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Edith Sitwell on her poetry

My poems are hymns of praise to the glory of life.

Source: Dame Edith Sitwell, Collected Poems (1957). Some Notes on my Poetry.

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Wallace Stevens on poetry

A poem should be part of one’s sense of life.

Source: Wallace Stevens in his Adagia, Opus Posthumous (1957).

Robert Frost on poets

Do you know,
Considering the market, there are more
Poems produced than any other thing?
No wonder poets sometimes have to seem
So much more businesslike than businessmen.
Their wares are so much harder to get rid of.

Source: Robert Frost, “New Hampshire” (1923)

Wallace Stevens on poetry

…what makes the poet the potent figure that he is, or was, or ought to be, is that he creates the world to which we turn incessantly and without knowing it and that he gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it.

Source: Wallace Stevens, The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words (1942), p. 31.

Wallace Stevens on poetry

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.

Source: Wallace Stevens, A High-toned Old Christian woman (1923)


Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Robert Frost on poetry

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.

Source: Robert Frost

Citation:  Elizabeth S. Sergeant, Robert Frost: the Trial by Existence, (1960).

Rilke on poetry

He was a poet and hated the approximate.

Source: Rainer Maria Rilke, The Journal of My Other Self (1930)

The Schoolroom on the Second Floor of the Knitting Mill

by Judy Page Heitzman (b. 1952)

While most of us copied letters out of books,
Mrs. Lawrence carved and cleaned her nails.
Now the red and buff cardinals at my back-room window
make me miss her, her room, her hallway,
even the chimney outside
that broke up the sky.

In my memory it is afternoon.
Sun streams in through the door
next to the fire escape where we are lined up
getting our coats on to go out to the playground,
the tether ball, its towering height, the swings.
She tells me to make sure the line
does not move up over the threshold.
That would be dangerous.
So I stand guard at the door.
Somehow it happens
the way things seem to happen when we’re not really looking,
or we are looking, just not the right way.
Kids crush up like cattle, pushing me over the line.

Judy is not a good leader is all Mrs. Lawrence says.
She says it quietly. Still, everybody hears.
Her arms hang down like sausages.
I hear her every time I fail.

Man on a Fire Escape

by Edward Hirsch (b. 1950)

He couldn’t remember what propelled him
out of the bedroom window onto the fire escape
of his fifth-floor walkup on the river,

so that he could see, as if for the first time,
sunset settling down on the dazed cityscape
and tugboats pulling barges up the river.

There were barred windows glaring at him
from the other side of the street
while the sun deepened into a smoky flare

that scalded the clouds gold-vermilion.
It was just an ordinary autumn twilight—
the kind he had witnessed often before—

but then the day brightened almost unnaturally
into a rusting, burnished, purplish red haze
and everything burst into flame:

the factories pouring smoke into the sky,
the trees and shrubs, the shadows
of pedestrians singed and rushing home …

There were storefronts going blind and cars
burning on the parkway and steel girders
collapsing into the polluted waves.

Even the latticed fretwork of stairs
where he was standing, even the first stars
climbing out of their sunlit graves

were branded and lifted up, consumed by fire.
It was like watching the start of Armageddon,
like seeing his mother dipped in flame …

And then he closed his eyes and it was over.
Just like that. When he opened them again
the world had reassembled beyond harm.

So where had he crossed to? Nowhere.
And what had he seen? Nothing. No foghorns
called out to each other, as if in a dream,

and no moon rose over the dark river
like a warning—icy, long-forgotten—
while he turned back to an empty room.

This Morning

by Charles Simic (b. 1938)

Enter without knocking, hard-working ant.
I’m just sitting here mulling over
What to do this cold, rainy day?
It was a night of the radio turned down low,
Fitful sleep, vague, troubling dreams.
I woke up lovesick and confused.
I thought I heard Estella in the garden singing
and some bird answering her,
But it was the rain. Dark tree tops swaying
And whispering. “Come to me, my desire,”
I said. And she hurried to me,
Her breath smelling of mint, her tongue
Wetting my cheek, and then she vanished.
Slowly day came, a gray streak of daylight
To bathe my hands and face in.
Hours passed, and then you crawled suddenly
Under the door, and stopped before me.
You visit the same tailors the mourners do,
Mr. Ant. I like the long silence between us.
Quiet, that holy state even the rain
Knows about. Listen to her begin to fall,
As if with eyes closed,
Muting each drop in her wild-beating heart.