Don Colburn

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”

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
      You can never tell with either
              how it will go…

—Marianne Moore, "Baseball and Writing"

Be simple and clear. — Be not occult.

Rules for Composition — A perfectly transparent, plate-glassy style, artless, with no ornaments, or attempts at ornaments, for their own sake…and never lugged in to show off.

Clearness, simplicity, no twistified or foggy sentences, at all…

—Walt Whitman, entries from his early notebooks

We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us – and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject. – How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, “admire me I am a violet! dote upon me I am a primrose!

—John Keats, letter to J. H. Reynolds, Feb. 3, 1818

You see what news I can send you I do – we all live one day like the other as well as you do – the only difference is being sick and well – with the variations of single and double knocks; and the story of a dreadful fire in the Newspapers…

—John Keats, letter to his sister, Fanny, March 13, 1819

Herman has taken to writing poetry. You need not tell anyone, for you know how such things get around.

—Herman Melville's wife, Elizabeth, letter to her mother

We have very beautiful bad weather here at present — rain, wind, thunder — but with splendid effects; that’s why I like it.

—Vincent Van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo

I believe in not quite knowing. A writer needs to be doubtful, questioning. I write out of curiosity and bewilderment…I’ve learned a lot I could not have learned if I were not a writer.

—William Trevor

“We listen for cadence, smoothness and how they have the series put together,” said judge Dale Rohm. Realism, tone and rhythm are also crucial, other judges said.

—Washington Post story on the Maryland turkey-calling championships

Sometimes, you need to put one right down the middle.

—Whitey Ford, legendary Yankee curveball pitcher, quoted by Stephen Dunn, in Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry

You have to keep on the very edge of something, all the time, or the picture dies.

—Willem de Kooning, New York Times, 1978

For the imagination thrives on ignorance and on the moist moral impress it takes from new pressures of experience. I am happiest when I have begun something, when I have pitched into that homely chaos of formal possibility, when I do not know where I am or where I am headed. It is a happiness like riding the subway after midnight. Anything can happen, and even if nothing does we will imagine some surprise or plot, a coincidence or ecstasy of patterns. In that zone of uncertainty, language feels like a treacherous ruin, and the task of making poetry, far from being a courtly or schoolish activity, seems one of elemental clarification, of dusting brittle vestiges of broken pots and bones in the hope of assembling something — history, fact, material, a feeling for what is just and beautiful — that might be made whole and true.

—W.S. Di Piero, from the title essay in Shooting the Works

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life…To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

—Binx Bolling, 29-year-old stockbroker in Walker Percy's The Moviegoer

Sentences are not different enough to hold the attention unless they are dramatic. No ingenuity of varying structure will do. All that can save them is the speaking tone of voice somehow entangled in the words and fastened to the page for the ear of the imagination. That is all that can save poetry from sing-song, all that can save prose from itself.

—Robert Frost

Voom is so hard to get. You never saw anything like it I bet.

— Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

If I knew how to write a poem, I wouldn’t.

—James Galvin, Sonora Review, 1984