‘The poem acquires independence…’

‘There is a process called annealment, the heating to a high temperature and slow cooling of glass or metal, to toughen them. Making a poem feels like that, writing as yourself and reading it back as someone else. Distance, perspective, irony, derision (terribly important!), all come into the picture. The poem acquires independence, the poet, in Montale’s comparison, is like the props man who’s stumbled upon it, “unaware that he’s / the author”.’

– Michael Hoffman, “I happen to believe” (2000)

‘I write to find out what I didn’t know I knew.’

‘Cosmopolibackofbeyondism’ – Robert Crawford

‘Cosmopolibackofbeyondism is a creed with a wink in it. Poetry’s obsessions – love, death, God, sound, silence – travel across times and cultures; nothing could be more cosmopolitan. At the same time, verse is a marginal act, operating way out at the back of beyond, at the limits of what can be said. Its centrality and marginality are bonded.

Every poem is an island. To get to a poem requires sailing out from the mainland of routine language. Some poems are close to shore, others much further away; on every island it is possible to feel remote and at home. A poem is defined by the rugged shore of its right-hand margin, cutting it off from prose. Yet just as any poem-island has the tang of the back of beyond, it has, too, aspects, shared speech-forms, political shapes, faiths, which link it to other places. All poems are connected, most simply through the shared cosmopolis of verse.’

– Robert Crawford, Cosmopolibackofbeyondism (2000)

‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame…’

‘…a poem is simply a piece of writing which, when I read it, I recognise as a poem and not just as something pretending to be one. What is the difference between poetry and prose? Prose fills the page-width; a poem has white space around it. (‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame,’ as I found myself writing at the end of a poem about how looking at paintings in a gallery changes one’s view of the world outside.)’

– Fleur Adcock, Not Quite a Statement (2000)

Zukofsky – A Statement for Poetry

‘Any definition of poetry is difficult because the implications of poetry are complex – and that despite the natural, physical simplicity of its best examples. Thus poetry may be defined as an order of words that as movement and tone (rhythm and pitch) approaches in varying degrees the wordless art of music as a kind of mathematical limit. Poetry is derived obviously from everyday existence (real or ideal).’

– Louis Zukofsky,  A Statement for Poetry (1950/1967)

Poetry = Power

Lemony Snicket, ‘The Grim Grotto’

‘There is nothing more disenchanting to man…’

‘There is nothing more disenchanting to man than to be shown the springs and mechanism of any art.  All our arts and occupations lie wholly on the surface; it is on the surface that we perceive their beauty, fitness, and significance; and to pry below is to be appalled by their emptiness and shocked by the coarseness of the strings and pulleys.  In a similar way, psychology itself, when pushed to any nicety, discovers an abhorrent baldness, but rather from the fault of our analysis than from any poverty native to the mind.  And perhaps in aesthetics the reason is the same: those disclosures which seem fatal to the dignity of art seem so perhaps only in the proportion of our ignorance; and those conscious and unconscious artifices which it seems unworthy of the serious artist to employ were yet, if we had the power to trace them to their springs, indications of a delicacy of the sense finer than we conceive, and hints of ancient harmonies in nature. ‘

Robert Louis Stevenson, Essays in the Art of Writing

‘Poems are poems because…’

‘Poems are poems because we want to listen to them. Some poems have a prominent argument; some poems don’t. But all poems live or die on their capacity to lure us from their beginnings to their ends by a pattern of sounds. This is why a poem we don’t understand may seem wonderfully satisfying, and this is why a poem we understand all too well may also seem wonderfully satisfying. A poem may harness the power of meter, rhyme, syntax, and line to establish and disrupt a pattern of sounds, and a poem may with equal integrity reject the power of meter, rhyme, syntax and line. But the poet needs to understand what she is rejecting as well as what she is harnessing. Every poem is based at least implicitly on a choice to do something rather than something else, and, as a result, every poem takes power from its exclusions as well as its inclusions.’

– James Longenbach, The Art of the Poetic Line

‘…reading is a sort of new synthetic instinct…’

‘In a sense, reading is a sort of new synthetic instinct, input which becomes a program and which in turn crystallizes into neural hardware, and which incorporates a cultural loop into the human nervous circuit. This “new instinct” in turn profoundly changes the environment within which young human brains are programmed. In the early stages of human evolution such new instincts (speech must have been one) had to wait for their full development while sexual selection established the necessary elaborate vocal circuitry in the cortex. Later on we were able to use our technology, which required much less time to develop, as a sort of supplementary external nervous system. A book is a sort of R.O.M. chip we can plug in to our heads.’

– Frederick Turner and Ernst Poppel, ‘The Neural Lyre’

‘…the values of creative work…’

‘Often when my friends pronounce responsibility about the values of creative work I experience a loss of contact. I want at such times to voice what may appear to be an antagonism, maybe even a wilful stupidity, about “culture.” To “learn the tools of writing,” to “understand the essentials of the craft,” to “base my practice on models that have proved to be fundamentally sound” – these apparently winsome and admirable phrases put me in a bleak mood. When I  write, grammar is my enemy; the materials of my craft come at me in a succession of emergencies in which my feelings are ambivalent; I do not have any commitments, just opportunities. Not the learning of methods, not the broadening of culture, not even the preserving of civilization (there may be greater things than civilizations), but a kind of dizzying struggle with the Now-ness of experience, that is my involvement in writing. And I believe it is this interaction between imagination and its embodiment as it develops which sustains the speaker and the writer – and sustains the artist in other materials.’

– William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl