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Russell Edson

…Growing your own writing without going to the Iowa Writers Workshop, and without sending your work to known poets—your own garden, your own mediation—isolation!—Painful, necessary!…Finally the golden bubble of delight, one is saved by one’s own imagination.

One comes to the writing table with one’s own hidden life, the secret of the fat man; not dragging Pound’s Cantos….

The trouble with most who would write poetry is that they are unwilling to throw their lives away…They are unwilling…

How I hate little constipated lines that are afraid to be anything but correct, without an ounce of humor, that gaity that death teaches!

What we want is a poetry of miracles—minus the “I” of ecstasy! A poem that as many people who read it each reads a different poem. A poetry freed from its time. A poetry that engages the Creation, which we believe is still in process, and that it is entirely an imaginative construction, which our creative acts partake of, and are necessary to. We are helping to imagine the Universe.

Which means a poetry not caugt and strangled on particular personalities. A poetry that can see itself beyond its obvious means.

And we wish above all to be thought of as “beneath contempt” by the pompous, those who have stood their shadows over the more talented.

How I despise the celebrity poet!

— “Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man: Some Subjective Ideas and Notions on the Care & Feeding of Prose Poems” 

Carl Wilson

The one bothersome matter in this anarchic taste universe (a utopia or dystopia, depending on your ideology, but one that cannot be wished away) is the persistence of a mainstream—what [Clement] Greenberg or his contemporary Dwight McDonald would have called “middlebrow” culture, the politely domineering realm where Celine Dion is queen, unattached to any validating subculture. Middlebrow is the new lowbrow—mainstream taste the only for taste for which you still have to say you’re sorry. And there, taste seems less an aesthetic question than, again, a social one: among the thousands of varieties of aesthetes and geeks and hobbyists, each with their special-ordered diet, the abiding mystery of mainstream culture is, “Who the hell are those people?”

— Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
 

Jorge Luis Borges

It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words…can resemble the universe very much. According to this doctrine, the world is a fabrication of the will. Art—always—requires visible unrealities. Let us admit what all idealists admit: the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done: seek unrealities which confirm that nature. We shall find them, I believe, in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno.

“The greatest magician (Novalis) has memorably written) would be the one who cast over himself a spell so complete that he would take his own phantasmagorias as autonomous appearances. Would not this be the case?” I conjecture that this is so. We (the undivided divinity operating within us) have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it as firm, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and durable in time; but in its architecture we have allowed tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason which tell us it is false.

— “Avatars of the Tortoise”
 

Hans-Georg Gadamer

Radiance, then, is not only one of the qualities of the beautiful but constitutes its actual being. The distinguishing mark of the beautiful–namely that it immediately attracts the desire if the human soul–is founded in its mode of being. Beauty is not simply symmetry but appearance itself. It is related to the idea of ‘shining’ . . . To shine means to shine on something, and so to make that on which the light falls appear. Beauty has the mode of being of light.

—Truth and Method
 

Robert Hughes

Two generations of Americans—including American artists—have now grown up in front of the TV set, their consciousness permeated by its shuttle of bright images, their attention span shrunken by its manipulative speed, their idea of success dictated by its collapse of fame into celebrity, their anxiety level (at least among the smarter ones, again including artists) raised by its sheer pervasive power.

The power of television goes beyond anything the fine arts have ever wanted or achieved. Nothing like this Niagara of visual gabble had even been imagined a hundred years ago. American network television drains the world of meaning; it makes reality seem dull, slow and avoidable. It is our “floating world.” It tends to abort the imagination by leaving kids nothing to imagine: every hero and demon is there, raucously explicit, precut—a world of stereotypes, too authoritative for imagination to develop or change.

— “The Decline of the City of Mahagonny”
 

William H. Gass

I would rather it be the weather. It drives us in upon ourselves—an unlucky fate. Of course there is enough to stir our wonder anywhere; there’s enough to love, anywhere, if one is strong enough, if one is diligent enough, if one is perceptive, patient, kind enough—whatever it takes; and surely it’s better to live in the country, to love on a prairie by a drawing of rivers, in Iowa or Illinois or Indiana, say, than in any city, in any stinking fog of human beings, in any blooming orchard of machines. It ought to be. The cities are swollen and poisonous with people. It ought to be better. Man has never been a fit environment for man—for rats, maybe, rats do nicely, or for dogs or cats and the household beetle.

— “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”

Jose Ortega y Gasset

All that is general, all that has been learned, achieved in culture is only the tactical turn which we have to take in order to cope with the immediate.

When shall we open our minds to the conviction that the ultimate reality of the world is neither matter nor spirit, is no definite thing, but a perspective? The intuition of higher values fertilizes our contact with the lesser ones, and love for what is near and small makes the sublime real and effective within our hearts.

We must try to find for our circumstance, such as it is, and precisely in its very limitation and peculiarity, its appropriate place in the immense perspective of the world. We must not stop in perpetual ecstasy before hieratic values, but conquer the right place among them for our individual life. In short, the reabsorption of circumstance is the concrete destiny of man.

— Meditations on Quixote
 

Miguel de Unamuno

Like eternity of time, silence of sound, and oblivion of memory, so is peace the substance of war. To preach prudence is to preach death, in the majority of cases; to combat the madness of the dream life is to undermine heroism. Grasp the fact that you are the world, and strive to save it so that you may save yourself. The world is your world, your world is you, though not the the egotist’s I, but the man. Within the world, my world, which is me, I am one of so many others.
If we give ourselves up to quixotic madness we may, in moments of sane contemplation, sanctify the most awful and bone-deep weariness and discouragement, so that one day, when our fortunes are mended and our judgment sounder, we may behold immortality, which is conquered by force of feats and travail. We must always let ourselves be guided by the peerless Dulcinea, who is the star leading us to the eternity of effort.

— “Quixotism”
 

D.H. Lawrence

And then, in the blowing clouds, she saw a band of faint iridescence colouring in faint colours a portion of the hill. And forgetting, startled, she looked for the hovering colour and saw a rainbow forming itself. In one place it gleamed fiercely, and, her heart anguished with hope, she sought the shadow of iris where the bow should be. Steadily the colour gathered, mysteriously, from nowhere, it took presence upon itself, there was a faint, vast rainbow. The arc bended and strengthened itself till it arched indomitable, making great architecture of light and colour and the space of heaven, its pedestals luminous in the corruption of new houses on the low hill, its arch the top of heaven.

And the rainbow stood on the earth. She knew that the sordid people who crept hard-scaled and separate on the face of the world’s corruption were living still, that the rainbow was arched in their blood and would quiver to life in their spirit, that they would cast off their horny covering of disintegration, that new, clean, naked bodies would issue to a new germination, to a new growth, rising to the light and the wind and the clean rain of heaven. She saw in the rainbow the earth’s new architecture, the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories swept away, the world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the over-arching heaven.

— The Rainbow
 

John Cage

This is a lecture on composition which is indeterminate with respect to its performance. That composition is necessarily experimental. An experimental action is one the outcome of which is not foreseen. Being unforseen, this action is not concerned with excuse. Like the land, like the air, it needs none. A performance of a composition which is indeterminate of its performance is necessarily unique. It cannot be repeated. When performed for a second time, the outcome is other than it was. Nothing therefore is accomplished by such a performance, since that performance cannot be grasped as an object in time. A recording of such a work has no more value than a postcard; it provides a knowledge of something that happened, whereas the action was a non-knowledge of something that had not yet happened.

— “Composition as Process”
 

Frank Stafford

I don’t think it matters how a poet plants his garden; it is the quality of the yield which matters. Just like the stars, there are so many things to be said of poets and poems. I am not content in just suggesting things by the use of words, I want to show the origins, the metaphors of reality, the free movement of the spirit. Poetry is a body, all right, but in spirit it is the function which oftentimes creates the organ.

Jean Cocteau said mystery exists only in precise things—people in situations, situations in people. Because I believe the visionary life has nothing to do with a necessarily transcendent existence, I like most of the poems I read. I believe most poets know this is the world; and when you try to lead a special life or write a special poetry, you are dancing with an imaginary partner at a meaningless dance to which you have invited yourself and no one else.

— “With the Approach of the Oak the Axeman Quakes”
 

David Foster Wallace

[Sternberg’s] needed a bowel movement for hours…He tried, back at O’Hare. But he was unable to, because he was afraid to, afraid that Mark, who has the look of someone who never just has to, might enter the rest room and see Sternberg’s shoes under a stall door and know that he, Sternberg, was having a bowel movement in that stall, infer that Sternberg had bowels, and thus organs, and thus a body. Like many Americans of his generation in this awkwardest of post-Imperial decades, an age suspended between exhaustion and replinishment, between input too ordinary to process and input to intense to bear, Sternberg is deeply ambivalent about being embodied; an informing fear that, were he really just an organism, he’d be nothing more than and ism of his organs.

— “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way”
 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

. . . Metamorphosis is the law of the universe. All forms are fluent, and as the bird alights on the bough and pauses for rest, then plunges into the air again on its way, so the thoughts of God pause but for a moment in any form, but pass into a new form, as if by touching the earth again in burial, acquire a new energy. A wise man is not deceived by the pause: he knows it is momentary: he already foresees the new departure, and departure after departure, in a long series. Dull people think they have traced the matter far enough if they have reached the history of one of these temporary forms, which they describe as fixed and final.

— Journal Entry, Autumn 1845
 

Susan Howe

In some sense the subject of any poem is the author’s state of mind at the time it was written, but facts of an artist’s life will never explain that particular artist’s truth. Poems and poets of the first rank remain mysterious. Emily Dickinson’s life was language and a lexicon her landscape. The vital distinction between concealment and revelation is the essence of her work.

— My Emily Dickinson
 

Jonah Lehrer

The reality of the creative process is that it often requires persistence, the ability to stare at a problem until it makes sense. It’s forcing oneself to pay attention, to write all night and then fix those words in the morning. It’s sticking with a poem until it’s perfect; refusing to quit on a math question; working until the cut of a dress is just right. The answer won’t arrive suddenly, in a flash of insight. Instead, it will be revealed slowly, gradually emerging after great effort.

What is the purpose of . . . pleasure? It turns out that the real benefit of delight . . . is its powerful effect on attention. The same neurons that generate happiness . . . also play a crucial role in determining which thoughts enter conscious awareness. A sense of pleasure is the brain’s way of telling itself to look over there, or there, or there. The result is that dopamine acts like a neural currency—a price tag for information—allowing us to quickly appraise the outside world. The chemical tells us what we should notice, which things and thoughts are worth the cost of awareness.

— Imagine
 

Jane Hirshfield

The nonseparation of Buddhist understanding lies close to the ground of all poetry, Western as well as Eastern. Every metaphor, every description that moves its reader, every hymn-shout of praise, points to the shared existence of beings and things. The mind of poetry makes visible how permeable we are to the winds and moonlight with which we share our house. There is a difference, though. In the consciousness of shikan meditation, there is nothing else: no words, no intermediate forms of attention or consciousness. Whatever is present becomes the entirety of what is. “Not one, not two.”

— “The Myriad Leaves of Words”
 

David Foster Wallace

“Poetry you were talking about.” Julie smiles, touching Faye’s cheek.

Faye lights a cigarette in the wind. “I’ve just never liked it. It beats around bushes. Even when I like it, it’s nothing more than a really oblique way of saying the obvious, it seems like.”

Julie Grins. Her front teeth have a gap. “But consider how very, very few of us have the equipment to deal with the obvious.”

— “Little Expressionless Animals”

Mark Doty

Description is fueled by HUNGER for the world, the need to taste, to name, to claim what’s seen, to bring it, as Rilke would put it (in the ninth of his great elegies, the subject of which is the resurrection of the world within the perceiver), “O endlessly into ourselves.” But it would be simplistic to conceive of such hunger as simply celebratory or affirmative; that is part of it, but it’s very often true that what we are compelled to describe is terrible, or oppressive, or heartbreaking. Language is hungry for that, too. It wants, as it were, to eat everything. Even the falling, fading world, even misery.

— The Art of Description
 

Iris Murdoch

I think it is more than a verbal point to say that what should be aimed at is goodness, and not freedom or right action, although right action, and freedom in the sense of humility, are the natural products of attention to the Good. Of course right action is important in itself, with an importance that is not difficult to understand. The Good has nothing to do with purpose, indeed it excludes the idea of purpose. ‘All is vanity,’ is the beginning and end of ethics. The only genuine way to be good is to be good ‘for nothing’ in the midst of a scene where every natural thing, including one’s own mind, is subject to chance, that is, to necessity. That ‘for nothing’ is the experienced correlate of the invisibility…of the idea of Good itself.

— The Sovereignty of Good
 

Pavel Florensky

My fate, my reason, the very soul of the whole search, that is, the requirement for certitude, I entrust into the hands of the truth itself. For the truth’s sake, I renounce proof. In this lies the difficulty of the ascesis, that one brings as sacrifice what is most treasured, what is first and foremost, and knows that if this too deceives, if this sacrifice too is in vain, then one has no place to go. For it is the final means.

—The Pillar and Ground of the Truth