Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Knock on the Door

Greg posted ten quotations on poetry that are important to him and I thought I’d try the same, but maybe I’ll start with just four or five.

First, this is from Robert Pinsky’s Poetry and the World:

I want to say—as humbly as possible—that despite all the complexities of literary theory, for all the ingenuities of ambition or expectation, the trouble with most poems that fail—one’s own poems, or poems written in workshops, or submitted to magazines, or published in books—may be described simply: they are not interesting enough to impart conviction. Most of them fail to be surprising or musical or revealing enough to arouse much interest; to read them, one must be a professional (and certainly not an indolent or drowsy professional). It sounds silly to say so, but some explicit sex, or a few jokes, or a bizarre personal confession, might make these poems more interesting.

Second, here’s Rilke from the Duino Elegies:

Praise the world to the Angel, not the unsayable: you
can’t impress him with glories of feeling: in the universe,
where he feels more deeply, you are a novice. So show
him a simple thing, fashioned in age after age,
that lives close to hand and in sight.
Tell him things. He’ll be more amazed: as you were,
beside the rope-maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.

It’s true that my own poetry doesn’t exactly follow that prescription,
but then, neither does Rilke’s!

Third, here are three short quotes from Charles Simic’s book of prose, Orphan Factory:

America is God crazy, as everyone knows. It’s impossible to be an American writer without taking that into account.

The secret ambition of every true poem is to ask about gods and devils even as it acknowledges their absence.

Aestheticism, humor, eroticism, and all the other manifestations of the free imagination are suspect and must be censored.
Obviously that last quote is Simic’s comment on the negative impact of the American critical bias.

Fourth, Adrienne Rich also has something to say about the “free imagination” in her great essay “When We Dead Awaken”:

For a poem to coalesce, ... there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed—freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. … To be a female human being trying to fulfill traditional female functions in a traditional way is in direct conflict with the subversive function of the imagination.

Finally, Yannis Ritsos’ poem “Motionless Swaying”:

As she jumped up to open the door,
she dropped the basket with the spools of thread—
they scattered under the table, under the chairs,
in improbable corners—one that was orange-red
got inside the glass lamp; a mauve one
deep in the mirror; that gold one—
she never had a spool of gold thread—where did it come from?
She was about to kneel, to pick them up one by one, to tidy up
before opening the door. She had no time. They knocked again.
She stood motionless, helpless, her hands dropped to her sides.
When she remembered to open—no one was there.

Is that how it is with poetry, then? Is this exactly how it is with poetry?

—Yannis Ritsos

1 comment:

greg rappleye said...


Great quotes. Yes, that IS exactly how it is with poetry!