Monthly Archives: January 2009

After they had explored all the suns in the universe

“After they had explored all the suns in the universe, and all the planets of all the suns, they realised that there was no other life in the universe, and that they were alone.  And they were very happy, because then they knew it was up to them to become all the things they had imagined they would find.”

– Lanford Wilson, Fifth of July

It’s not what you write about but how you write about it

Last night, I read Philip Larkin’s interview in The Paris Review Interviews, Volume 2 (Picador, 2007).  Larkin wasn’t the most amenable interviewee (he was downright cranky at times), but his answers make for interesting reading.
The interviewer, Robert Phillips, said:  “Davison also sees your favourite subjects as failure and weakness”, referring to Peter Davison, an American “poet-critic”.
Larkin replied:
“I think a poet should be judged by what he does with his subjects, not by what his subjects are.  Otherwise you’re getting near the totalitarian attitude of wanting poems about steel production figures rather than “Mais où  sont les neiges d’antan?”  Poetry isn’t a kind of paint spray you use to cover selected objects with.  A good poem about failure is a success.”

Similarly, I’ve read reviews in which poets are berated for being “too personal”, for writing about menstruation, menopause, infertility or masturbation.  These topics make some people uncomfortable, but surely nothing should be taboo.  What is poetry, if not personal?  Who are the final arbiters of what is and isn’t acceptable?  It’s subjective, a matter of personal taste.  A poem should be judged on merit, on whether it is well written, not on its subject matter.   How boring it would be if all poetry toed the line.  Vive la différence.


“Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
     to gather us up.”

– Rumi, from “Zero Circle”  (Version by Coleman Barks)

Philip Larkin

“I think a young poet, or an old poet for that matter, should try to produce something that pleases himself personally, not only when he’s written it but a couple of weeks later.  Then he should see if it pleases anyone else, by sending it to the kind of magazine he likes reading.  But if it doesn’t, he shouldn’t be discouraged.  I mean, in the seventeenth century every educated man could turn a verse and play the lute.  Supposing no one played tennis because they wouldn’t make Wimbledon?  First and foremost, writing poems should be a pleasure.  So should reading them, by God.”

– Philip Larkin

Elizabeth Alexander: “What if the mightiest word is love …”

Poet Collin Kelley has posted the text to Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day”, on his blog, Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional.

Thanks, Collin.

Katy Evans-Bush’s ‘Dream: the Twelve Dancing Princesses’

Dream: the Twelve Dancing Princesses
Katy Evans-Bush
There are several options.
                                         One: the woods
are dark. The mist rolls round the trunks of trees.
You can’t see any stars. Through leaves, the sky
is black in tiny patches. You can’t see
the babies hidden in their tiny baskets.
                Two: the lake is black and deep,
cold as obsidian, with ripples like breaks. Night
has fallen but the murky light’s unreal,
and the lake might be a swimming pool
for all the nature there. You are surrounded
by high blank walls. Everywhere babies wail.
No; they don’t make a sound. They are suspended
on the water like lily pads. You must save them.
A girl with plaits rows by in a rickety boat,
blue, with oars like matchsticks. Out to sea.
It’s hard to be everywhere at once.
from Me and the Dead (Salt Publishing, 2008).


More about Me and the Dead here.
Follow Katy’s Cyclone book tour, A Conversation About Dreams, here.

Read Katy’s blog, Baroque in Hackney.

Jeanette Winterson writes about her father’s death

“When I look at my life I realise that the mistakes I have made, the things I really regret, were not errors of judgement but failures of feeling.”

– Jeanette Winterson

Read Jeanette Winterson’s January column on the death of her father here.

William Faulkner

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do.  Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors.  Try to be better than yourself.  An artist is a creature driven by demons.  He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why … The writer’s only responsibility is to his art.”

– William Faulkner