A curious glimmering thing

“Time has proved that the function of poetry is not to impart messages, but to explore the depths of emotion.

The poet is never a teacher, but always a learner. His poem is a venture at perilous discovery. The fact of writing is not the recording of something already known to the poet; it is his method of bringing to the light things that were previously in darkness for him.

The aim of poetry is to capture those rare moments of the poet’s experience when, for good or for evil, the consciousness of life sweeps through him like a flame… the moments when he becomes passionately aware of the crises of his spirit’s secret drama, and sees a pattern taking shape in the void, and words of utterance come singing to his lips.

Out of that dizzy instant he emerges, bewildered but excitedly hopeful, bringing with him his poem. Here, he says, is a curious glimmering thing that I discovered far down in the sea of my dimly conscious spirit:  perhaps it will have a fascination for you, too; perhaps you, too, will see in its pale sphere some hint of the iridescent lights that played on its surface when in those vast deeps I found it.”

—Arthur Davison Ficke (1883–1945), “The Nature of Poetry,” 1926


“I don’t know of any writer who doesn’t look back at their earlier books and think:  can we just shred them? You know, can we go door to door and collect them and shred them?”

—David Sedaris, to Bill Maher, on Real Time, HBO, 2023 March 24th

Quiet desert

“The desert was quiet. The coyotes were not howling yet. I was my own howling coyote. Outwardly a comfortable-looking man in an arm-chair, smoking a pipe, I was inside a half-starved little coyote, out there on the dark desert, howling to the stars.”

—J. B. Priestley (1894–1984), Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

One boot off

“On the floor of your mind, then — is it not this that makes you a poet? — rhythm keeps up its perpetual beat. Sometimes it seems to die down to nothing; it lets you eat, sleep, talk like other people. Then it swells again and rises and attempts to sweep all the contents of your mind into one dominant dance. Tonight is such an occasion. Although you are alone, and have taken one boot off and are about to undo the other, you cannot go on with the process of undressing, but must instantly write at the bidding of the dance. You snatch pen and paper; you hardly trouble to hold the one or to straighten the other. And while you write, while the first stanzas of the dance are being fastened down, I will withdraw a little and look out of the window. A woman passes, then a man; a car glides to a stop and then — but there is no need to say what I see out of the window, nor indeed is there time, for I am suddenly recalled from my observations by a cry of rage or despair. Your page is crumpled in a ball; your pen sticks upright by the nib in the carpet… You are rasped, jarred, thoroughly out of temper. And if I am to guess the reason, it is, I should say, that the rhythm which was opening and shutting with a force that sent shocks of excitement from your head to your heels has encountered some hard and hostile object upon which it has smashed itself to pieces. Something has worked in which cannot be made into poetry; some foreign body, angular, sharp-edged, gritty, has refused to join the dance…

The poet as I guess has strained himself to include an emotion that is not domesticated and acclimatized to poetry; the effort has thrown him off his balance; he rights himself… by a violent recourse to the poetical — he invokes the moon or the nightingale. Anyhow, the transition is sharp. The poem is cracked in the middle. Look, it comes apart in my hands:  here is reality on one side, here is beauty on the other; and instead of acquiring a whole object rounded and entire, I am left with broken parts in my hands…”

—Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), letter to John Lehmann, 1931

So simple

Sometimes my husband says really smart things. Today during a conversation on our lunch breaks, it was this—

Me:  “How can I let go of something like that?”

Him:  “Shift + Delete”

Wilderness pathways

“The wilderness has the power to exert enormous influence on the mind of a man freshly arrived from civilization, especially if he lives alone and has but little contact with other people; some that I have known could not take the solitude, the absence of comfort and reassurance offered by the presence of other humans.

Such men have become effete in terms of personal survival in the face of natural challenges, the city is too much with them, and they don’t last. There are also those who go too far the other way, becoming misanthropes… these are the withdrawers, and they are found sprinkled loosely wherever there is a forest or a jungle, like seeds that have lost the ability to germinate in cultivated soil.

But between the quitters and the lone stayers, there is a third kind — indeed, there may be more than that, for all I know — in whom the wilderness acts as a catalyst and who, after they have experienced both the wild and the civilized, begin to form new values, to explore unknown pathways, and to realize that nature is an endlessly patient teacher with an infinite capacity to stimulate thought and to sharpen the hunger for knowledge. That is how the wilderness affected me…”

—R. D. Lawrence (1921–2003), The North Runner, 1979