in mind that the longer a poem is, the tougher it is to write and the harder it is to hold the reader’s interest.”

“Poetry is innocent, not wise. It does not learn from experience, because each poetic experience is unique.”

“Poetry is not a way of saying things; it’s a way of seeing things.”

“Poets of course are even more unpredictable than other writers, overwhelmed as they are by the moment they inhabit and finding it difficult to connect yesterday with tomorrow.”

“Contemporary poetry or the kind a ‘long-hair’ might write is highly abstract and unnecessarily obscure. Those who write the stuff depend on ideas and tricks of language to such an extent that it is often impossible to extract any meaning from their poems.”

“The good poet sticks to his real loves, to see within the realm of possibility. He never tries to hold hands with God or the human race.”

“To write a good poem, the writer should feel pretty damn strongly on the point he’s trying to express. Give it everything, but use your own speech, your own idiom. This gives the piece individuality and strength.”

“Brevity, in poetry, as in the time a guy has to spend getting shot at, is very desirable.”

“A poem should make easy reading for the ordinary guy who doesn’t happen to be a brain trust. The reader should understand the piece and get enjoyment out of it. Otherwise, the poem would be better unwritten.”

—Karl Shapiro

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Anne Sexton

“Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.”

“I am not a prophet but I think you will make it if you learn to revise, if you take your time, if you work your guts out on one poem for four months instead of just letting the miracle (as you must feel it) flow from the pen and then just leave it with the excuse that you are undisciplined.”

“Poetry, after all, milks the unconscious.”

“Those moments before a poem comes, when the heightened awareness comes over you, and you realize a poem is buried there somewhere, you prepare yourself. I run around, you know, kind of skipping around the house, marvelous elation. It’s as though I could fly.”

“Everyone in the world seems to be writing poems … but only a few climb into the sky.”

“My poems only come when I have almost lost the ability to utter a word. To speak, in a way, of the unspeakable.”

“You must be a poet, a lady of evil luck desiring to be what you are not, longing to be what you can only visit.”

“Poetry is my life, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face.”

“Writers are such phonies: they sometimes have wise insights but they don’t live by them at all. That’s what writers are like…you think they know something, but usually they are just messes.”

“I was born doing reference work in sin, and born confessing it. This is what poems are.”

—Anne Sexton

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Matthew Zapruder

“What poetry is asking us to accept can be difficult. Our proximity to our mortality, the fragility of our existence, how close we live in every moment to nameless abysses, and the way language itself is beautifully, tragically, thrillingly insufficient…these are some of the engines that drive the poem. It’s natural to want to turn away from these things. But we have to face them, as best we can, at least sometimes. Poetry can help us in that nearly impossible work.”

“For me, form is something I locate in the process of writing the poems. What I mean is, I start scribbling, and then try to form the poem – on a typewriter or on my computer – and, by trial and error, try to find the right shape. I just try to keep forming the poem in different ways until it feels right to me.”

“There is all this stuff about how sensitive poets are and how in touch with feelings, etc. they are, but really all we care about is language. At least in the initial stages of the process of writing the poem, though later other things start to come in, and a really good poem usually needs something more than just an interest in the material of language to mean anything to a reader.”

“It is funny, and also a bit sad, that poets are so often asked to justify our vocation. There seems to be something vaguely mystifying and even hilarious to people about being a poet, especially in these times. Why would anyone choose to do something so…useless?”

“I’ve noticed that there can be a visceral reaction to strong statements about poetry, as if anyone who has an opinion and expresses it is shutting people down. It’s funny to see that expressed, and then to go back and read poetic statements by the great poets of the past: they are full of a passionate conviction! It is clearly possible to express strong feelings about poetry while also defending the absolute right of myriad approaches.”

“A poem is like a person. The more you know someone, the more you realize there is always something more to know and understand. A final understanding could probably only begin upon permanent separation, or death. This is why we come back to certain poems, as we do to places or people, to experience and re-experience, to see ourselves for who we truly are, and to continue to be changed.”

“This, in the end, might be the greatest social good of poetry: to get us to live differently, with a different sort of thinking and concentration, even if it’s just for a few moments.”

“I personally believe the role of poets as poets (which is something different from our obligations as citizens, community members, humans) is to write poems. I believe this because I am quite sure poetry can do something no other form or writing, or human activity, can, at least not in such a powerful and distilled and undeniable way. And that we need this type of thinking for our survival as individuals and as a species.”

“I’ve always been more than a little mystified by poets who seem to think talking to people as directly as possible is a bad thing. I mean, I don’t want to set up a straw man here: I understand that for many poets – and for me, at times – writing truly means writing in a way that is difficult, simply because the poem is trying to grasp for something elusive. So the difficulty of the poem is just unavoidable, and not in any way artificially imposed. So “as possible” is the key part of the phrase above, I suppose.

“All my closest friends came to me through poetry. My wife, too! Other than my family, poetry is the gravitational force of my life.”

—Matthew Zapruder

10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Marie Howe

“Poetry is telling something to someone.”

“That’s the great thing about poetry. It’s worthless in the commodified world and doesn’t belong to anybody. That what is so precious, one of that last things that can’t be sold. Learn poems by heart, and then take them across borders. Put them in your wallet, on your refrigerator, carry them around-that’s what I’ve done all my life! Cut out poems and carry them around. I didn’t have to ask permission, the poem belongs to the world-this gift is one of the last examples that shows how art belongs to all of us.”

“I think poetry is one of the last places where the inner life of someone is held sacred. How it feels to be alive is held sacred. That reading it is a sacrament. Writing it-when one is in the right attitude and position, whether it fails or succeeds-is a kind of sacrament.”

“Poetry stops us and gives us something in common. I still believe that we could get poetry more into the public world. Unfortunately a lot of people believe they can’t read poetry because they were taught in school that it was difficult. Some poems are difficult, but many are not and so people are afraid-they don’t know where to go they don’t know what to do. I feel like we have to ambush them with something to realize that they don’t need to do anything more than just read and they’ll receive it.”

“A poem occurs when it actually is an experience, not the record of an experience. It’s when the writing itself brings me somewhere I never thought I would go, and there’s a discovery in the writing.”

“Poetry to me is oral; it really should be said out loud.”

“The great thing about art is that art helps us to let our hearts break open, rather than close. Everybody has known unimaginable moments of loneliness. Everyone we know has known pain and fear. And yet art can help us open to those moments rather than shut to those moments.”

“Every poem holds the unspeakable inside it. The unsayable… The thing that you can’t really say because it’s too complicated. It’s too complex for us. Every poem has that silence deep in the center of it.”

“Poetry saved my life-growing up and finding poems that reflected back to me psychological and emotional states that I was confronting. It’s an art that addresses the truth that we are living and dying at the same time. What could be stranger than that?”

—Marie Howe

10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Robert Bly

“You say to yourself, Well, this poem isn’t going to be any good, but I’ll write it anyway.”

“My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important, actually, than any of the poetry he writes.”

“Poetry keeps longing alive.”

“One day while studying a Yeats poem I decided to write poetry the rest of my life. I recognized that a single short poem has room for history, music, psychology, religious thought, mood, occult speculation, character, and events of one’s own life.”

“The language you use for your poems should be the language you use with your friends.”

“A poem in fact may be a sort of nourishing liquid, such as one uses to keep an amoeba alive. If prepared right, a poem can keep an image or a thought or insights on history or the psyche alive for years, as well as our desires and airy impulses.”

“Those of us who make up poems have agreed not to say what the pain is.”

“Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us close once more to the wellsprings of poetry.”

“When anyone seriously pursues an art – painting, poetry, sculpture, composing – over twenty or thirty years, the sustained discipline carries the artist down to the countryside of grief, and that descent, resisted so long proves invigorating. . . . As I’ve gotten older, I find I am able to be nourished more by sorrow and to distinguish it from depression.”

“The best poems take long journeys. I like poetry best that journeys–while remaining in the human scale–to the other world, which may be a place as easily overlooked as a bee’s wing”

—Robert Bly

10 More Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Russell Edson

“Poetry is fun. Why burden it with the humdrum of unexplored memory in the illusion of self expression? At best the poem is an impersonal amusement where the writer and the reader laugh together at finding once again that only reality is the reality of the brain thinking about reality.”

“Just get something on the page, you have nothing to lose except your life, which you’re going to lose anyway. So get with it, enjoy this special moment that brings you to the writing table. Relax into the writing and enjoy the creative bowel movement, remembering all is lost anyway.”

“Poetry is a physical art without a physical presence, so that it often finds itself in cadence to the heartbeat, the thud of days, and in the childish grasp of the reality of rhymes.”

“A good night of writing is like an industrial revolution under a rock being conducted by agitated beetles, where a variety of experimental vehicles and camera-like entertainments are being manufactured at great speed.”

“Anybody who says that his art takes all his time is probably someone whose time doesn’t mean very much.  My advice is to schedule one’s ‘artistic works’ with a job that pays.  This gives time edge and purpose.”

“I write to be entertained, which means surprised. A good many poets write out of what they call experience. This seems deadened. For me the poem itself, the act of writing it, is the experience, not all the dark crap behind it.”

“This kind of invention [prose poetry] calls for a very sure hand, one that can improvise, without too much care for the future, formal structures in a matter of minutes: The kind of form that is built from the inside out….”

“I never write for people, for the unseen audience.  I just write what comes.”

“There’s only the writing, which I admit to knowing very little about. But then it’s probably best not to know. It allows one to work without expectation. Best to let the poem do the thinking while we concern ourselves with what’s called the personal life.”

“The best advice I can give is to ignore advice.  Life is just too short to be distracted by the opinions of others.  The main thing is to get going with your work however you see it.  The beginning writer has only to write to find his art.  It’s not a matter of talent.  We’re all talented.  Desire and patience takes us where we want to go.”

—Russell Edson

10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Russell Edson

“Poetry is a way of mind; the exploration of a tunnel, where blind albino fish seem to float in nostalgic pools of unremembered memory.”

“All creative writing is storytelling. The two basic approaches are fiction and poetry. Fiction describes what it means, and poetry becomes what it means in images. Fiction is a linear art made of time, poetry is childishly timeless and circular.”

“If one cannot accept failure and scorn, how is he to make his art? It’s like wanting to go to heaven without dying.”

“One might describe the prose poem (a term I just lately come to accept) as an enviroment of poetry; the prose poem as silly fiction; the prose poem as a way of re-thinking the shape of the earth; the prose poem as a way of entering the mystery of a yet undiscovered prose; the prose poem as a homemade art; the prose poem as a current fad; the prose poem even, for the want of a better name, as something that I write; or, more to the point, the prose poem as something I don’t want to talk about!”

“Remember, words are the enemy of poetry.”

“A lot of poets would do themselves a lot of good if they had another art they messed with – be it painting or whatever.  A lot of our poets, they write, they teach, they write blurbs, they write some criticism, but they never get out of language. To be able to do something else is a nice thing.” 

“The problem with poetry is that it spends so much time scene setting, locating.  Most of my pieces are not really located.  They just happen.”

“No one is a poet for all of his or her life.  One is a poet when one is engaging that way of mind; that is to say, when one is writing.  I would say to a son or daughter, ‘go ahead, it’s as good as anything else; your days are numbered anyway no matter what you do – have fun’.”

“The only difficult thing [about writing] is reaching the end, the idea of the finished piece, the party ending, life runs out, the fire dark, the season that passes through the meadow into winter…. This is why one must work fast, each piece an end in itself, as life, which is only lived in the most present of moments.”

“Writing for me is the fun of discovery. Which means I want to discover something I didn’t know forming on the page. Experience made into an artifact formed with the logic of a dream.  The poem is the experience no matter the background of experience it is drawn from.”

—Russell Edson

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Joseph Brodsky

“Poetry is rather an approach to things, to life, than it is typographical production.”

“In the business of writing what one accumulates is not expertise but uncertainties. Which is but another name for craft.”

“Poetry is not only the most concise way of conveying the human experience; it also offers the highest possible standards for any linguistic operation.”

“Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.”

“Poetry is what is gained in translation.”

“By failing to read or listen to poets, society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation, those of the politician, the salesman, or the charlatan. In other words, it forfeits its own evolutionary potential. For what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. Poetry is not a form of entertainment and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but it is our anthropological, genetic goal. Our evolutionary, linguistic beacon.”

“A poet is a combination of an instrument and a human being in one person, with the former gradually taking over the latter. The sensation of this takeover is responsible for timbre; the realization of it, for destiny.”

“If a poet has any obligation toward society, it is to write well. Being in the minority, he has no other choice. Failing this duty, he sinks into oblivion. Society, on the other hand, has no obligation toward the poet.”

“In America, a metrical poem is likely to conjure up the idea of the sort of poet who wears ties and lunches at the faculty club. In Russia it suggests the moral force of an art practiced against the greatest personal odds, as a discipline, solitary and intense.”

“Every writing career starts as a personal quest for sainthood, for self-betterment. Sooner or later, and as a rule quite soon, a man discovers that his pen accomplishes a lot more than his soul.”

—Joseph Brodsky

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Brad Osborne*

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

“Poetry is like owning a tuxedo, you get it out for weddings and funerals.”

“Sometimes, a writer’s own words, like kindling, seem small and short-lived. But they may be enough to start a fire in another, and that is all any of us can really hope for.”

“The first question I would ask any poet is, what their favorite poem by another poet is. If they don’t have one, I may well question their desire to be a poet.”

“No one can tell you what to write, what not to write, how to write, when to write, or where to write. And they will certainly never understand anything about why you write. You are given full license to express yourself however, whenever, wherever, about whatever, and why ever you want. I encourage you to push every boundary you find while doing so.”

“The beginning of a poem is like fishing for me. I don’t know exactly what I am after, I just know some worms are getting wet. Hopefully, I’ll get a bite.”

“Writing poetry is like cooking was before electricity. Everything is slow roasted over a fire that must be constantly tended. You can’t microwave a masterpiece.”

“Learning to write is done the same way we learned to run. First crawl, then walk, then run. Crawl out of bed, walk to the desk, and run with an idea.”

“The best poetry elicits moments of anticipation within the reader. Like the feeling in the pit of your stomach when the rollercoaster reaches the top of the hill. Moments when we are scared and excited at the same time, and we become fully engaged in the world around us.”

“Poetry is a crash course in editing. It is where we learn to take the ten words of a thought and turn it into two, in the need to meet phonetic or syllabic meter. It is more about reduction than production. And there is a beauty in that.”

“Not everything we write is a masterpiece. We even suspect that some works will never be good enough for public consumption. But like children, we find it impossible to let them go. It is like ending a bad relationship. We hold onto something that is of no benefit in our lives in order to avoid feeling like the time we spent was wasted.”

—Brad Osborne

*These quotes were taken from the “Tuesday Tidbits” series on Brad’s blog Commonsensibly Speaking with his kind permission.

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by C.D. Wright

“Poetry is a necessity of life.”

“Almost none of the poetries I admire stick to their labels, native or adopted ones. Rather, they are vagrant in their identifications. Tramp poets, there you go, a new label for those with unstable allegiances.”

“There is an idealism associated with poetry I would not dispel but question. It doesn’t change anything except within. It shifts your insides around.”

“Poetry is not going to reach the numbers of people by which we commonly consider a large audience. It just isn’t a stadium-filler. It could still galvanize people during a crisis, but let’s just say there are two points at which poetry is indispensable to people – at the point of love and the point of death. I’ll second that emotion.”

“I think a book-length poem stands about as good a chance as a collection of individual poems in reaching its field of ears. This does not mean I have not found some of them too daunting to read all the way through, but it would seem there ought to be some ambition on the writer’s part to create a work that would be “a read” all the way through. If not, all the pleasure belongs to the maker, and that in itself is something, an achievement.”

“Writing is a risk and a trust. The best of it lies yonder.”

“Nobody reads poetry, we are told at every inopportune moment. I read poetry. I am somebody. I am the people, too. It can be allowed that an industrious quantity of contemporary American poetry is consciously written for a hermetic constituency; the bulk is written for the bourgeoisie, leaving a lean cut for labor. Only the hermetically aimed has a snowball’s chance in hell of reaching its intended ears. One proceeds from this realization. A staggering figure of vibrant, intelligent people can and do live without poetry, especially without the poetry of their time. This figure includes the unemployed, the rank and file, the union brass, banker, scientist, lawyer, doctor, architect, pilot, and priest. It also includes most academics, most of the faculty of the humanities, most allegedly literary editors and most allegedly literary critics. They do so–go forward in their lives, toward their great reward, in an engulfing absence of poetry–without being perceived or perceiving themselves as hobbled or deficient in any significant way. It is nearly true, though I am often reminded of a Transtromer broadside I saw in a crummy office building in San Francisco:

“If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance, and if I thought such an understanding were the basis for a lifelong inquiry, I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’ the most determined to redeem the world in words…”

“Poetry is tribal not material. As such it lights the fire and keeps watch over the flame. Believe me, this is where you get warm again. And naked. This is where you can remember the good times along with the worst; where you are not allowed to forget the worst, else you cannot be healed.”

“Poets are mostly voters and taxpayers, but the alienation of the poet is a common theme. Among poets there are also probably higher than average rates of clutch burnout, job turnover, rooting about, sleep apnea, noncompliance, nervous leg syndrome, depression, litigation, black clothing, and so forth, but this is where we live, or as Leonard Cohen put it, poetry is the opiate of the poets.”

—C.D. Wright