The candle stub stings the eye
While the pencil in his hand
Converses with him in private.
He writes a song of sad thoughts,
Catches the shadow of the past within his heart,
And this noise…this noise of the soul…
He will sell tomorrow for a ruble.
—Sergei Yesenin, The Last Poet of the Village: poems by Sergei Yesenin (Sensitive Skin Books, 2019), translated by Anton Yakovlev
We often feel elation when reading Homer, Neruda, Dickinson, Vallejo, and Blake because the poet is following some arc of association that corresponds to the inner life of objects he or she speaks of, for example, the association between lids of eyes and the bark of stones [de Nerval’s poem "Golden Lines"]. The associative paths are not private to the poet, but are somehow inherent in the universe.
The poet who is “leaping” makes a jump from an object soaked in conscious psychic substance to an object soaked in latent or instinctive psychic substance. One real joy of poetry—not the only one—is to experience this leaping inside a poem.
—Robert Bly, “Looking for Dragon Smoke,” American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity (Harper & Row, 1990)
—Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift (Viking Press, 1975)
—Etheridge Knight, interview by Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo 19:4 (Fall 1996).
—John Brehm, The Dharma of Poetry (Wisdom Publications, 2021)
Antonio Machado, Juan De Mairena* (Univ. of California Press, 1963), edited and translated by Ben Belitt
*‘Juan De Mairena’ was a pseudonym of Machado's. The Marirena persona being a provincial professor of rhetoric, philosophy and literature. The subtitle of this book: Epigrams, Maxims, Memoranda, and Memoirs of an Apocryphal Professor with an Appendix of Poems from The Apocryphal Songbooks.
—Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935)
Tell me what books you have at home; I’ll tell you who you are.
—Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980)
Beyond each corner a number of new directions lie in wait.
—Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)
[Beyond each line-break a number of new directions lie in wait.]
A Treasury of Polish Aphorisms (Polish Heritage Publications, 1997) compiled and translated by Jacek Galazka
—Elizabeth Smither, The Commonplace Book (Auckland U. Press, 2011), p. 118
—Paul Auster. "The Decisive Moment", Talking to Strangers: Selected Essays (Picador, 2019)
—Mavis Gallant, Paris Notebooks (Stoddart, 1988), 143.
—Elizabeth Smither, The Commonplace Book (Auckland U. Press, 2011)
All writers are translatable. Translation is simply what gives one access to a writer's work that one can't read in the original language. The results are always a mixed bag of gains and losses. But translation itself is necessary and important, unless we all, all of us on this planet, wake up tomorrow speaking the same language.
Pushkin, like all poets, imperfectly translated the world and human experience into Russian, and into poetry.
He did not quite believe it. Lyric poets
Usually have—he knew it—cold hearts.
It is like a medical condition. Perfection in art
Is given in exchange for such an affliction.
—Czeslaw Milosz, “Orpheus and Eurydice,” Second Space (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2005), translation by Robert Hass
—Sydney Lea, “Why Poetry?,” Seen From All Sides: Lyric and Everyday Life (Green Writers Press, 2021)
—Louise Glück, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence," Proofs & Theories
[Written in response to a fellow who overvalued poetry readings.]
—Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Oxford U. Press, 1977), by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein.
picture than a poor completed
one. Many believe that a picture
is finished when they have
worked in as many details as possible.
—One stroke can be a completed
work of art.
—Edvard Munch, The Private Journals of Edvard Munch: We are Flames which Pour Out of the Earth (U. of Wisconsin Press, 2005) edited and translated by J. Gill Holland
—Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose (Dalkey Archive Press, 1991), trans. by Benjamin Sher.
Randall Jarrell on Marianne Moore, Poetry and the Age (1953).
Above quote encountered in Viscous Nonsense: Quips, Snubs and Jabs by Literary Friends and Foes (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021) edited by Kristen Hewitt.
—Boris Pasternak, in a letter to S. I Chikovani, 15 March 1946
Letters to Georgian Friends, translated from the Russian with an introduction and notes by David Magarshack (Seckler & Warburg, 1967)
Regardé, the last word Colette uttered before she died, was her living word for l’amour, la vie, le monde.
—Helen Bevington, “Colette and the Word Regardé” Beautiful Lofty People (Harcourt Brace, 1974))
—Jean Cocteau, Le Rappel à l'ordre (1926)
—Charles M. Murphy, Mystical Prayer: The Poetic Example of Emily Dickinson (Liturgical Press, 2019)
—Boris Pasternak, letter to Titian and Nina Tabidze, 13 December 1931, Letters to Georgian Friends, translated from the Russian with an introduction and notes by David Magarshack (Seckler & Warburg, 1967)
I do not write poems. Like a novel, they write
Me, and the course of life accompanies them.
Titian Tabidze (Georgian poet, 1895-1937), died in Stalin's purge of 1937.
Helen Bevington’s When Found, Make A Verse Of (Simon and Schuster, 1961)
I found reference to this book on the site Neglected Books. Intrigued by the description, I bought a used copy (second printing) online. Helen Bevington was an associate professor of English at Duke University, teaching alongside her husband, Merle Bevington, whom she affectionately refers to as “B.” The book is a series of brief encounters with books, with authors, about the people she’d met and places visited.
After many of the vignettes she offers a poem, hence the title, …Make A Verse Of. Her poetry is accomplished but clearly out of synch with post WW II late-modernism of her times. Her gift is light verse, wry verse, and touching sentiment never lapsing into banal sentimentality. He poetry appeared in many leading periodicals like The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly.
She is scholarly but with an easy erudition and the ability to disclose what may have been overlooked. Helen Bevington is a genial guide through the literary byways of Robert Herrick, Dr. Johnson, Thoreau, Madame de Sévigné, and many other literary figures.
A couple of samples:
The Poet as Singer
Yet in a golden age, Pindar and Sappho sang. The Elizabethans were lyric poets in the true sense: “to be sung to the lyre.” Campion’s lyre was a real one; it was a lute. I have no idea whether he wrote the poems first and afterward set them to music, or whether he added the words to existing songs. It may have made no difference to him which came first. His words and notes, he said, were coupled “lovingly together.”
Unlike our modern poets, Campion remembered that, if a song is to be heard, he must trust the rest of us to become singers, too:
All the songs are mine, if you express them well,
Otherwise they are your own, Farewell.
The Wisdom of William Morris
When I look at my own house, I think wistfully of the good sense that William Morris would teach me. He once said (in a lecture on “The Beauty of Life”),
I choose to believe that the advice rules out most gadgets. It meets Thoreau halfway in the matter of simplicity. It echoes the Greeks, whose possessions had both utility and grace. It mixes, as Horace said, the utile with the dulce.
Where, then, is the time and skill for the acquiring of beautiful saucepans, or of stirrings spoons to stir the soul?
—Gregory Corso, “Some of My Beginning … And What I Feel Right Now,” Exiled Angel: A Study of the Work of Gregory Corso, ed. Gregory Stephenson (London: Hearing Eye, 1989), 87.
—David Hockney, interview with Mark Feeney, "David Hockney keeps seeking new avenues of exploration," Boston Globe (26 February 2006)
—Kay Ryan, “Inedible Melon,” Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose (Grove Press, 2020), 142.
—Kay Ryan, “A Consideration of Poetry,” Synthesizing Gravity (Grove Press, 2020)
[I don't believe this a bit. But I must acknowledge other views re poetry.]
—Louise Glück, “On Impoverishment,” Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994)
"But my feeling was that there is no such thing as a difficult word. There are only words you don't know yet,..."
—Norton Juster, quoted in his obit by Andrew Limbong
—Geoffrey Grigson, The Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982)
—James Tate, The Paris Review (Issue 177, Summer 2006) interview by Charles Simic.
[New website honoring James Tate.]
—Geoffrey Grigson, The Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982)
‘Don’t play what’s there,’ Miles Davis said, ‘play what’s not there.’ Play the void. Play the white space. Play outside the frame.
If only there were ways of framing off the worst of our lives. Of containing it. Forbidding it to leak into the rest of our well-lived days.
—Vona Groarke, Four Sides Full (The Gallery Press, 2016)
—Ernest Dalahaye, on Arthur Rimbaud, 1925, Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking (Notting Hill Editions, 2018)
And the town-shine in the distance
did but baffle here the sight,
And then a voice flew forward:
“Dear, is’t you? I fear the night!”
And the herons flapped to norward
In the firs upon my right.
[Thomas Hardy's "On a Heath"]