Poetry and wine are liminal things.  They live on the borderlands between the wild and the civilized, between reason and irrationality.  Their territory is the unplanned, the unexpected, the pathless.

Source: Harry Eyres, Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 48-49

Poetry is a lifelong companion and solace to many. To me it’s a distillation of life – whether in the grand sweep or in its small moments – painted and sculpted in words. At its best, it connects me to other people, places and times, stripping away the ephemera of surface difference to reveal what it is to be human; embracing both the joy and the striving of it.

As Adam Nicolson puts it, ‘a description, through a particular set of lenses, of what it is like to be alive on earth, its griefs, triumphs, sufferings and glories’.

All poetry is memorial.  Much of it is elegy.

Source: Adam Nicolson, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (London: William Collins, 2015), 50

And paring down to the essence, it is one of the most vital and vibrant channels for capturing and transmitting human experience across distances of time and culture, or as a prism for understanding our own context.  Ezra Pound described poets, like artists, as the ‘antennae of the race’, sending us signals from the past, the present and the possible, allowing us to fine-tune our sensibilities and our engagement with the world.

It also reminds us – me, at least – that the path we tread, a seemingly once-only learn-as-you-go time on this earth, has been trodden before. The finest poetry, that which endures, makes visible those footsteps on the sand. It’s a deep reassurance that we are not alone in our fears, hopes, or fragility.

This page brings together poetry-related posts including quotations, ideas and books that have delighted or edified me. Click on the book covers to read my whole-hearted quote-rich reviews.

We hold on to the highest poetry out of desperate need.

Source: Till I End My Song: A gathering of last poems, Harold Bloom (ed), New York: HarperCollins, 2010, xxii

A voice answering a voice?

More than just the writing of poetry, isn't writing in general often 'a voice answering a voice'? This touching quotation comes towards the end of Orlando and the end of Orlando's long endeavours to complete her poem.  It is the first and last time she clearly...

Shorter but longer

This pithy summary of the difference between prose and poetry is as much as Orlando gleans from the convoluted accounts of a poet to whom he has opened his home, larder, wine cellar, purse and poetic aspirations, in the hope of some helpful guidance.  Not forthcoming....

To see at a distance

Thoreau has many striking things to say about poets, and even if I can't seize on them as definitive or universal in their application, they make me think.  This one is a little clunky in its expression, as if he is thinking out loud, but I like the idea of the poet...

As free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat

First, the unusual simile, I never thought of a lamb's bleat as free or lawless.  Then the idea that a true poetic sentence is free and lawless.  I found several similar comments in Thoreau, and something about them gave me a sense of liberty. I was once criticized by...

Thoughts as shells

The thoughts of poets likened to two types of shell, those that come from the depths and those that are washed up on shore and so exposed to the elements.  Thoreau has numerous comments on the nature of poets and poetry - I will be citing a number, even where I'm not...

Imply vs express, whole vs part

Again, a wonderful, provocative and pithy comment by Thoreau.  I'm now looking at poetry and asking how far it implies the whole truth and whether it needs to do so to be fine poetry. As to philosophy, I am so woefully refractory as to be incapable of comment. Luckily...

Bat-haunted cave

In general, I would run a mile from anything bat-haunted - apparently random, erratic flight patterns bring out some primeval panic in me.  But this isn't any old cave.  This is allegedly the cave I read about a thousand times in the beautifully illustrated Pied Piper...

A luminous spot in Chicago

What makes a city great?  What makes a civilization? How about a bright, quiet, dazzling new building in the heart of a town, housing 30,000 volumes of poetry?  A place where you can step off the street into poetry through a single glass door. Before going to Chicago,...

A reader’s choice – The Good-Morrow

For World Poetry Day, I wrote about learning poems by heart and asked readers to share any they love and have learned. This came back from Tanya, about a beautiful and difficult poem by John Donne, The Good-Morrow.  I like the complex reasons she cherishes this poem,...

On memorizing poetry

A few years ago I wrote this piece on memorising poetry.  For World Poetry Day, I share it here in the hope it will encourage you to learn a poem by heart, if you don't do so as a matter of course. I still memorise poems and regularly revisit those I haven't turned...

water is…

One bitingly cold morning I was crossing a square in central Liverpool, and noticed some words on the ground.  I followed them, and discovered a fluid, limpid elegy to water and its relationship to a coastal city, circumnavigating the square.  I love when words are...

Beginnings

According to Adam Nicolson, some of the earliest poems were found in Sumer in cuneiform, dating from nearly two thousand years before Homer's epics were committed to papyrus, around 2600 BC.  Only fragments remain.  I wonder if anyone has thought of posting those...

Roiling poetry

Written by a poet, this suggests that poems aren't written, but rather roil and form of their own volition. Having had moments of sensing that lines were being written not by but through me, I liked this elemental action of a poem in the making. 'Something nameless...

The illuminated space of the poem

Reading can extend life, as Umberto Eco put it: a reader can live 5000 years as opposed to the three score and ten biblical allocation.  Here, Bloom gives a sense of poetry that allows at least a momentary suspension of time, a stilling of the ticking clock, or 'a...

There is no method but yourself

Wisely or no, this has pretty much been my haphazard method of reading poetry since I left formal study. With occasional blinding insight provided by some of the best writers on poetry, which is to say, its best readers. 'There is no method but yourself, once you have...

Time and poets

This summary of where Mandelstam places the poet versus the ‘man of letters’ on the time spectrum intrigues me.  Yes, there are poets who converse with readers waiting in the future: Homer and Keats come to mind.  But there are also poets who write for their own time,...

Poetry as plough

Elsewhere Mandelstam connects poetry to recall.  Here it is a time-turning plough, bringing the deepest layers of time to the surface. And, you could add, enriching the present by turning it over with old soil, aerating both. ‘Poetry is the plow that turns up time so...

Poetry as connector

Since good poetry (good writing, for that matter) transcends time, I liked this phrase of Molly Peacock, a Canadian poet, that ‘poetry exists against time’, together with the ‘indiscriminate gusto’ it permits her in traversing poetic landscapes near and far, across...

Poetry as recall

Slowly I’m building a collection of quotations defining poetry.  With a few more in the bag, we can lay them all out and see what it looks like.  This one has had me thinking: composing poetry as a recollection of things that haven’t yet been uttered.  Could that...

Gift-bearing ambassadorial winds

Having a love of Persian poetry, known only through translation, and of Chinese poetry, engaged with tentatively and carefully in its original spareness, I loved this embroidered, sweeping, generous sentence. May you be blessed with gift-bearing ambassadorial winds...

How to speak to an editor

Clearly, authors are simply too humble in approaching editors. This is how it should be done, straight to the point and don’t forget to pay me. In this story, the children need to raise some cash and Noel hits upon the brilliant idea of flogging his poetry. Except...

A man with no plan

We went to a charity bazarre the other morning, and came staggering out with a sack load of books. Before heading into the airy 1950s ‘salle communale’ across the road to load up on home baked cakes, scones and jams the International Women’s Club had churned out to...

Communication before comprehension

Over the years I’ve encountered a road block that stumps many people in the appreciation of poetry.  Including people who can fully embrace other artistic expression such as painting and music. One way to remove that road block is to reassure them that you don’t have...

Marvelous night for a moondance

A full moon tonight, an October night, and having recently listened to Van Morrison in a sudden burst of nostalgia, the lyrics of Moondance struck me.  Go and listen to it again, if you haven’t for a while.  It’ll get you dancing, in spirit if not in body.  ...

Wine and humility

Horace, it seems, drank humble wine and was himself a humble man. I loved this use of wine as an analogy for the poet and for the transmuting of humility into eternity. ‘This humble wine stands for the humble poet, the freedman’s son, and beyond that for the poetry...

A poem begins

This lovely comment by one of America’s finest and most beloved poets, Robert Frost, on the origins of poems – not in thoughts, but in feelings. ‘A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.  It is never a thought to begin...

Wine and poetry

Wine as a perfect metaphor for poetry, with the same nature, alchemy and effects. Both can make you heady, or be heart-warming, comforting, or rousing. I don’t think poetry makes people fall over, however. ‘Wine and poetry are quite alike in their natures and their...

Of words, wording and eternity

Part of my blogophyte journey has been to learn about some of the technical workings of the online world, among which Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a big deal. Thankfully there are excellent bits of software you just plug in that will tell search engines your...

Freedom gained?

What is freedom? Options? Room for manoeuvre? Time? Carte blanche and blank cheques? Absence of censorship? Self-mastery? Purpose? Recently I’ve had time and cause to think about leadership, and self-mastery has emerged as a front-runner at least as a necessary...

The poet’s role

I am interested in ideas about the role and nature of poetry, and have featured a number on WritingRedux. Featuring them doesn’t mean I fully agree with them, or consider them to be definitive. The poet’s role is sometimes to shed tears and feel sympathy for the...

On poetry and human feeling

Apart from pointing me to some translations of Catullus that may propel to me a new level of human feeling, this gives me much to think about. Poetry being a question of ‘speaking with full human feeling’ is already a bold idea, and a good test for meaning and...

The aim of aimlessness

This made me think - surrendering to aimlessness to write poetry (and other things?  A good letter?  A story?).  Perhaps I misinterpret Eyres’ advice, but I sense in it the need, when putting pen to paper, to allow a moment of emptiness, reflecting the blank page or...

Poetry as redemption

Harry Eyres’ book is as much about the nature of poetry as about Horace, and I was struck by this quotation of Wallace Stevens, along with a comment by Ezra Pound that poets and artists could both be viewed as the ‘antennae of the race’, a role I believe is probably...

Of wine and poetry

Here we have a poet and a vintner who connects the magic between wine and poetry.  Wine can be poetic in its effects, and poetry can be an outpouring.  They both involve alchemy. May you find joy and bedazzlement in the unplanned, the unexpected and the pathless....

Be sweet, be useful, and even be true

It seems Horace wanted to fulfill this injunction, intending his poems to be ‘helpers of humanity’. Perhaps another reason his poetry endures is that humanity (at least parts of it) is still striving to live meaningfully, joyfully and wisely, and in this (other...

Rules of engagement

Where I have failed to appreciate some of the most enduringly esteemed works of literature, it has often been due to falling flat on my face in terms of the translation I happened to pick up.  I’ve learned not to dismiss a work I read in translation if it has been...

The poetic dragon

One of the most imaginative tales in Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days concerns a reluctant dragon. He has no interest in dragonly archetypes: forget fighting and hoarding treasure and burning things up with the breath of death. This dragon prefers to hang out on a...

Pebble pusher

Keats, known as a poet, was also one of history’s great letter writers.  He loved life and seized it even as it slipped away from him, embracing moments of joy centuries before anyone talked about ‘mindfulness’. He was also immensely playful, contrary to the image we...

The last of your life…

Hart Crane died very young, making this comment all the more poignant. And if we ‘wrote each poem’ or letter, or lived each day, as though it could be the last of our life?  Is there a way to do that at ease, without a sense of urgency? ‘Crane wrote each poem as...

Past into future will go

I like this concept of an inheritance as something solidly rooted in the past, but ‘willable forward again and again and again’. Not a burden the past imposes on us, but something we can take up and use with forward momentum, if we choose. 'And now this is ‘an...

Fate goes as ever fate must

This translation by Seamus Heaney rings like a proverb on the immutability of fate. Elsewhere, he brings it up close and personal: ‘His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain.’ We would probably question the certainty part, as our culture veers towards assuring us...

Poetry as a boat

Another maritime metaphor in Heaney's introduction to a poem set in a sea-world.  The ‘big quay’ of language and literature can be a powerful deterrent to even building one's little craft, let alone docking it at the quay. That's where the current of creativity can...

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