Friday, May 05, 2006


I heard Gwyneth Lewis say, in a television interview, that the trick of being a poet was knowing when not to write, when to shut up. There are a lot of people around who seem to think they can write a continuous stream of poetry, but these people are not Dantes or Shakespeares; they are modern McGonagles, dressing the banal in florid words. They persist in trying to say ordinary things in an extraordinary way, but isn't poetry just the opposite: extraordinary things said in an ordinary way? Perhaps it's extraordinary things said in an extraordinary way, yes that sounds better. To be prolific to that standard requires something more than pretend genius.


  1. you are damn right about this, but knowing when not to write, or knowing when not to socialise (too much blah blah with no sense at all) is important too.
    I am re-reading your book.

  2. I like James Kirkup's view in his poem The Poet, which Whiskey River featured the other day

    The Poet

    Each instant of his life, a task, he never rests,
    And works most when he appears to be doing nothing.
    The least of it is putting down in words
    What usually remains unwritten and unspoken,
    And would so often be much better left
    Unsaid, for it is really the unspeakable
    That he must try to give an ordinary tongue to.

    And if, by art and accident,
    He utters the unutterable, then
    It must appear as natural as a breath,
    Yet be an inspiration. And he must go,
    The lonelier for his unwanted miracle,
    His singular way, a gentle lunatic at large
    In the societies of cross and reasonable men.
    - James Kirkup

  3. yes. extraordinary things said in an ordinary way - definitely yes.