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Quotes | small poet at large

Quotes for poets & writers


A poem is a flexible thing, and a poem is a poem. - Juan Felipe Herrera

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way. - Charles Bukowski

The bottoms of my shoes are clean from walking in the rain. - Jack Kerouac

Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion. - Jack Kerouac

What kind of sordid business are you on now? I mean, man, whither goest thou? Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night? - Jack Kerouac

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. - Jack Kerouac

The moon is a sow
and grunts in my throat
Her great shining shines through me
so the mud of my hollow gleams
and breaks in silver bubbles
- Denise Levertov, “Song for Ishtar” from
O Taste and See

It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was. - Anne Sexton

I am a collection of dismantled almosts. - Anne Sexton

Those moments before a poem comes, when the heightened awareness comes over you, and you realize a poem is buried there somewhere, you prepare yourself. I run around, you know, kind of skipping around the house. It's as though I could fly, almost, and I get very tense before I've told the truth--hard. Then I sit down at the desk and get going with it. - Anne Sexton

I wonder if the artist ever lives his life--he is so busy recreating it. - Anne Sexton

Out of used furniture she made a tree. - Anne Sexton

...became a woman who learned her own skin and dug into her soul and found it full. - Anne Sexton, The Break Away

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard. - Anne Sexton

All day I’ve built a lifetime and now the sun sinks to undo it. - Anne Sexton, from "The Fury of Sunsets",
The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. - John Steinbeck

The greatest poets are those with memories so great that they extend beyond their strongest experiences to their minutest observations of people and things far outside their own self-centeredness. - Stephen Spender

Contrary to general belief, an artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs. - Edgard Varese

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. - Edwin Land

The trouble is, old age is not interesting until one gets there. It's a foreign country with an unknown language to the young and even to the middle-aged. - May Sarton

When one's not writing poems, you wonder how you ever did it. It's like another country you can't reach. - May Sarton

In the novel or the journal you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival. - May Sarton

Some things arrive on their own mysterious hour, on their own terms and not yours, to be seized or relinquished forever. - Gail Godwin

No one worth possessing can be quite possessed. That includes one's self. - Sara Teasdale

The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been. - Madeline L'Engle

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. - William Blake

Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion. - Dorothy Parker

I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. - Gertrude Stein

The creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic. - Gertrude Stein

Write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwords in a recasting. it will come if it is there and if you will let it come. - Gertrude Stein

There is more power in telling little than in telling all. - Mark Rothko

Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is. - Willa Cather

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

In the history of old Jewish literature there was never any basic difference between the poet and the prophet. Our ancient poetry often became law and a way of life. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

When literature becomes overly erudite, it means that interest in the art has gone and curiosity about the artist is what's important. It becomes a kind of idolatry. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

While the poet entertains he continues to search for eternal truths, for the essence of being. In his own fashion he tries to solve the riddle of time and change, to find an answer to suffering, to reveal love in the very abyss of cruelty and injustice. Strange as these words may sound I often play with the idea that when all the social theories collapse and wars and revolutions leave humanity in utter gloom, the poet--whom Plato banned from his Republic--may rise up to save us all. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

The ghetto was not only a place of refuge for a persecuted minority but a great experiment in peace, in self-discipline and in humanism. As such it still exists and refuses to give up in spite of all the brutality that surrounds it. I was brought up among those people. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

A couple of poems I like a year look like a lot when they come out, but in fact are points of satisfaction separated by large vacancies. - Sylvia Plath

“Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don't have a pure motive (O-it's-such-fun-I-just-can't-stop-who-cares-if-it's-published-or-read) about writing. - Sylvia Plath

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. - Sylvia Plath

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try. - Sylvia Plath

Ordering a man to write a poem is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child. - Carl Sandburg

Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work. - Carl Sandburg

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. - Carl Sandburg

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
- William Carlos Williams, Asphodel, That Greeny Flower and Other Love Poems

Poets don't draw. They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently. - Jean Cocteau

There are truths which one can only say after having won the right to say them. - Jean Cocteau

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot. - D.H. Lawrence

I cannot cure myself of that most woeful of youth's follies--thinking that those who care about us will care for the things that mean much to us. - D.H. Lawrence

The only true aristocracy is that of consciousness. - D.H. Lawrence

There's nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book. - Carson McCullers

Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped. - Lillian Hellman

There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the fault of his feet. - Samuel Beckett

To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now. - Samuel Beckett

I shall state silences more competently than ever a better man spangled the butterflies of vertigo. - Samuel Beckett

It is not with impunity that one is soft, polished, reasonable,patient, day after day, year after year. - Samuel Beckett

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. - Samuel Beckett

People are bloody ignorant apes. - Samuel Beckett - Waiting for Godot

We are all born mad. Some remain so. - Samuel Beckett

All poetry, as discriminated from the various paradigms of prosody, is prayer. - Samuel Beckett, Humanistic Quietism, 1934

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. - Kurt Vonnegut

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. - E. E. Cummings

Man no longer dreams over a book in which a soft voice, a constant companion, observes, exhorts, or sighs with him through the pangs of youth and age. Today he is more likely to sit before a screen and dream the mass dream which comes from outside. - Loren Eiseley, Strangeness in the Proportion

It is frequently the tragedy of the great artist, as it is of the great scientist, that he frightens the ordinary man. If he is more than a popular story-teller it may take humanity a generation to absorb and grow accustomed to the new geography with which the scientist or artist presents us. Even then, perhaps only the more imaginative and literate may accept him. Subconsciously the genius is feared as an image breaker; frequently he does not accept the opinions of the mass, or man's opinion of himself. - Loren Eiseley, The Mind as Nature

Art is the method of levitation, in order to separate one's self from enslavement by the earth. - Anais Nin

Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage. - Anais Nin

The final lesson a writer learns is that everything can nourish the writer. The dictionary, a new word, a voyage, an encounter, a talk on the street, a book, a phrase learned. - Anais Nin

The poet is one who is able to keep the fresh vision of the child alive. - Anais Nin

The preoccupation of the novelist: how to capture the living moments, was answered by the diary. You write while you are alive. You do not preserve them in alcohol until the moment you are ready to write about them. - Anais Nin

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. - Anais Nin

Beginnings are apt to be shadowy. - Rachel Carson

The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him. - Rachel Carson

I think that in order to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. - Edna Ferber

Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never! - Edna Ferber

You lose in the end unless you know how the wheel is fixed or can fix it yourself. - Edna Ferber

Art transcends its limitations only by staying within them. - Flannery O'Connor

The meaning of the story is the story. - Flannery O'Connor

The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention. - Flannery O'Connor

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. - Flannery O'Connor

You can't clobber any reader while he's looking. You divert his attention, then you clobber him and he never knows what hit him. - Flannery O'Connor

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. - Flannery O'Connor

Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind... When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her. - Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness

That is why I think, in defiance of Plato, that there is at once error and vulgarity in saying that poetry is a lie, except in the sense that Cocteau wrote one day: I am a lie who always tells the truth. The only poetry which lies purely and simply is academic, pseudo-classical, conceptually repetitive poetry, and it is not poetry. - Jacques Maritain

Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it. - Bertolt Brecht

Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does. - Allen Ginsberg

Poetry allows one to speak with a power not granted by culture. - Linda McCarriston

We work in the dark, We do what we can, We give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art. - Henry James

The sole substitute for an experience which we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature. - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine. - Susan Sontag

I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams. - Susan Sontag

I write so the endangered thoughts roaming naked and vulnerable through the misty jungles of my mind aren't slain by the guns of practical living. - Kim Krizan

I will keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished... - Mary Oliver

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. - Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began. - Mary Oliver

I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings. - Mary Oliver

Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. - Mary Oliver

I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do. - Georgia O'Keeffe

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. - Elie Wiesel

A wild patience has taken me this far. - Adrienne Rich

The true nature of poetry. The drive to connect. The dream of a common language. - Adrienne Rich

Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone. - Adrienne Rich

Poets don't finish poems, they abandon them. - Stephane Mallarme

Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced. - John Keats

It is when I struggle to be brief that I become obscure. - Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace)

The older I grow, the less important the comma becomes. Let the reader catch his own breath. - Elizabeth Clarkson Zwart

In the arts, as in life, everything is possible provided it is based on love. - Marc Chagall

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. - Paul Erlich

See, I haven’t led a literary life. These fellows, they really work away with their prose trying to describe themselves and understand themselves, and so on. I don’t do that. I don’t want to know too much about myself. - Robert Frost

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering. - Robert Frost

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. - Robert Frost

If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they’re reading to themselves. - Don Marquis

I have spent many years trying to recover a common language, one that can cross the distance between people. - Robert Bly

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. - Emily Dickinson

If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn’t have bothered to write them. - Margaret Drabble

Whatever gets in the way of your work, is your work. - Sophie Cabot Black

Poems, to me, do not come from ideas, they come from a series of images that you tuck away in the back of your brain. Little photographic snapshots. Then you get the major vision of the poem, which is like a giant magnet to which all these disparate little impressions fly and adhere, and there is the poem! - Carolyn Kizer

I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts. - Aldous Huxley

Good writing excites me, and makes life worth living. - Harold Pinter

Don't worry about what anyone else thinks - write what you must. - Carl Phillips

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good. - William Faulkner

I like to write about certain things that if they are not written about are not going to exist. - James Salter

History is said to be written by the victors. Fiction, by contrast, is largely the work of injured bystanders. - Edna O’Brien

I look on my life as raw material for my novels: that’s just the way I am, and it frees me from any inhibitions. - Imre Kertesz

Poetry is not a silent art. The poem must perform, unaided, in its reader’s head. - Christopher Logue

Poetry is made in a bed like love
Its rumpled sheets are the dawn of things - Andre Breton

I'm lucky enough to occasionally be able to do something I love - write poems - and unlucky enough that what I love confuses and overwhelms me. - Mary Ruefle

What good is it if you talk in flowers, and they think in pastry? - Ashleigh Brilliant

While the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly in a windowpane. - Billy Collins

A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of. It takes on a life and a will of its own. - Stanley Kunitz

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. - Anton Chekhov

Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. - Franz Kafka

The challenge is to remember that poetry must still dance. We can all think of poets who lost their sense of joy or humor when they assumed the burden of memory. Memory is the mother of the muses, who weren't dour figures. They were lovelies. - Ange Mlinko.

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. - Louis L'Amour

When one writes, there’s the double horror of discovering not only what it is that one so fears but also the triviality of that fear. - Deborah Eisenberg

When I read, I hear what’s on the page. I don’t know whose voice it is, but some voice is reading to me, and when I write my own stories, I hear it, too. - Eudora Welty

There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it. - To Be Continued, Unnoticed, Man Ray, 1948

Even if the last move did not succeed, the inner command says move again. - Seamus Heaney

A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of. - Stanley Kunitz

You see, I am a poet, and not quite right in the head, darling. It’s only that. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

It is harrowing for me to try to teach 20-year-old students, who earnestly want to improve their writing. The best I can think to tell them is: Quit smoking, and observe posted speed limits. This will improve your odds of getting old enough to be wise. - Barbara Kingsolver

Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do and what they have to do. - Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

A novel is a daily labor over a period of years. A novel is a job. But a story can be like a mad, lovely visitor, with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend. - Lorrie Moore

Being profound and seeming profound. Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity; those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound: it is so timid and dislikes going into the water. - Friedrich Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom

The writer's role is to menace the public's conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time. - Rod Serling, Creator of The Twilight Zone.

In a word, poetry can not exist without emotion, or, if you will, without a movement of the soul which regulates the words. - Paul Claudel

If you can make the reader laugh he is apt to get careless and go on reading. - Henry Green

…verses amount to so little when one writes them young. One ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness a whole life long, and a long life if possible, and then, quite at the end, one might perhaps be able to write ten lines that were good. - Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

I don't believe in tame poetry. . . . Poetry busts guts." - Frank Stanford

…after a night spent writing poetry, one is almost happy to hear the milkman at the door. - Wallace Stevens

Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney. - Vincent van Gogh

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the same way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice. - Robert Frank

The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like. - E.L. Doctorow

I was made for another planet altogether. I mistook the way." - Simone de Beauvoir

Ignorance is the parent of fear." - Herman Melville,
Moby-Dick

Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught. - Leslie Feinberg

Whenever something new develops in poetry, many will argue, "That’s not poetry." Think of the reception of William Carlos Williams . . . spoken word poets, poets who incorporate graphics, poets who write in code so robots can read them. It’s all poetry. - Joyce Peseroff

In some ways, writing a memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist, if it's done right. - Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

Every exit is an entry somewhere. - Tom Stoppard