toujours travailler

As for your first quotation from Auden—his assertion that no one can create a work of art “by a simple act of will . . . but must wait until what he believes to be a good idea for a work comes to him”—I agree. Still, I try never to forget that Rilke learned the opposite, or at least a complementary, lesson when he worked for Rodin in Paris. In Rodin’s words, “Il faut travailler, toujours travailler,” or in English, “One must work, always work.” So, practice is crucial, too. It certainly had a profoundly beneficial effect on Rilke’s poetry, which improved rapidly from that point on, as he started to write the two volumes of New Poems, where most of his thing-poems are to be found. Whereas before—when apparently he was always waiting for inspiration—his poetry was relatively vague and sentimental. Later, when he received the inspiration for the Duino Elegies, walking along the wall at Duino Castle—I believe the story is that he had some distressing financial business to take care of, and then suddenly he heard the opening lines of the first elegy—he was ready for it; he had the technique he needed to turn the inspiration into a masterpiece, because he’d been practicing for years.

- James Pollock, answering Alex Boyd's "One Question Interview" over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here


every voyage into the mountains will furnish the answer

Song and story, like music, dance and painting, are separate though related. They are sisters, the Greeks said; daughters of one mother, whose name is Mnemosyne: memory, minding, the mind. Their father is the weather. Story and song, in other words, are daughters of knowing, playing at taking their mother's place. Their dwelling, like their mother's - every language seems to know this - is the mountains. Mountain means the wild, in the earth and in the mind. It means the living system, not a replica managed by humans for human ends. Mountains are where humans, with their self-centered notions of order and management, and their narrow definitions of profit and economy, have not yet reached, or have not yet taken control. Greed and fear will post a question: How can the home of knowing by where human organization has not reached? But every voyage into the mountains will furnish the answer: it cannot be anywhere else.

- Robert Bringhurst, from his essay "Everywhere Being is Dancing, Knowing is Known" in Poetry and Knowing: Speculative Essays & Interviews (Quarry Press, 1995). 


how the poem lives as an entity

It seems to me that at its best - and this is what we search for in poems all the time - poetry approximates, through the powerful use of language, our fundamental, original  sense of life's miraculousness, its profound and mysterious meaning. When poems catch and burn as we want them to, they are taking us back to the first recognition and naming of a thing, to something like childhood wonder, a sense of our own lives and the surrounding world as possessing depth and being charged with meaning and potential discoveries, a sense of energied understanding. Poetry does this by communicating excitement through the character of the poem's language - not through the words' denotations or the poem's statement so much as through how the poem lives as an entity. The poet's excitement seems to communicate directly, subliminally to the reader. 

- John Steffler, from his essay "Language as Matter" in Poetry and Knowing: Speculative Essays & Interviews (Quarry Press, 1995).


the thought-and-gesture work of poems

Poems don't get written by spending one's time exclusively in books, in front of blank screens and pages; it's crucial to get out into the world, to experience it as fully as possible, and to pay attention to that experience. Doing so is also a useful distraction from the frustration of not being able to write, or to write well. So in addition to reading and trying to write, both in a disciplined way, I also make a point each day of going for walks (a dog helps). I'm also the one who cooks in the family - cooking count. Or the weather's too lousy and I don't feel like cooking, so I look for a steady few minutes at the weather from my window, or I close my eyes and listen to the weather that, when I can't see it, actually has its own music, not so lousy after all, I hadn't noticed, how hadn't I noticed this before? This doesn't mean my next poem will concern weather or putting a Bolognese sauce together or the bark of a tree I noticed while walking, but these all get added to the countless things I've noticed, smelled, listened to across a longish life and they leave a for-the-most-untraceable imprint on each thought and gesture that follows, including the thought-and-gesture work of poems. 

- Carl Phillips, from his essay "Ambition" in My Trade is Mystery.


the way flies attend horses

I used to equate winning a prize for writing with winning Wimbledon, but that's not right. Putting aside the possibility of bad calls by referees, putting aside luck - good or bad - to win Wimbledon is to have played the best game of tennis, albeit only on that particular day; today's champion could as easily be defeated tomorrow by the one who lost today. But winning a prize for art, far from meaning you were the best today, really just means that a randomly assembled group of humans and therefore subjective and each-with-their-own-biases judges came to an agreement - itself often uneasy - that your art was deserving of a prize. That doesn't make it the best or, to be honest, even good.

Prizes are part of the politics that attend art the way flies attend horses. They ultimately distract from what, as far as I can tell, art is most about: the urgency of and devotion to and sheer pleasure in the act of making some form of human expression for what it means to be alive in a human body at this moment in time.

- Carl Phillips, from his essay "Ambition" in My Trade is Mystery.