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

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“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

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing From Movies

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“Some celestial event. No… no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.”

—Contact (1997)

“Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without method.”

—Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

“Truth is like poetry. And most people f**king hate poetry.”

—The Big Short (2015)

“If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it’s good I’ll be envious and I’ll hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.”

—Midnight in Paris (2011)

“In a poet’s pocket, you often find the product of an active imagination.”

—Cyrano Bergerac (1950)

“Why is it that the words that we write for ourselves are always so much better than the words we write for others?”

—Finding Forrester (2000)

“Poems are my solace for the eternity which surrounds us all.”

—A Quiet Passion (2016)

“There are no trashy writers, only trashy readers.”

—Reuben, Reuben (2016)

“Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it.”

—Il Postino (1994)

“Everything gets revised 4,000 times. There’s no writing. There’s only rewriting.”

—Get Bruce (1999)

10 Great Quotes About Poetry by C.D. Wright

“Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”

“Poetry requires deliberate movement in its direction, a filament of faith in its persistence, receptivity to its fundamental worthwhileness. Within its unanesthetized heart there is quite a racket going on. Choices have to be made with respect to every mark. Not every mistake should be erased. Nor shall the unintelligible be left out. Order is there to be wrenched from the tangles of words. Results are impossible to measure. A clearing is drawn around the perimeter as if by a stick with a nail on the end.”

“It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

“Poetry and advertising (the basest mode of which is propaganda) are in direct and total opposition. If you do not use language you are used by it.”

“Poetry helps us to suffer more efficiently.”

“Uniformity, in its motives, its goals, its far-ranging consequences, is the natural enemy of poetry, not to mention the enemy of trees, the soil, the exemplary life therein.”

“I am suggesting that the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation.”

“Poetry takes you into the recesses of the language, the neglected corners, cracks and crannies and to the big sky of wonder. It opens the door to a critique without which you have rather boring analytical tools by comparison. To cultivate poetry means to stay with it. Not to abandon hope, but to abide.”

“Readers have to be sought out and won to the light of the page, poem by poem, one by one by one.”

“Poetry seems especially like nothing else so much as itself. Poetry is not like, it is the very lining of the inner life.”

—C.D. Wright

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing From Movies

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“I think the greatest harm done the human race has been done by the poets. They keep filling people’s heads with delusions about love… writing about it as if it were a symphony orchestra or a flight of angels.”

—Spellbound (1945)

“Good order, very precise, feeling of the unknown. Fine poetry is the music of mathematics, numbers, singing. You have to look behind the words to understand their meaning.”

—The Good Shepherd (2006)

“In fact, when poetry is combined with ill-groomed hair and eccentric dress, it’s generally fatal.”

—Cold Comfort Farms (1995)

“T. S. Eliot said that the purpose of literature was to turn blood into ink. Well, I tried that. I published five collections of poetry in eight years and I bled like a hemophiliac. Then, somewhere along the way, the blood finally clotted. Over time, the scab became a scar, and now I can scarcely feel the wound. All the arteries and veins are dried out. I no longer turn blood into ink. These days, I turn whiskey into journalism. I haven’t written a poem since 1987.”

—The Hippopotamus (2017)

“Poetry in translations is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.”

—Paterson (2016)

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

Finding Forrester (2000)

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he’s worth something.”

—Stalker (1979)

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

–Dead Poets’ Society (1989)

“My dear, this is not a country that rewards poetry. This is a country that rewards gas mileage. Besides, people don’t read poetry anymore; they watch television.”

—My Girl 2 (1994)

“A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is a experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept a mystery.”

Bright Star (2011)

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