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


“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

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


“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


“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


“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


“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

10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


“What makes poetry? A full heart, brimful of one noble passion.”

“After all, poets shouldn’t be their own interpreters and shouldn’t carefully dissect their poems into everyday prose; that would mean the end of being poets. Poets send their creations into the world, it is up to the reader, the aesthetician, and the critic to determine what they wanted to say with their creations.”

“Writing is busy idleness.”

“True art can only spring from the intimate linking of the serious and the playful.”

If you want to understand poetry, you have to go to its origin. If you want to understand the poet, you have to go to the poet’s home.

“Personality is everything in art and poetry.”

“The question “From where does the poet get it?” addresses only the what, nobody learns anything about the how when asking that question.”

“He who does not expect a million readers should not write a line.*

“Give shape, Artist! Don’t talk! Your poem be but a breath.”

“No concrete object lies outside of the poetic sphere as long as the poet knows how to use the object properly.”

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Art by Edith Sitwell


“The poet is the complete lover of mankind.”

“Poetry ennobles the heart and the eyes, and unveils the meaning of all things upon which the heart and the eyes dwell. It discovers the secret rays of the universe, and restores to us forgotten paradises.”

“In the Augustan age … poetry was … the sister of architecture; with the romantics, and their heightened vowel-sense, resulting in different melodic lines, she became the sister of music; in the present day, she appears like the sister of horticulture, each poem growing according to the law of its own nature.”

“I may say that I think greed about poetry is the only permissible greed – it is, indeed, unavoidable.”

“Isn’t it curious how one has only to open a book of verse to realise immediately that it was written by a very fine poet, or else that it was written by someone who is not a poet at all. In the case of the former, the lines, the images, though they are inherent in each other, leap up and give one this shock of delight. In the case of the latter, they lie flat on the page, never having lived.”

“As for the usefulness of poetry, its uses are many. It is the deification of reality. It should make our days holy to us. The poet should speak to all men, for a moment, of that other life of theirs that they have smothered and forgotten.”

“Art is magic, not logic. This craze for the logical spirit in irrational shape is part of the present harmful mania for uniformity.”

“My poems are hymns of praise to the glory of life.”

“The poet is a brother speaking to a brother of “a moment of their other lives” – a moment that had been buried beneath the dust of the busy world.”

“All great poetry is dipped in the dyes of the heart.”

—Edith Sitwell

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Amy Lowell


“Without poetry the soul and heart of man starves and dies.”

“I do not suppose that anyone not a poet can realize the agony of creating a poem. Every nerve, even every muscle, seems strained to the breaking point. The poem will not be denied; to refuse to write it would be a greater torture. It tears its way out of the brain, splintering and breaking its passage, and leaves that organ in the state of a jelly-fish when the task is done.”

“Poets are always the advance guard of literature; the advance guard of life. It is for this reason that their recognition comes so slowly.”

“I never deny poems when they come; whatever I am doing, whatever I am writing, I lay it aside and attend to the arriving poem.”

“Poetry, far more than fiction, reveals the soul of humanity.”

“Poetry is the most concentrated form of literature; it is the most emotionalized and powerful way in which thought can be presented.”

“Polyphonic prose is a kind of free verse, except that it is still freer. Polyphonic makes full use of cadence, rime, alliteration, assonance.”

“To understand Vers libre, one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.”

“Don’t ask a writer what he’s working on. It’s like asking someone with cancer on the progress of his disease.”

“God made me a business woman, and I made myself a poet.”

—Amy Lowell

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing By Stephen Dobyns

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“One writes a poem when one is so taken up by an emotional concept that one is unable to remain silent.”

“Writing is a job, a craft, and you learn it by trying to write every day and by facing the page with humility and gall. And you have to love to read books, all kinds of books, good books. You are not looking for anything in particular; you are just letting stuff seep in.”

“I write poems to find out why I write them.”

“I can’t believe there is a poet who hasn’t eagerly put down a word one day, only to erase it the next day deciding it was sheer lunacy. It’s part of the process of selection.”

“Many of my poems try to use a comic element to reach a place that isn’t comic at all. The comic element works as a surprise. It is unexpected and energizing.”

“My poems always begin with a metaphor, but my way into the metaphor may be a word, an image, even a sound. And I rarely know the nature of the metaphor when I begin to write, but there is an attentiveness that a writer develops, a sudden alertness that is much like the feel of a fish brushing against a hook.”

“A poem is a window that hangs between two or more human beings who otherwise live in darkened rooms.”

“For the past thirty years or so, much American poetry has been marked by an earnestness that rejects the comic. This has nothing to do with seriousness. The comic can be very serious. The trouble with the earnest is that it seeks to be commended. It seeks to be praised for its intention more than for what it is saying.”

“Poetry is a craft that one learns over a long period of time. But you only learn it if certain gifts are there to begin with – an imagination, the ability to make metaphor, a sense of language and rhythm and sound. intelligence, passion, curiosity, a great deal of empathy, and a fire in the belly.”

“Poetry… creates a metaphor, which enables the reader to experience what you have experienced with a kind of specificity and depth that is not possible in casual language, partly because the form also communicates the information.”

— Stephen Dobyns