Longreads 2012: On the Craft

Knowing how to write a poem is not the same as having a poem to write.

The Bees, by Carol Ann Duffy – reviewed by Kate Kellaway (The Guardian)


Interviewing T. S. Eliot, I saved my cheekiest question for last. “Do you know if you’re any good?” His revised and printed response was formal, but in person he was abrupt: “Heavens no! Do you? Nobody intelligent knows if he’s any good.” No honor, no publication proves anything. Look at an issue of the Atlantic in 1906; look at a Poetry from 1931. A Nobel Prize means nothing. Look in an almanac at the list of poets who have won a Pulitzer Prize; look at the sad parade of Poets Laureate.

Thank You Thank You,” by Donald Hall (The New Yorker)


Pound said, “It’s no use trying to do something that somebody else has done as well as it can be done. Do something different.”

T. S. Eliot, interviewed by Donald Hall (Paris Review)


What Maxwell calls poetry, good or bad, is different from song precisely because it carries its own music within it. Where song lyrics are written to function within a musical frame, poetry is framed by silence; it’s always working against the void. “Poets work with two materials, one’s black, one’s white,” Maxwell writes. “You want to hear the whiteness eating? Write out the lyrics of a song you love … If you strip the music off it, it dies in the whiteness, can’t breathe there.” It isn’t a question of whether a Bob Dylan song, or something by Grandmaster Flash is as good as a Keats ode or something by Auden. In the end Maxwell is refreshingly clear on the issue: “Bob Dylan and John Keats are at different work. It would be nice never to be asked about this again.”

On Poetry, by Glyn Maxwell, reviewed by Adam Newey (The Guardian)


I don’t think that contemporary poets are disengaged politically. On the contrary. … The issue is that the cultural position of poetry is quite dramatically changed. In a way, the readership of poetry is a much narrower segment of the reading population. These days I think we think—not me as part of that “we,” but a lot of people—if you asked people, “In what literary genre do you think the most important philosophical questions of the 21st century are being debated?,” people would say right away, “The novel. You have to go to that weighty, hefty, complex genre to really grapple with important political issues.” I don’t think that’s true at all. … Myung Mi Kim is [a] poet I would cite as someone who is really thinking about global identity, about the political legacies of violence and nationalism, as an ongoing preoccupation for her in her work.

Faith Barrett, author of To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave, interviewed by Ruth Graham (Poetry)


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