You might have noticed the cycling poetry quotes on my home page! They change every 20 seconds and unless you stay on the page for ages it will be difficult to see them all! So I wanted to share some of my favorites here. I have been collecting quotes on poetry for more than ten years now and I keep looking for new ones. If you have some favorites you don’t see here please send me them! Happy to list them and say who sent them.

Here are some of my favorites!

From The Lost Hotels of Paris

Ginsberg came to my house one afternoon
and said he was giving up poetry
because it told lies, that language distorts.
I agreed, but asked what we have
That gets it right even that much.

Jack Gilbert,  Refusing Heaven

Poetry must not perish. Otherwise, what hope for the world? Leopold Sedar Senghor in Origins –African Wisdom for Every Day Dec. 24th
Both Cairns and Dunn agree: Poets write in order ‘to be startled into  what [they] didn’t yet know.’ “ Abram Van Engen – Mars Hill Magazine, Issue 24

I feel that poetry permits us to wake up our memory and association and view familiar things in a different way. If I was to define poetry, I would say, ‘One of the many things a poem can do is remind us what we forgot we knew.  Brian Patten from his website.

A poet is always on the edge of the unsayable—trying to turn it into something that sounds. It can be a dangerous self destructive edge, but it doesn’t have to be. Poetry has such an amazing energy, one I don’t feel in even the best of fiction. There’s always that slide between silence and speaking, and the friction that’s created between those two planes—what we cannot possibly say, but what we say anyway—is remarkably charged. That’s why I’m attracted to poetry again and again, no matter what. Lorna Crozier in an interview with Clarise Foster, Contemporary Verse 2, Volume 25, issue 3

The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid. The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat. Poetry is a break for freedom. In a sense all poems are good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable; but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time; to create a door through which others can walk into what previously seemed unobtainable realms, in the passage of a few short lines. David Whyte, from his website

Sometimes I think that poems use us in order to think, to do their own work. You know, most of the time I feel as if I am in the service of the poem – a poem isn’t something I make, its something I serve. Jane Hirshfield, Fooling with Words by Bill Moyers

In a way poetry is an attempt to break through the density of reality into a zone where the simplest things appear again as fresh as if they were seen by a child. Czeslaw Milosz, A Book of Luminous Things

Writing the lyric [the poem] helps the poet to live. Hearing the right lyric or song also helps the listener who identifies with it to live. ….When we find the right poem (or it finds us), we feel a deep shock of recognition, a sense that “here is someone speaking my experience, making sense of it.” The poet Stanley Kunitz says of the lyric that it is “ the voice of the solitary who makes others less alone. Gregory Orr, Image Journal, Winter 2013

The personal lyric [a poem or song about experience] is everywhere and always because it helps people survive. It is uniquely qualified to dramatize two primary experiences we all encounter: there is a lot of disorder and randomness or accident in the world, and we need and are reassured by a certain amount of order and pattern. When a poet experiences disorder, she turns her experience into words. She turns “world into word” – the fundamental poetic decision Gregory Orr, Ibid

What did Frost say a poem was? “A momentary state against confusion.” That’s what interests me – the attempt to bring many things into some balance, into a kinetic equilibrium. It’s what atomic theory tells us is the case. I know nothing of that, really, but the little picture we are given of the atom and the molecule and the things inside the atom, the whirl of things that make the desk, your hair. If you slowed it down you’d start to see the everything start to disintegrate, but it’s held together. That seems to be what lyric poetry is all about, holding together the stuff that is flying off. That would be my metaphor for it anyway – sort of molecular activity. Eamon Grennan in an interview with William Walsh: When Language Fails, Kenyon Review, Summer 2006

Every poem I write falls short in some important way. But I go on trying to write the one that won’t. I want blood. Dorianne Laux in an interview with Dana Guthrie Martin (readwritepoem.org) March 2008

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying

Poetry is a kind of lying,
Necessarily. To profit the poet
Or beauty. But also in
That truth may be told only so.

Those who, admirably, refuse
To falsify (as those who will not
Risk pretensions) are excluded
From saying even so much.

Degas said he didn’t paint
What he saw, but what
Would enable them to see
The thing he had.

Jack Gilbert, Monothithos

A good poem, then, is a solvent, a kind of WD-40 for the soul. This is the efficacy of Aristotle’s catharsis. Simply to feel oneself moved creates an increase of freedom; outward circumstance is not the self’s only definition when the imagination presses back against it. Jane Hirshfield, Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry

… at the most basic level, poetry is important because it makes us think, it opens us up to wonder and the sometimes astonishing possibilities of language. It is, in its subtle yet powerful way, a discipline for re-engaging with a world we take too much for granted. John Burnside, the Daily Telegraph, January 17, 2012

Each poet, in his own language, states that the basic matter of poetry comes not from the self, but from the world. From Things, which will speak to us on their own terms and with their own wisdom but only when approached with our full and unselfish attention. Jane Hirschfield, Nine Gates

…poetry…speaks as no other language can. It does what no other art form can do. It compresses experience; it intensifies language; it uses words to say the unsayable…Poetry cracks open our everyday lives, the mundane worlds in which we spend so much unconscious time. It releases the extraordinary bringing us to a different level of consciousness. But poems do more than describe sounds or scenes. They actually become the sounds or scenes. You read a poem about the resurrection and you know a bit of what it feels like to have restored and renewed flesh. In order to have this effect poetry must ‘upset the ordinary ’ in some way. Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner, Silver Catching the Midday Sun in the Beauty of God

For stretching language beyond time is what poetry essentially does. Poetry takes the words of ordinary discourse, frees them from the bonds of fixed meaning, and opens them up toward mystery. Facing the undeniable fact of our mortality, poetry says: yes, you are real, but beyond you there is something else also real, which the human spirit naturally reaches for. We reach. however, not to grab – but rather to resonate with the richness of the holy mystery in which our mortality lives and moves and has its being. Poetry plays chords on time’s reeling cord, so that a single moment can seem to be held still while our soul sings to harmonies beyond itself. The paradox of a good poem is that it grounds me by flowering into infinite possibilities. Peggy Rosenthal, Image Journal, Fall 2005

One of the great delights of poetry is that when you’re really functioning, you’re tapping the unconscious in a way that is distinct from the ordinary, the customary, use of the mind in daily life. You’re somehow cracking the shell separating you from the unknown. Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid

In a way poetry is an attempt to break through the density of reality into a zone where the simplest things appear again as fresh as if they were seen by a child. Czeslaw Milosz, A Book of Luminous Things

Poetry is my prayer, a giving form to inchoate, personal spirituality, and my hymn, a statement of a communal spirituality already formed. It is the way I make sense of things, my ultimate stimulation model. When I write, it puts me deeply in touch with where I am without regret or pity. Well, okay, regret and pity, even self-pity: it’s all there. Poetry is not only a way of voicing the unspeakable, but also helps me to see differently, shapes how I see the world, how I act in it, and hence changes the shape of what I see.  David Waltner-Toews,  Poetry and Spiritual Practice, edited by Susan McCaslin,

Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision – a faith, to use an old fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed. Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness. Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth

Poetry, at its most powerful, enables us to authenticate our inner promptings and finding that the words are true to our inmost selves, say ‘Yes, that is how it is for me also. Michael Mayne, Learning to Dance

…the poet is the explorer, the opener of the way who ventures, in a state of inspiration, into regions of consciousness which in most of us remain dark and unexplored. Kathleen Raine, Learning By Heart

Language is sought, and seeks. The poet, pursuing a vessel to hold something known, finds what the poem may know that the poet as yet does not. Jane Hirschfield, Nine Gates

It is difficult
 to get the news from poems,
yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.  William Carlos Williams

Ashberry described Clare as someone he has found himself turning to ‘when I really need to be reminded again of what poetry is. The effect of Clare’s poetry on me, at least,’ he explained,’ is always the same – that of re-inserting me in my present, of re-establishing “now”. Jonathan Bate, A Biography of John Clare

We need poetry for nourishment and for noticing, for the way language and imagery reach comfortably into experience, holding and connecting it more successfully than any news channel we could name. Naomi Shahib Nye, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, Introduction

When I put words on paper, in poems, in journals, there’s evidence I exist. Here’s my beauty, my vanity, fear, my loneliness. A mirror shows me my face, a poem shows me my soul. Susan Wooldridge, Poemcrazy

Every writer knows what it is like to be surprised by what he is writing: Where is this coming from? Where is my authority to say such things? The mystery in writing, as with many of the arts, is that we learn from what we find ourselves asking and much of it streams into our consciousness not from the storehouse of our own knowledge or experience but from beyond it. Martin Smith, A Season for the Spirit

We need to write about what we know, but we must also be open to the mysteries – rain, light, air, fire, trees, babies, ourselves. In poems we gather mystery, explore mystery and create mystery. Poems are not a place to try to explain things. ‘Every writer finds a new entrance into the mystery,’ Chinese poet Lu Chi wrote in A.D.261,’and it is difficult to explain.Susan Wooldridge, Poemcrazy

A poet is the priest of the invisible. Wallace Stevens, Adagia, 1957

I don’t deny’ he said that there would be priests to remind men that one day they will die. I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have other kinds of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet. G.K. Chesterton, Manalive

Poet and priest were one in the beginning – only later times have separated them. The true poet is however always a priest, just as the true priest has always remained a poet. Ought not the future to bring back this ancient condition of things. Friedrich von Hardenberg-Novalis, quoted by Christopher Bamford, Temenos #9, 1988

Listen to how Whitman testifies to a pagan holiness:’ Divine I am inside and out ‘ he writes’“and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from.’ Whitman summons up for himself the prophetic powers of a lost poetic priesthood. He enters the new world with the authority of the most ancient poetic practice, reminding us that at its dramatic and spiritual peak the poem itself becomes a breakthrough into the divine. Edward Hirsch, How To Read a Poem

Poetry exists to extend human consciousness, to bring materials and insights from the unconscious dark into the light of language, Donald Hall, husband of poet Jane Kenyon who died in 1995

A poet is a catcher more than a pitcher, but the poet likes to think of himself as a pitcher more than a catcher. Jack Spicer as quoted by Thomas McGonigle. Review of Contemporary Fiction, March 22, 1999

The poetic secret is to find in nature the images that correspond to the already and forever existing landscape of the eternal world. Kathleen Raine. Poetry in Relation to Traditional Wisdom, Guild Lecture # 97, July, 1957

…poetry is the proper language of the soul; a speech that never ceases to tell those who are in the time-world of a timeless region that lies beyond the reach of intellectual judgments and evaluations. When the frontier of our consciousness is closed we inhabit a waste land to which neither wealth nor culture can impart life, which no social reform can restore. Thus understood poetry is no mere adornment of the everyday scene but a necessary knowledge of our immortal selves. Kathleen Raine, ibid,

I feel, like Beckett, that all poetry is prayer. So where does that sit poetry in the twenty first century, in this confusing and bloody world of ours? I’ve been thinking about that… Male novelists and dramatists are getting very documentary now, aren’t they? As though that is somehow more serious. Poetry can’t be documentary. I’m not sure that any of the arts should be – but poetry, above all, is a series of intense moments – its power is not in narrative. I’m not dealing with facts, I’m dealing with emotion. Carol Ann Duffy in an ionterview on Jeanette Winterson’s  website

The one persuasive charge against poetry would be that it doesn’t seek the truth about human beings in the world but confines itself instead to gathering pretty baubles on the world’s beaches, pebbles and shells. </i><i>Yes, of course. but we have the Duino Elegies, Eliot’s Wasteland, Milosz’s Treatise on Morals and Treatise on Poetry, Auden’s Shield of Achilles, Akhmatova’s Requiem, the poems of Zbigniew Herbert and Celan – what do they tackle? Evil, modernity, life in our age, the way our age resists us.” Adam Zagajewski, A Defense of Ardor

from Ars Poetica

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will

Czeslaw Milosz, Collected Poems

The poet’s job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name.
Jane Kenyon quoted by Jeff Gundy in Christian Century, Jan.24,  2006

“Poetry’s job is to discover wholeness and create wholeness, including the wholeness of the fragmentary and the broken.” Jane Hirschfield as quoted by Peter Harris in Ploughshares, Spring 1998.

 The job of poetry ’is not to shine a light which causes darkness to diminish or vanish; it is to bring even darkness into visibility. My poems are not just affirmations but what I hope are visibly hard-won affirmations. Affirmations that don’t negate the despair out of which they very often come. Jane Hirshfield as quoted by Peter Harris, ibid.

Poetry is a secret language. It is not the language of the day. It is not the domestic language. It contains within it the secret sources of one’s own life energy and life convictions. And it is not immediately translatable. That’s why a poet has to accumulate a body of work before we can even understand how to read the poems. Stanley Kunitz,
The Wild Braid

The poem is always a new creation and aspires to a transcendence that is beyond telling at the moment when you are working on it. You know you are moving into an area you’ve never explored before and there is a great difference. Stanley Kunitz, ibid

“In a poem, there is an impulse that moves from line to line, from image to image, but complete revelation is not achieved until the poem arrives at its terminal point, at which time what has been secret before the poem begins to reveal itself, and you have to meditate on the poem. It’s like someone removing a garment slowly, slowly. What bothers me about so much contemporary poetry is that there is none of that secrecy, it is all exposition, all revelation. I find that to be a diminishing factor. Stanley Kunitz, ibid.

The poem, by its very nature, holds the possibility of revelation, and revelation doesn’t come easy. You have to fight for it. There is that moment when you open a door and enter the room of the unspeakable. Then you know you’re really perking. After you’ve written a poem and you’ve felt you’ve said something that was previously unspeakable, there’s a tremendous sense of being blessed.” Stanley Kunitz, ibid, p.88


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