10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Horace

“It is not sufficient to merely combine well-chosen words in a well-ordered line.”

“The poet must put on the passion he wants to represent.”

“Poets, the first instructors of mankind, brought all things to the proper native use.”

“It is no great art to say something briefly when one has something to say. However when one has nothing to say, and yet still writes a whole book and makes truth into a liar – I call that an achievement.”

“Every old poem is sacred.”

“Good sense is the foundation and source of all good writing.”

“One gains universal applause when mingling the useful with the entertaining, while delighting and instructing the reader simultaneously.”

“Mediocrity in poets has never been tolerated by either men, or gods, or booksellers.”

“Take back ill-polished stanzas to the anvil.”

“A comic matter cannot be expressed in tragic verse.”

—Horace

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Matthea Harvey

“I think all poetry is accessible in a certain sense if you spend enough time with it.”

“I have poetic failures all the time. Many failed poems. I try not to publish those, though some have slipped into each book, since I can’t always tell they’re failures until later… or I don’t want to admit that they are.”

“I do love the prose poem because it’s such a perverse and provocative little box – always asking to be questioned, never giving a straight or definitive answer.”

“Poems can’t help but be personal. Mine are certainly an accurate blueprint of the things I think about, if not a record of my daily life.”

“To be a poet you have to experiment.”

“Poems tend to have instructions for how to read them embedded in their language.”

“I’m all over my poems, even if their relation to my everyday life is that of dream to reality.”

“Read widely (in and outside of your own genre), keep a notebook with you at all times. Do something that scares you every now and then. Try to locate your own frequency, knowing that one year your voice is on AM 532 and the next it’s on FM 92.8.”

“I’m interested in concrete poems – anything that complicates the line between the written and the visual.”

“As a reader I don’t distinguish between confessional and non-confessional work. After all, how do we even know that certain “I” poems are confessional? It’s a tricky business, this correlating of the speaker and the poet.”

—Matthea Harvey

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by James Fenton

“The writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation.”

“My feeling is that poetry will wither on the vine if you don’t regularly come back to the simplest fundamentals of the poem: rhythm, rhyme, simple subjects – love, death, war.”

“For poets today or in any age, the choice is not between freedom on the one hand and abstruse French forms on the other. The choice is between the nullity and vanity of our first efforts, and the developing of a sense of idiom, form, structure, metre, rhythm, line – all the fundamental characteristics of this verbal art.”

“‘Love’ is so short of perfect rhymes that convention allows half-rhymes like “move”. The alternative is a plague of doves, or a kind of poem in which the poet addresses his adored both as “love” and as “guv” – a perfectly decent solution once, but only once, in a while. “

“Babies are not brought by storks and poets are not produced by workshops.”

“Generally speaking, rhyme is the marker for the end of a line. The first rhyme-word is like a challenge thrown down, which the poem itself has to respond to.”

“I don’t see that a single line can constitute a stanza, although it can constitute a whole poem.”

“A poem with grandly conceived and executed stanzas, such as one of Keats’s odes, should be like an enfilade of rooms in a palace: one proceeds, with eager anticipation, from room to room.”

“There is no objection to the proposal: in order to learn to be a poet, I shall try to write a sonnet. But the thing you must try to write, when you do so, is a real sonnet, and not a practice sonnet.”

“Writing for the page is only one form of writing for the eye. Wherever solemn inscriptions are put up in public places, there is a sense that the site and the occasion demand a form of writing which goes beyond plain informative prose. Each word is so valued that the letters forming it are seen as objects of solemn beauty.”

-James Fenton

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Dorianne Laux

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“I try to avoid calling myself a poet because I think that’s something someone else has to call you. It’s like bragging.”

“I don’t know if we ever have enough distance to “see” our own trajectory. We’re in the muddled middle of it. Who knows what will last, what poems will take hold of the imaginations of the future.”

“The changes that have occurred in poetry have been minor when you look at it over the scale of human time. It’s like a rose, maybe a hybrid with color and size differentials, but the same genus, plucked from the same original blowsy family.”

“I write to invite the voices in, to watch the angel wrestle, to feel the devil gather on its haunches and rise. I write to hear myself breathing. I write to be doing something while I wait to be called to my appointment with death. I write to be done writing. I write because writing is fun.”

“Who you are contributes to your poetry in a number of important ways, but you shouldn’t identify with your poems so closely that when they are cut, you’re the one that bleeds. You are not your poetry. Your self-esteem shouldn’t depend on whether you publish, or whether some editor or writer you admire thinks you’re any good.”

“Every good poem asks a question, and every good poet asks every question.”

“I think what life experience has brought to my poems is compassion. When you work hard to make a living, raise a child up into the world, fail at marriage and try again, teach and fail, travel and fall, become ill, well again, weak but grateful, you learn patience, forbearance.”

“The more that accrues, the more depth, weight, and breadth we can bring to the poems, which we then need to throw overboard so we don’t sink.”

 “I don’t worry anymore about writing. There are times that I go through dry periods. I never go through a block. I’m always writing, but there are times where I’m just not on my game, and I’ll use that time to read some new poets, go see some art, walk down to the river and just stare at it, or have a conversation with my sister, or whatever – do whatever it is that I do in my life, hoping that I’ll get filled up enough. And something will happen, some juggling will happen and boom.”

“I feel deep gratitude for the life poetry has allowed me to live. I know the life I could have lived without it. Both on the physical plain, and the soul plain. Poetry helps us endure.”

–Dorianne Laux

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Dorianne Laux

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“Every poem I write falls short in some important way. But I go on trying to write the one that won’t.”

“Writing and reading are the only ways to find your voice. It won’t magically burst forth in your poems the next time you sit down to write, or the next; but little by little, as you become aware of more choices and begin to make them consciously and unconsciouslyyour style will develop.”

“If you want to be a writer in the world you really have to sit down and say, Why do I want to do this and why was I drawn to it to begin with? And keep reminding yourself to return to that original impulse.”

“A poem is like a child; at some point we have to let it go and trust that it will make its own way in the world.”

“To write without any awareness of a tradition you are trying to become a part of would be self-defeating. Every artist alive responds to the history of his or her art – borrowing, stealing, rebelling against, and building on what other artists have done.”

“We aren’t suggesting that mental instability or unhappiness makes one a better poet, or a poet at all; and contrary to the romantic notion of the artist suffering for his or her work, we think these writers achieved brilliance in spite of their suffering, not because of it.”

“Poetry is an intimate act. It’s about bringing forth something that’s inside you whether it is a memory, a philosophical idea, a deep love for another person or for the world, or an apprehension of the spiritual. It’s about making something, in language, which can be transmitted to others not as information, or polemic, but as irreducible art.”

“I would say my life experiences are my poetry, whether I’m writing about those actual, factual experiences or not.”

“Good writing works from a simple premise: your experience is not yours alone, but in some sense a metaphor for everyone’s.”

“There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I’ve found to be true: writing begets writing.”

—Dorianne Laux

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Frederick Seidel

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Photograph Courtesy of Dwayne Szlosek

“Everything in [my] poems is true … you should take them at face value.”

“In the writing of a poem… at a certain moment it has its separate being from you to which you have your obligations. You’re you; it’s it; and eventually, it really will separate from you and be absolutely not yours anymore — even if you made it. It is, of course. But it isn’t. It’s a thing out there.”

“Looking at [my] poems is sometimes an extremely strange experience, as if . . . who the hell wrote this? What’s odd is that, at the same time, I also remember alternative possibilities and associations at the time of the writing of the things. So it’s interesting, that one should have that going on as well. It’s rather a surprise, almost as if it were a surprise that they managed to get done at all.”

“Write beautifully what people don’t want to hear.”

“The expression of aspects of the self that you understand or, rather, that you fancy may not be attractively expressed or attractive once expressed. Another way of talking about this is to talk about your becoming yourself: your finding who you are as a poet, finding what you sound like, finding your subjects that bring you out of you that are your subjects. It’s almost as if there’s a moment when you decide, Well, whatever the problem of writing this way, of writing these things, whatever the difficulty with presenting yourself this way . . . well, that’s it.”

“I like to hear the sound of form, and I like to hear the sound of it breaking.”

“I got back a letter from [an] editor saying that [my] poem was brilliant . . . but wouldn’t I consider a number of changes they wanted to propose to the poem’s advantage? So I took a look at their suggestions, hung onto the poem and three months later sent it back to them — no changes whatsoever. Back came a note saying: ‘Wonderful! That does it! It’s just superb.’ ”

“I was left with myself and had to do the one thing I could to survive. I knew it would be difficult to write, very difficult, but I set about doing it.”

“I like poems that are daggers that sing. I like poems that for all the power of the sentiments expressed, and all the power to upset and offend, are so well made that they’re achieved things. However much they upset you, they also affect you.”

“Sometimes you finish the poem, and that last piece clicks in place. Sometimes the poem is finished with you.”

—Frederick Seidel

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Denise Duhamel

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“In almost every book I’ve written, there is a reference to a movie – legendary films, actors and actresses, and forgotten made-for-TV movies. The leaps poems make are not unlike the cuts in a film. The miniature and avant-garde prose poets have perhaps the most obvious ties to film, as a prose poem in its shape is not unlike a movie screen.”

“I believe it’s impossible to write good poetry without reading. Reading poetry goes straight to my psyche and makes me want to write. I meet the muse in the poems of others and invite her to my poems. I see over and over again, in different ways, what is possible, how the perimeters of poetry are expanding and making way for new forms.”

“What has stayed true in my life as a writer is my dedication to writing – I try to write every day, no matter what – and the joy that writing has given me.”

“The “biggest” poems I ever made are based on the psychological principal of the “Johari Window:” what the self freely shares with others; what the self hides from others; what others hide from the self; and what is unknown to the self and others.

“Writing is performative – and while, yes, the words in essence will be there “forever,” poems are often about ecstatic moments rather than trying to pin down a particular truth of an event.”

“The “truth” is the poem itself. Just because someone writes a poem about a feeling she has does not mean that the feeling will stay forever. The truth of the emotion of the poem remains, even if the particular truth of the poet changes.”

“I don’t know if there are topics that I unconsciously avoid, but as soon as they pop up in my writing, I try to take on those topics, whether or not I publish the poems.”

“Over the years, I became more and more interested in the forms and techniques in which things could be said.”

“My advice to my younger self would have been, ‘Chill. Concentrate on the poems. Everything else will work itself out.’ “

“I know writers for whom the act of writing is a necessary chore. They suffer to write great work. I am very lucky that for me writing is a delight.”

—Denise Duhamel

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

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Erica Jong

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“One writes not by will but by surrender.”

“In poetry you can express almost inexpressible feelings. You can express the pain of loss, you can express love. People always turn to poetry when someone they love dies, when they fall in love.”

“I am not quite sure how writing changes things, but I know that it does. It is indirect-like the trails of earthworms aerating the earth. It is not always deliberate-like the tails of glowing dust dragged by comets.”

“It is for this, partly, that I write. How can I know what I think unless I see what I write.”

“Poetry is the language we speak in the most terrifying or ecstatic passages of our lives. But the very word poetry scares people. They think of their grade school teachers reciting ‘Hiawatha’ and they groan.”

“When I’m sitting at the desk not being able to write line one, it’s silence and despair! It’s not so easy to put the pen to the legal pad or type the first sentence on the computer screen.”

“I guess the thing that I’m most proud of is that I kept on writing poetry. I understand that poetry is sort of the source of everything I do. It’s the source of my creativity.”

“Often I find that poems predict what I’m going to do later in my own writing, and often I find that poems predict my life. So I think poetry is the most intense expression of feeling that we have.”

“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged…I had poems which were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.”

“It’s easier to write about pain than about joy. Joy is wordless.”

—Erica Jong

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Erica Jong

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“We write poems as leaves give oxygen – so we can breathe.”

“You are always naked when you start writing; you are always as if you had never written anything before; you are always a beginner. Shakespeare wrote without knowing he would become Shakespeare.”

“I never became a writer for the money. I am a poet first. Even getting published is a miracle for poets.”

“What are the sources of poetry? Love and death and the paradox of love and death. All poetry from the beginning is about Eros and Thanatos. Those are the only subjects. And how Eros and Thanatos interweave.”

“Critics write out of intellectual exercise, not poets. Poets write straight from the heart.”

“If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”

“Nothing you write is ever lost to you. At some other level your mind is working on it.”

“It takes a spasm of love to write a poem.”

“What makes you a poet is a gift for language, an ability to see into the heart of things, and an ability to deal with important unconscious material. When all these things come together, you’re a poet. But there isn’t one little gimmick that makes you a poet. There isn’t any formula for it.”

“Poetry . . . comes blood-warm straight out of the unconscious.”

—Erica Jong