Poets on Poetry

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Reading

It can be a challenge to wrap our minds around poetry. It’s not as straight-forward as non-fiction or fiction so many people choose to bury our heads in the sand, hoping that if we can’t see poetry then poetry can’t see us. Why not learn directly from those who have tamed the beast? That’s where these quotes come in.

I’ve compiled a collection of quotes from poets about poetry. Use them to get inspired and perhaps take a pen in hand and write a poem of your own.

Who is the Poet

From liar to soldier, from lover to survivor, the poet is many things but one thing rises above the rest. The poet is stubbornly dedicated to language.

“A poet can survive everything but a misprint.”
–Oscar Wilde

“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”
–W. H. Auden

“Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.”
–Eli Khamarov

“The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.”
–Jean Cocteau

“If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.”
–David Carradine

 What is Poetry?

We might think that poetry is just words on a page with lots of white space around them, but we could not be more wrong. Poetry is a living, breathing being.

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
–T. S. Eliot

“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”
–Khalil Gibran

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”
–Rita Dove

“Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.”
–Thomas Gray

Poetry vs. Prose

It’s been said several times this week, but always bears repeating: poetry is denser than prose and forces the writer to weigh the importance of each word.

“Always be a poet, even in prose.”
–Charles Baudelaire

“One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose.”

“Prose, words in their best order. Poetry, the best words in the best order.”
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Reading Poetry

Poems are meant to be seen and heard.

“If you read quickly to get through a poem to what it means, you have missed the body of the poem.”
–M. H. Abrams

“Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”
–Salvatore Quasimodo

“To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears.”
–Octavio Paz

Beginnings & Endings

Is there such a thing as an ending to a poem?

“A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”
–Paul Valery

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

“I see the poem or the novel ending with an open door.”
–Michael Ondaatje

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