"There's a lot more going on in your brain and your body than you can ever be aware of. And yet, most people identify themselves with this little flash-lit area of consciousness."
~ Rae Armantrout
"I don’t like when precious things slip through people’s fingers—especially things that seem defenseless or undercelebrated, like old newspapers, but also unheralded people who may have said sensible things at a certain time in history, but who were completely drowned out by other people. Or minor poets whose lives were instructive."
~ Nicholson Baker
"My poems tend to be about being a middle-aged, middle class, straight, white guy living in middle America. I'm thinking, how do I become one of the great mass of people who sort of, well, keeps America's cars clean and lawns mowed? Exploring ways in which that is poetic or sad or beautiful—that's really exciting to me."
"The world—whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering—of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead?—we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world—it is astonishing."
~ Wisława Szymborska, from "The Poet and the World," Nobel Lecture, December 7, 1996
See also: McPherson, A. (2014, March 9). Stunning time-lapse video shows rare views of Yosemite. National Geographic Society.
Sometimes I wish I didn't think in words
and that instead for each thought I thought I drew upon an image,
and that I was able to organize each image in a linear way that would be like sort of like reading
and that instead of trying to describe the edges around something
I could just think the color around the edges of the image to be darker,
that the detail on the image could become more or less detailed depending
on how much clarity I believe I needed to disclose at the time
For instance, instead of saying love, I could just think watermelon
I could just think of a watermelon cut in half, laying open on a picnic table
The inside would be just as moist as it was pink
I could picture cutting up pieces and giving them out to my friends.
It wouldn't have to be sunny
It wouldn't have to be anything else then just that
It would really simplify my walk home at night,
where every thought I think is some contrived line I repeat over and over to myself
Words are always just replaced with new ones
The pictures would never need to know otherwise
Jackie Clark: "I often make quiet, patient wishes. Wishes for more realized and open love, wishes for more direction, wishes for less. Wishes and intentions to arm myself against despair. I mostly wish to be able to see the world differently because I think that would rectify some of its difficulty for me. This poem is an attempt to do just that, if only briefly."
"Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho was homeless in São Paulo, Brazil, for nearly 35 years, and became locally known for sitting in the same spot and writing every day. In April 2011, he was befriended by a young woman named Shalla Monteiro. Impressed by his poetry and wanting to help him with his dream of publishing a book, she created a Facebook Page to feature Raimundo’s writing. Neither could have expected what happened next."
Like a combat engineer, a poet is aware of many things at once: narrative, musicality, line length, image, rhythm, syntax, etc. A poet is always looking for a balance of literary elements to keep the poem alive. For example, three long sentences in a row will leave the reader out of breath. Too many polysyllabic words can cause a reader to trip over his or her tongue. However, when a poet finds the right balance with concern to formal technique, the poem’s meaning has a better chance of being understood.
I belly-crawled through rubble
and ash. Sidewalks
shattered against the curb,
and the asphalt
wintered itself like madness
leaving a wolf after the kill,
after the throat bleeds
out onto the ground.
I licked bullets from brick walls,
abandoned the car
at a steel mill. I dropped
from the sky like mortar fire,
like the youth
of this town—sponged
from a five-gallon bucket
and the liquor stores still open.
Kerry James Evans reads his poetry at the Florida State University Warehouse Reading Series.
"In 1987, I dropped out of Gonzaga and followed a high school girlfriend to Washington State University (it's called Wazoo). And by complete chance, I enrolled in a poetry workshop that changed my life. On the first day, the teacher, Alex Kuo, gave me an anthology of contemporary Native poetry called Songs from this Earth on Turtle’s Back. There were poems by Adrian C. Louis, a Paiute Indian, and one in particular called “Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile.” If I hadn’t found this poem, I don’t think I ever would have found my way as a writer. I would have been a high school English teacher who coached basketball. My life would have taken a completely different path."
~ Sherman Alexie, from "The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to 'Drop Everything and Be a Poet'," by Joe Fassler, The Atlantic, October 16, 2013
Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie on reservations, alcoholism and Chief Wahoo.
“The physical reinvention of the world is endless, relentless, fascinating, exhaustive; nothing that seems solid is. If you could stand at just a little distance in time, how fluid and shape-shifting physical reality would be, everything hurrying into some other form, even concrete, even stone."
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”
"It's rather counterintuitive for poets to write in a sort of so-called patriotic way because it's the nature of good poetry to move towards mystery or uncertainty. If you say, I love America, you love America, maybe we're done and there's nothing to talk about. So for poets, a bigger tradition, I think, is the kind of poem that argues with America, that addresses America and in a way, that is our patriotism."
It's the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.
And I'm grilling, I've got my apron,
I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I've got a hat shaped
like the state of Pennsylvania.
I ask my father what's his pleasure
and he says, "Hot dog, medium rare,"
and then, "Hamburger, sure,
what's the big difference,"
as if he's really asking.
I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins
are fluttering away like lost messages.
"You're running around," my mother says,
"like a chicken with its head loose."
"Ma," I say, "you mean cut off,
loose and cut off being as far apart
as, say, son and daughter."
She gives me a quizzical look as though
I've been caught in some impropriety.
"I love you and your sister just the same," she says,
"Sure," my grandmother pipes in,
"you're both our children, so why worry?"
That's not the point I begin telling them,
and I'm comparing words to fish now,
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.
"Sonia," my father says to my mother,
"what the hell is he talking about?"
"He's on a ball," my mother says.
"That's roll!" I say, throwing up my hands,
"as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll...."
"And what about roll out the barrels?" my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, "Why sure," he says,
"let's have some fun," and launches
into a polka, twirling my mother
around and around like the happiest top,
and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
"You could grow nuts listening to us,"
and I'm thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
crowding out everything else.
The other of the poet is probably tired
Of explaining to people that her son is a poet.
Her son probably should have made more of an effort
To be involved in something that was simple to brag about.
The mother of the heating contractor does not
Have the same problem as the mother of the poet.
When the mother of the heating contractor talks about her son
It's usually understood, from the beginning, that her son,
The heating contractor, is not pretending to be a heating contractor.
When the mother of the poet talks, the listener will
Begin with the assumption that her son is pretending to be a poet.
The mother of the poet spends a good deal of energy justifying her son.
The poet, of course, did not mean
To put his mother in this difficult position.
Or did he?
Follow Matt Cook on Twitter: @mattcookpoet
“When we think of our memories, they’re moments of intensity. Whether they were sorrowful or happy, moments of great loneliness or moments of great communion — we live for these moments in our life. And I do think poetry is a way of recognizing the moments in your life. But also a way of preserving them,” Wiman tells Moyers. “One of the ways in which I feel close to God is writing poetry.”