When I first became aware of the exhilarations of poetry as a community college freshman on the Mojave Desert, the poets who moved me were immaculately remote from my world. That was one of their attractions: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesuit priest, so incantatory I could barely understand him; John Donne, priest again, even earlier in the British lineage, and glorious crafter of something called c o n c e i t s.
Lots of British priests in the poetry business, it looked like. Plus Emily Dickinson. I loved the strenuousness of it all, the rigors, the long lonely vigil of it, the doomed quality. Here, I thought, is fit meat for the mind. And the fact was that my mind was very hungry. Hungry minds — the selfish, burrowing, opportunistic minds of the young who will rip the flesh off anything that might feed them — these are the salvation of writers. I often think about this, how the readers who keep writing alive are comically self-serving; they are trying to find access to their own brains, some way in, some key to make their own heads work. They rummage and plunder with catholic zeal, accidentally performing a service to culture that no number of academics or disinterested readers could accomplish. They have demonstrated one more time how great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things.
- Kay Ryan, from her essay "Fit Meat for a Hungry Mind" over at the Pulitzer Prize's website. The essay is also collected, as "Against Influence", in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.