10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Philip Larkin


“It is fatal to decide, intellectually, what good poetry is because you are then in honour bound to try to write it, instead of the poems that only you can write.”

“Poetry should begin with emotion in the poet, and end with the same emotion in the reader. The poem is simply the instrument of transference.

“I never think of poetry or the poetry scene, only separate poems written by individuals. The poetic impulse is distinct from ideas about things or feelings about things, though it may use these. It’s more like a desire to separate a piece of one’s experience & set it up on its own, an isolated object never to trouble you again, at least not for a bit. In the absence of this impulse nothing stirs.”

“Novels are about other people and poems are about yourself.”

“As a guiding principle I believe that every poem must be its own sole freshly created universe, and therefore have no belief n ‘tradition’ or a common myth-kitty or casual allusions in poems to other poems or poets, which last I find unpleasantly like the talk of literary understrappers letting you see they know the right people.”

“I think a young poet, or an old poet, for that matter, should try to produce something that pleases himself personally, not only when he’s written it but a couple of weeks later. Then he should see if it pleases anyone else, by sending it to the kind of magazine he likes reading.”

“If you tell a novelist, ‘Life’s not like that’, he has to do something about it. The poet simply replies, ‘No, but I am.”

“I think we got much better poetry when it was all regarded as sinful or subversive, and you had to hide it under the cushion when somebody came in.”

“Poetry is an affair of sanity, of seeing things as they are.”

“When I get sent manuscripts from aspiring poets, I do one of two things: if there is no stamped self-addressed envelope, I throw it into the bin.-If there is, I write and tell them to f**k off.”

— Philip Larkin 


10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Thomas Lux


“Poetry exists because there is no other way to say the things that get said in good poems except in poems. There is something about the right combination of metaphor or image connected to the business of being alive that only poems can do. To me, it makes me feel more alive, reading good poetry.”

“Writing is rewriting, writing is revision. Historically, all great works have been labored over.”

“I envy painters… I like the fact that they make one thing, and it’s a single object, and there’s only one, ever. A poem isn’t as valuable an object because a Xerox of the poem is the same as a zillion other Xeroxes. It doesn’t exist as an individual object.”

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when poetry has been healthier or had a better chance of winning back a fair share of the audience that was essentially lost because poetry was incomprehensible and made people feel stupid, the kind of poetry that most of us grew up on in school, poems that never meant what they said. They were some kind of riddle that you had to decipher, and the point of reading poetry was like taking a test—to decipher the riddle. No wonder a lot of people—several generations of Americans—hated poetry. And that’s beginning to change.”

“There’s a difference between writing poetically and writing poetry.”

“I write some poems about myself but not many. In a sense, all poems are autobiographical—no matter what the subject, they show what the poet feels about the world, what he/she hates, loves, quarrels with, and fears.”

“I do think there is room for humor in poetry. Life includes humor. Why not poetry? And it’s not oxymoronic that humorous poetry can be serious.”

“I don’t particularly believe in inspiration. I believe you need to feel something intensely enough to need to write a poem that might be telling you you need to try to write it.”

“The ideal reader is any reader who gets a little pleasure or, depending on the poem, gets pissed off.”

“A lot of poets don’t read their work well, don’t write their work with the intention of it being read out loud, but they still do readings, for the check, obviously, but nothing is duller than a monotone reading of work that’s essentially incomprehensible—and there’s a lot of that. I would rather have lit matches stuck in my ear.”

—Thomas Lux



10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Muriel Rukeyser

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“No one wants to read poetry. You have to make it impossible for them to put the poem down–impossible for them to stop reading it, word after word. You have to keep them from closing the book”.

“All the poems of our lives are not yet made.”

“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.”

“I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot.”

“The process of writing a poem represents work done on the self of the poet, in order to make form.”

“The truth of a poem is its form and its content, its music and its meaning are the same.”

“The ‘idea’ for the poem, which may come as an image thrown against memory, as a sound of words that sets off a traveling of sound and meaning, as a curve of emotion (a form) plotted by certain crises of events or image or sound, or as a title which evokes a sense of inner relations; this is the first ‘surfacing’ of the poem. Then a period of stillness may follow.”

“If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.”

“The universe of poetry is the universe of emotional truth. Our material is in the way we feel and the way we remember.”

“Slowly I would get to pen and paper, make my poems for others unseen and unborn. In the day I would be reminded of those men and women, brave, setting up signals across vast distances, considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.”

— Muriel Rukeyser


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


“A poem is a neutrino – mainly nothing – it has no mass and can pass through the earth undetected.”

“If you have any idea for a poem, an exact grid of intent, you are on the wrong path, a dead-end alley, at the top of a cliff you haven’t even climbed. This is a lesson that can only be learned by trial and error.”

“A poem is a finished work of the mind, it is not the work of a finished mind.”

“Now I will give you a piece of advice. I will tell you something that I absolutely believe you should do, and if you do not do it you will never be a writer. It is a certain truth. When your pencil is dull, sharpen it. And when your pencil is sharp, use it until it is dull again.”

“The origins of poetry are clearly rooted in obscurity, in secretiveness, in incantation, in spells that must at once invoke and protect, tell the secret and keep it.”

“I am convinced that the first lyric poem was written at night, and that the moon was witness to the event and that the event was witness to the moon. For me, the moon has always been the very embodiment of lyric poetry.”

“In life, the number of beginnings is exactly equal to the number of endings … In poetry, the number of beginnings so far exceeds the number of endings that we cannot even conceive of it.”

“I’m lucky enough to occasionally be able to do something I love – write poems – and unlucky enough that what I love confuses and overwhelms me.”

“Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry.”

“Although all poets aspire to be birds, no bird aspires to be a poet.”

–Mary Ruefle

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


“Writers sometimes give up what is most strange and wonderful about their writing – soften their roughest edges – to accommodate themselves toward a group response.”

“I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think— no, you will realize— that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your heart had been saying.”

“I consider myself kind of a reporter – one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write.”

“I decided very early that I wanted to write. But I didn’t think of it as a career. I didn’t even think of it as a profession… It was the most exciting thing, the most powerful thing, the most wonderful thing to do with my life.”

“I have a notebook with me all the time, and I begin scribbling a few words. When things are going well, the walk does not get anywhere; I finally just stop and write.”

“It was not a choice of writing or not writing. It was a choice of loving my life or not loving my life. To keep writing was always a first priority…. I worked probably 25 years by myself…. Just writing and working, not trying to publish much. Not giving readings. A longer time than people really are willing to commit before they want to go public.”

“It is no use thinking that writing of poems – the actual writing – can accommodate itself to a social setting, even the most sympathetic social setting of a workshop composed of friends. It cannot. The work improves there and often the will to work gets valuable nourishment and ideas. But, for good reasons, the poem requires of the writer not society or instruction, but a patch of profound and unbroken solitude.”

“I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else.”

“Writing a poem … is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind.”

“… to write well it is entirely necessary to read widely and deeply. Good poems are the best teachers.”

–Mary Oliver

10 Great Quotes About Poetry and Writing by Anne Sexton


“Poetry to me is prayer.”

“When I’m writing, I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.”

“A woman who writes feels too much.”

“Craft is a trick you make up to let you write the poem.”

“It’s a little mad, but I believe I am many people. When I am writing a poem, I feel I am the person who should have written it.”

“All I am is the trick of words writing themselves.”

“The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that’s saying a lot.”

“I think of myself as writing for one person, that one perfect reader who understands and loves.”

“I think I’ve been writing black poems all along, wearing my white mask. I’m always the victim … but no longer!”

“I keep feeling that there isn’t one poem being written by any one of us – or a book or anything like that. The whole life of us writers, the whole product I guess I mean, is the one long poem – a community effort if you will. It’s all the same poem. It doesn’t belong to any one writer – it’s God’s poem perhaps. Or God’s people’s poem.”

— Anne Sexton

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