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

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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

Night of the Walking Dead

Happy All Hallows’ Eve, everyone!

I was trying to find something appropriate to post today on this spooky holiday, and figured the following poem might just fit the bill. It originally appeared in We Are Beat: The National Beat Poetry Festival Anthology published last year, and I am planning to include it in a manuscript of my collected poetry I’m currently working on compiling tentatively entitled Pretense & Portents. I hope you enjoy it!

Night of the Walking Dead

No matter what George Romero or AMC
Might have led us to believe, if the Dead,
One night, should ever rise en mass from their graves,
It won’t be because they developed
A sudden hankering for the taste of human flesh.
Rather, so sick of being still for so long,
They’d simply wish to practice the advice
Of their general practitioners postmortem,
Stretch their legs and get a bit of exercise.

And who among us would not care to join
Them on their nocturnal rambles, as they shuffle
Down streets, amble across the countryside?
The dead would be ideal walking companions,
Silent, never interrupting our stroll,
With inane conversation, complaints
That their feet are killing them.

Yet where would we go,
What routes would they travel?
Would they seek out the familiar,
Retrace the steps of their former existence,
Slog through the old stomping grounds,
Past the corner stores, the bars, the offices,
The homes they once adored or dreaded returning to?

Or trek boldly into Robert Frost territory,
Saunter down the roads not taken in Life,
Proving Curiosity did not kill the cat, but resurrected it?

But no matter. Any ambulatory adventures with the Dead
Can only end one way. As much as we try,
The Living can not keep up. Someone is always dying.
The Dead stride forward. We falter and fall behind
Until they are a speck on the horizon, passing
From our vision as they once did from our lives.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in We Are Beat: The National Beat Poetry Festival Anthology)

Summing Up the Fifties

Back in July, I announced on this blog that I had just made my first serious attempt at putting together a collection of my poetry to be published, a chapbook entitled The Farmer’s Son, and posted the title poem. The response from readers to both this news and the poem was so kind and enthusiastic, with many making inquiries about the current publication status of the book. I am sorry to report the manuscript has yet to find a home, but I remain optimistic, recently finding a few more leads of likely publishers. Meanwhile, I like to follow up by posting another poem from the chapbook, which was originally published about 20 years ago in the poetry journal Sahara. Thank you everyone for your continued support of this blog & my poetry and I hope you will enjoy the poem…

Summing Up the Fifties

Only in the center of this last century,
would we find our fathers driving
such monstrous vehicles with
machete fins and blinding chrome
cruising down highways and freeways
all leading to the new frontier
of sweet suburbia. Everywhere, we saw
free-flowing forms, the sinewy curves
of kidney-shaped swimming pools,
boomerang-shaped coffee tables,
and, of course, Jayne Mansfield
& Marilyn Monroe.
Famished eyes could feast upon
an ever-present palette of powder pink
and charcoal gray,with smatterings
of turquoise and topaz for dessert.
No lack for color then, except
for faces glimpsed on television sets,
men of drab suits and minds,
who saw the world as if it were
a newspaper, an embarrassed skunk
a zebra with sunburn
(black and white and Reds all over),
forming their House Subcommittees
to name the names and flush
all the color out.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Sahara)

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

The Fifth in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

It’s been quite a while since I published my last beau present written for my favorite poets on this blog, so today I am posting my fifth in the series (for those who need their memories refreshed,  the beau présent is a brief poem of French origin intended as a tribute to a person which consists of only words formed from the letters in that person’s name). Comparing this one to the first in the series honoring the poet Charles Simic certainly provides evidence that not all  beau présents are created equally. For instance, for some reason, although Charles Simic has only two more letters in his name than John Hodgen ( an amazingly talented local poet from the Worcester, Massachusetts area yet who is also nationally known that I am attempting to pay tribute to), I was able to come up with close to two thousand words as vocabulary for his  beau présent while I could barely scrape together a little more than a hundred for the one about John. Because of the limited pool of words I could use, the resulting poem turned out a bit more on nonsensical side than I would prefer. The other major difference is that Charles Simic does not know who I am, but John certainly does, so I am really risking insulting him with a bad poem (actually I did email him a copy, and never heard back, so that is definitely not a good sign). However I pray my humble effort does somehow reflect John’s keen sense of humor (John is probably best known for his poem “For the Man with the Erection Lasting More than Four Hours”) and that he wasn’t too badly offended by the following beau présent:

A Beau Présent For John Hodgen

Oh no! John Donne gone?
No doggone gogo dojo?

No dodo hen egg eggnog?
No hood donned, no edge honed.

No good deed done. Heed no one –
No neon god, no hoodoo hedgehog,

No odd noodge (he no good).
Oh, go jog! Nod & ooh.

Go do good, go end godhood,
dodge ego (none needed).

Invented Poetry Forms – The Biolet

Having received such an enthusiastic response to my last post on the triolet,
I figure it would be fitting to follow it up with one on its obscure and even shorter Portuguese cousin, the biolet. The biolet was invented by the Brazilian poet Filinto de Almeida and first appeared in print in his book Lyrica in 1887. It is a six line poem, and like the triolet, the first two lines are repeated as the last two lines, however in reverse. The rhyme scheme of the biolet thus can be expressed as ABbaBA (with the capital  letters representing the repeated lines). The length of the lines, in my opinion, can vary, and be either metered or unmetered. Most of Almeida’s original biolets in Portuguese (I have only found a handful written in English on the internet) were in iambic tetrameter (8 syllables), but I, myself, have also been playing with iambic pentameter (10 syllables), iambic hexameter (12 syllables), and unmetered lines of random lengths as well.

I feel the key to writing a biolet is coming up with the first two lines, and then reading them in reverse. If they still make sense in the reverse order, creating the two remaining two lines of the poem should be a snap. If they don’t, try altering them until they do, or start fresh with two brand new lines. Writing biolets can be very fun, and quite easy to do. The subject matter can be almost anything, and the tone can be either humorous or serious. I hope my following examples might inspire you to write some biolets of your own:

From the Files of the Love Detective

Solving the case of your broken heart?
It’s going to be harder than I thought.
It seems your heart really loved a lot.
and no clear clue why it broke apart.
It’s going to be harder than I thought
solving the case of your broken heart.

Final Warning 

On an old gravestone, carved in slate,
I read this menacing epitaph
warning of our Creator’s endless wrath
and all humanity ‘s eventual fate.
I read this menacing epitaph
on an old gravestone, carved in slate.

A Biolet for Those Who Cannot Sing

In his unrequited ardor for Fay Wray,
I always empathized with old King Kong.
Since he could not express his love in song,
he had to show his passion in another way.
I always empathized with old King Kong
In his unrequited ardor for Fay Wray.

Biolet for the End of Day

Each night, when darkness descends like a curtain,
I light a single candle and start to pray.
Yes, tomorrow will be another day,
but of only that I can be certain.
I light a single candle and start to pray
each night, when darkness descends like a curtain. 

A Frozen Memory

On a chilly afternoon in late November,
I stood at a kitchen window and watched it snow,
And although that was over fifty years ago,
For some unknown reason I can still remember
I stood at a kitchen window and watched it snow
On a chilly afternoon in late November.

Traditional Poetry Forms – The Triolet

As I get older, I frequently find that my failing memory is determined to make a liar out of me. This is definitely the case in a recent post entitled “Grand Little Things…” where I stated that of all the poems I have had published in my lifetime (besides those on this blog), just seven of them were my form poems (three steetbeatinas, a haiku chain, a ziggurat, and in the last two weeks, a pantoum and a quartina). Well, that statement isn’t actually true. I don’t know how it slipped my mind, but the very first form poem I ever got published (which was almost two decades ago) was indeed none of those forms, but a traditional triolet. And since it’s been a while since I wrote a post on poetry forms, I figure that it would be a good one to discus today, even though many of you are probably already familiar with it.

The triolet, thought to have been invented by minstrels in 13th century France, is a brief poem of eight lines, with the first line being repeated as the fourth and seventh lines and rhyming with third and fifth, while the second line serves as a refrain in the eighth and final line and rhymes with the sixth. In other words, the rhyme scheme of the triolet can be expressed as ABaAabAB (with the capital letters depicting the repeated lines). The length of the lines themselves can vary, but are usually metered, most commonly written in iambic tetrameter (four feet or eight syllables) but almost as often in iambic pentameter (five feet or ten syllables).

My very first published triolet appeared in the very first issue of Concrete Wolf: a Journal of Poetry in the Spring of 2001, being the inscription on the title page (an honor more likely due to its wolf theme than the actual quality of the poem). Since I was (and still am) quite terrible at meter, you can see my awkward attempt at iambic tetrameter (with the exception of the third line which contains nine syllables instead of eight):

Yellow Wolf Triolet*

Amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone,
a yellow wolf howled through the night.
In this urban land, he lived alone
amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone.
In his lament, darkness shone
brighter than incandescent light
amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone.
A yellow wolf howled through the night.

*(Originally published in Concrete Wolf, Spring 2001)

And although the above poem was my first published triolet, it definitely wasn’t my first attempt at writing one. My favorite and probably the best of these early tries is the following written in iambic pentameter (which for some reason I am more comfortable with). You may also begin to notice a pattern that most triolets follow, though not all – the word “triolet” is usually contained within the title:

The Thinking Man’s Triolet

Oh, sometimes I think I think much too much,
though others might claim I don’t think enough.
Pondering imponderables and such,
oh, sometimes I think I think much too much.
Perhaps my pensiveness is just a crutch
to do nothing else but sit on my duff?
Oh, sometimes I think I think much too much,
though others might claim I don’t think enough.

Because of the repetition and the fact it turns only on a pair of rhymes,
the triolet is relatively simple to compose. If you can come up with the first two
lines, the rest of the poem practically writes itself. So the most difficult part is deciding what the first and second lines will be. A trick I have often used is to think up a single sentence that can be easily split into two self-contained phrases or lines. Since the subject matter of a triolet can be almost anything (usually it is humorous but Thomas Hardy proved you could also write them about serious matters as well), inspiration can be found everywhere. For instance, I was recently reminiscing about episodes of the classic Star Trek TV series I saw as a kid, and soon the next poem was born:

Doomsday Triolet

First time I heard of a doomsday device
was on an old episode of Star Trek.
I didn’t think the concept was so nice
first time I heard of a doomsday device –
it’s like setting fire to a block of ice
or slipping a noose around the world’s neck.
First time I heard of a doomsday device
was on an old episode of Star Trek.

I myself find movies and television as a great source for ideas for poetry.
The title of my favorite film of 2020, “The Vast of Night”, spurred the succeeding triolet (if you haven’t seen this fantastic movie yet, you can still catch it on Amazon Prime Video):

Nocturnal Wanderings

Let’s wander through the vast of night,
never knowing where we shall go.
Guided toward a distant light,
let’s wander through the vast of night,
and if we’re lucky, we just might
end up in a place we don’t know.
Let’s wander through the vast of night,
never knowing where we shall go.

This final triolet happened when the phrase “higher you climb, better the view” inexplicably popped in my mind, and I was able to work backwards to create the preceding line:

Ascension

There are some folks who may say that
higher you climb, better the view,
yet it’s always poor where they’re at.
There are some folks who may say that
you can’t climb if the landscape’s flat,
and don’t believe it’s really true
there are some folks who may say that
higher you climb, better the view.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my humble triolets, and will listen to my pleas to please trying writing one for yourself. I am sure you will be pleasantly pleased if you do, and will soon find it developing into the most wonderful habit…

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

Grand Little Things…

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I am not sure about you, my fellow poets, but when sending out my poems to literary journals for possible publication, I have always seemed to have a far easier time getting my free verse poetry accepted than my form poems for some reason. Until recently, among numerous publications,  only five of them have been my form poems ( three steetbeatinas, a haiku chain,  and a ziggurat, a poetry form I invented which I have yet to discuss on this blog). So I am so pleased to announce that last week I have had another two more published in a brand new online publication called Grand Little Things. Instead of me trying to tell you what this great new publication is like,  this is how the editor and publisher Patrick Key describes it in his own words on the About page of the publication’s website:

“Grand Little Things is a journal that embraces versification, lyricism, and formal poetry that focuses on anything, be it the expanse between the minutia of everyday life, to revelations on how we got here or why we use a thing called language. Grand concepts like spirituality, reality, existence are welcomed. So are little things like emotions and human relationships. Or maybe you write about nature?  GLT wants to read all formal poems, be they grand like the sestina or little, like the couplet. GLT caters to formalistic, stylized poetry, but it is welcome to invented/nonce forms as well. Heck, as long as there is a strong sense of versification – does the poem sing? Is the imagery vivid and serves a purpose? Does the poem have meaning? Or does it do away with such concepts? – it will be considered…’

If you are so inclined, please read my two poems published on GLT here and let me know what you think. The first “My Personal Poultry Apocalypse” is a pantoum, a Malaysian verse form popularized by French poets in the 19th Century and the second  “Hated by Horses” is a quartina, a variation on the sestina, but using a set of only four end words instead of six. What makes this publication even sweeter is that these two poems are from my new chapbook “The Farmer’s Son”  for which I am currently looking for a publisher. It seems that my first choice mandates that at least half of the poems of any manuscript submitted must be previously published, and with GLT’s publication of these two poems, that quota has been met and I can now send my manuscript on to them. Yay! And while you are there, be sure to check out all the great formal poets and poems they have published so far, and seriously consider submitting yourself! Like me, I am sure you will be happy that you did…