Poets on Poetry

Updated March 28, 2021 | Borgna Brunner

I, too, dislike it—Marianne Moore

I don't look on poetry as closed works. I feel they're going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.

John Ashbery, London Times (23 Aug 1984)
I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; prose—words in their best order; poetry—the best words in their best order.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk (July 12, 1827)
Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.

Paul Engle, New York Times ( 17 Feb. 1957)

I have never started a poem whose end I knew. Writing the poem is discovering.

Robert Frost, New York Times (7 Nov. 1955)
Read biographies of notable poets.

Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does.

Allen Ginsberg, Ginsberg: A Biography, Barry Miles (1989).
Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.

Thomas Hardy The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, Florence Emily Hardy (1930).
Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.

John Keats, Letters of John Keats, ed. Frederick Page (1954).

A poem should not mean.
But be.

Archibald MacLeish, "Ars Poetica"
Try our "Name the Poet" quiz.

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal [but] which the reader recognizes as his own.

Salvatore Quasimodo, New York Times (14 May 1960)
If there's no money in poetry, neither is there poetry in money.

Robert Graves, "Mammon," Mammon and the Black Goddess (1965).
Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.

Carl Sandburg, Atlantic Monthly (March 1923)

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1840)
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
The poet is the priest of the invisible.

Wallace Stevens, "Adagia" (1957)
All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, preface (1801).

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.

William Butler Yeats, "Anima Hominis," Essays (1924)
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