Archives for posts with tag: poetry

How To Be a Poet


(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.



Do you think that confession plays a role in your poems? Your poems might be characterized as a part of the narrative, confessional poetry tradition, and I wonder as a priest-poet if you feel a sense of testimony or even, perhaps, absolution when you write?

I’ve heard that word “narrative” thrown around some now. Confessional less. Confessional recalls Plath and Sexton and Lowell and Berryman and Snodgrass right away, doesn’t it? I am not sure half the time what I am doing as an artist and, by and large, I’d say that has stood me in good stead. Naturally, my religious life is spilling into the verse, and I suppose it is a testimony, to use a fundamentalist word and turn it on its head, a testimony of a middle-aged gay man who became a priest.

Read more here.

How It Happens 

The sky said I am watching
to see what you
can make out of nothing
I was looking up and I said
I thought you
were supposed to be doing that
the sky said Many
are clinging to that
I am giving you a chance
I was looking up and I said
I am the only chance I have
then the sky did not answer
and here we are
with our names for the days
the vast days that do not listen to us

— W.S. Merwin


Trying to recall the plot
And characters we dreamed,
What life was like
Before the morning came,
We are seldom satisfied,
And even then
There is no way of knowing
If what we know is true.
Something nameless
Hums us into sleep,
Withdraws, and leaves us in
A place that seems
Always vaguely familiar.
Perhaps it is because
We take the props
And fixtures of our days
With us into the dark,
Assuring ourselves
We are still alive. And yet
Nothing here is certain;
Landscapes merge
With one another, houses
Are never where they should be,
Doors and windows
Sometimes open out
To other doors and windows,
Even the person
Who seems most like ourselves
Cannot be counted on,
For there have been
Too many times when he,
Like everything else, has done
The unexpected.
And as the night wears on,
The dim allegory of ourselves
Unfolds, and we
Feel dreamed by someone else,
A sleeping counterpart,
Who gathers in
The darkness of his person
Shades of the real world.
Nothing is clear;
We are not ever sure
If the life we live there
Belongs to us.
Each night it is the same;
Just when we’re on the verge
Of catching on,
A sense of our remoteness
Closes in, and the world
So lately seen
Gradually fades from sight.
We wake to find the sleeper
Is ourselves
And the dreamt-of is someone who did
Something we can’t quite put
Our finger on,
But which involved a life
We are always, we feel,
About to discover.

“[I]n general ours is a civilization in which the very word ‘poetry’ evokes a hostile snigger or, at best, the sort of frozen disgust that most people feel when they hear the word ‘God’. If you are good at playing the concertina you could probably go into the nearest public bar and get yourself an appreciative audience within five minutes. But what would be the attitude of that same audience if you suggested reading them Shakespeare’s sonnets, for instance? Good bad poetry, however, can get across to the most unpromising audiences if the right atmosphere has been worked up beforehand.”  – George Orwell holding a samurai sword

Read more here.

george-orwell.large blog

“[D] rug use among artists is the catastrophic and incredibly obvious mistake of looking for the right thing, illumination, in the wrong place—as if the chemical contained what was necessary, when all along it is within us, obviously. The problem is it takes a lifetime of discipline to access that state of illumination—it must be sought, found, then constantly maintained—and with drugs at first you get the impression that it’s something you can turn on and off with a switch. But it is understandable—the world is so awful, and artistic aspirations go so against the grain of things as they are, it is natural to despair, in the midst of so much ugliness and chaos, of finding any other way to enter that other state, that other place of illumination. And the other horrible problem is that it sometimes really works, initially—if it didn’t work, to some degree, it wouldn’t be such a problem. ” — Franz Wright

learning to venerate