Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry edited by W. N. Herbert and Matthew Hollis

My 20th century-poet-boyfriend

My 20th century-poet-boyfriend: Frank O’Hara

Strong Words is a collection of musings, essays, letters, diary entries, and ramblings of modern poets on the subject of poetry. Here are a few of the gems of wisdom I picked out:

“Rhymes properly used are the good servants whose presence at the dinner-table gives the guests a sense of opulent security; never awkward or over-clever, they hand the dishes silently and professionally. You can trust them not to interrupt the conversation or allow their personal disagreements to come to the notice of the guests.” ~Robert Graves, Observations on Poetry 1922-1925

“Anyone who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you.” ~E.E. Cummings

“Which brings me to something that I might say is the very heart of the matter of human contentment or as near was we can get. This is the secret of learning how not to care. Not caring is really a sense of values and feeling of confidence. A man who cares is not the master.” ~Patrick Kavanagh, Self Portrait (1967)

“Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.” ~Frank O’Hara (my poet crush), Personism: A Manifesto (1961)

“For each of us as women, there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, ‘beautiful / and tough as chestnut / sanchions agains (y)our nightmare of weakness / ‘ and of impotence.” ~Audre Lorde, Poetry is not a Luxury (1977)

“A poet learns the contemporary language and its literary version through being alive, meeting people, loving them, learning what it is about some of them that is to be disliked or distrusted, by sheer amusement, entertainment in people and phenomena, by sheer sorrow, by laughter, tears, by wonderment, puzzlement, by repulsion, by immersion in existence. What I am saying is that the best passages of poetry are involuntary even when their artistry has been mastered through years of severe rehearsal and concentration. Poetry appears to exist in all languages, cultures and societies. It is heartening to suppose that it does. If nothing else, it would seem to justify a life squandered in devotion to arduous, satisfying, lonely, disillusioned, grievous, joyful, difficult and simple art.” ~Douglas Dunn, A Difficult, Simple Art

“Easy, as any musician or athlete will tell you, does not make happy and does not make good. Easy means self-indulgence, laziness when faced with a challenge, and a cowardly unwillingness to hurt people by telling them the truth or upsetting the status quo. Easy means accepting art’s least common denominator and spreading about the rumor that anything that suits most people must be OK.” ~Anne Stevenson, A Few Words for the New Century (2000)

“The language of poetry is narcissism itself. It calls attention to itself at every possible oppertunity. It is as vain and self-conscious and as tensioned and competitive as an adolescent. It wishes all eyes to be on it: we are to hear its voice only, to love only it and to spurn its competition, although this competition is life. everything else in reality, everything that has not yet been transfigured not only into language but into the particular language and the particular music of the poem.” ~C. K. Williams, Context: An Essay on Intentions (1983)

“As a child I read a lot and loved reading in bed, which is probably one of the nicest ways of reading, with its cradling memory, especially poetry, indolently alert, absorbing yourself in the music and images that come to mind.” Grace Nichols, “The poetry I feel closest to,” (2000)

“One can’t have ever word substantial (none of these are at all) but as many as all telegraph pose and no wire–‘tread bejumpered (over) (the) sheepy fields.’ Naturally the result is ‘I am getting more and more obscure day by day’, ‘I shall never be understood, (bliss), ‘I think I shall send no more poetry away but write stories alone.” ~Medbh McGuckian, And Cry Jesus to the Mice (2000)


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