Category Archives: quotes

Jane Holland on titles

“Amongst other things, the title of a poem is a handle; a moniker; an entrance; an epiphany; an overview; a hinge; a first glimpse of the narrator; an illustration; a cover blurb; a foreword; a container; a puzzle; a mnemonic; a dreamscape; a proto-metaphor; a clue; a red herring; an impression; a surname; a signpost; a subtext; a précis; a brochure; a ritual; a contract; an escape clause; a souvenir; a programme; a translation; a polyglot; a market stall; an all-you-can-eat buffet; a description; a label; a magician’s hat; the secret name of the muse; an asylum; a safe house; a double entendre; an invocation; a spell; a charm; a warning; a skeleton key; a portmanteau; a joke; a mystery; a gesture; a flashlight; a tablecloth; a plot; a deception; a cast list; a question; an answer; a command; a suggestion; a conundrum; a kiss; a sword; a formula; a surprise.”
– Jane Holland
Read Jane’s full article ‘What’s in a Title?’ on her blog, Raw Light.

Cheryl Newton’s Spoonbill

“i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes”
– e e cummings, ‘i thank You God for most this amazing’


“Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.”
– Brendan Kennelly, ‘Begin’
“Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.”
– Muriel Rukeyser, ‘Elegy in Joy’
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
– T S Eliot, ‘Little Gidding”
“The birds they sing at break of day, ‘Start again …’
I hear them say.”
– Leonard Cohen
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

– Henry Miller
” … Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
– Mary Oliver, ‘Messenger’
“As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come.”
– Ernest Hemingway
“An empty canvas, apparently really empty, that says nothing and is without significance – almost dull, in fact – in reality, is crammed with thousands of undertone tensions and full of expectancy. Slightly apprehensive lest it should be outraged.”
– Wassily Kandinsky
“I rarely begin a work with any clear or predetermined idea as to how the work should look. Even when I do, I seldom find the completed work matching up with the original projection.”
– Noyes Capehart Long
“For a sailor to sail around the world, the thought is just, sometimes, too much. Thus, one simply goes from port to port in the same direction.”
– Hal Moore
“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
– Ray Bradbury
“Go and dare to create your own adventures.”
– Elena Lindquist
“I do think New Year’s resolutions can’t technically be expected to begin on New Year’s Day, don’t you? Since, because it’s an extension of New Year’s Eve, smokers are already on a smoking roll and cannot be expected to stop abruptly on the stroke of midnight with so much nicotine in the system. Also dieting on New Year’s Day isn’t a good idea as you can’t eat rationally but really need to be free to consume whatever is necessary, moment by moment, in order to ease your hangover. I think it would be much more sensible if resolutions began generally on January the second.”
– Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary
Happy New Year!

Gift from the Sea

“Intermittency — an impossible lesson for human beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one’s existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is easier to understand here on the beach, where the breathlessly still ebb-tides reveal another life below the level which mortals usually reach. In this crystalline moment of suspense, one has a sudden revelation of the secret kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Here in the shallow flats one finds, wading through warm ripples, great horse-conchs pivoting on a leg; white sand dollars, marble medallions engraved in the mud; and myriads of bright-colored cochina-clams, glistening in the foam, their shells opening and shutting like butterflies’ wings. So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when the encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea (1955)

The country of women

“At dawn, when the sun is just a sliver of pink, and acacia trees with grotesque silhouettes scratch at the sky, a round of cocks crowing – one from the seat of a tractor, one from an overturned oil can, one from the thatched roof of the granary – wakens women in the drylands of Africa. As one body they rise, tie their scarves round their heads and their babies on their backs, set sticks to burn under cooking pots, slop food for chickens and pigs, pile porridge into bowls, curse the dog, queue for the standpipe. As the sun rises – a malevolent orange eye – they step onto the track, worn through the bush by generations of work-hardened feet, and make their way to the land for the day.
Dawn in Asia’s wet plains sets women stirring too: crawling from their folds of mosquito net, wrapping their saris tight, blowing life into charcoals, coaxing children to eat rice, and calves to eat gruel, driving buffalo to the mist-shrouded paddy fields, then stepping into tepid brown water and bending as they will bend all day.
A church bell ringing and dogs barking nudge Andean women awake. A prayer is whispered, a skirt fastened, water hauled from the well in the village square, goats tethered and milked into an old aluminium bucket, beans heated and tipped onto tin plates. Then, closing a rickety door, they step onto the steep, stony track that winds down from their houses to the fields.
Others are woken by prayer calls from mosque minarets; by donkeys braying under olive trees; by cows lowing, their udders swollen and tender with milk. These women, who live in the world’s rural areas, are farmers in everything but name. And their labour produces half of the world’s food.”
– Debbie Taylor, from ‘Women: An Analysis’
   in Women: A World Report (Reed Books)

Childhood Reading

Illustration: Jessie Willcox Smith

“Remember the feeling when turning the page was almost too much to bear? As adults grown weary of clichés and redesigned storylines, we too easily forget the initial jolt, the power, almost drug-like, of those first readings, when imagination flared up and seemed capable of consuming us.”
– Roger McGough in The Pleasure of Reading,
  edited by Antonia Fraser (Bloomsbury, 1992)
“What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth, depth of thought and feeling; some sort of extreme of subject matter; some nearness to death; some call to courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. I wanted strength, not tea parties. What I sought in books was a world whose surfaces, whose people and events and days lived, actually matched the exaltation of the interior life. There you could live.”
– Annie Dillard, An American Childhood (Harper and Row, 1986)
“The first book I ever treasured was a cloth book, a children’s book perhaps, and though I have no memory of the story I do think of it as something sacred … Words were talismanic, transfiguring, making everything clearer, and at the same time more complex. Words were the sluice gates to the mind and to the emotions. Reading for me, then as now, is not a pleasure, but something far more visceral, a brush with terror.”
– Edna O’Brien in The Pleasure of Reading, edited by Antonia Fraser
   (Bloomsbury, 1992)
“At any moment the impulse might seize me; and then, if the book was in reach, I had only to walk the floor, turning the pages as I walked, to be swept off full sail on the sea of dreams.”
– Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance: An Autobiography
(Simon and Schuster, 1998)

“I lay voluptuously on my stomach on the big bed, blissfully alone, and I felt a thrill which has never left me as I realised that the words coming magically from my lips were mine to say or not say, read or not. It was one of the peaks of my whole life. Slowly my eyes rode across the lines of print, and the New World smiled. It was mine, not something to beg for, book in hand, from anyone who could read when I could not. The door opened, and without hesitation I walked through.”
– M F K Fisher, Among Friends (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004)
“No days, perhaps, of all our childhood are ever so fully lived as those that we had regarded as not being lived at all: days spent wholly with a favourite book. Everything that seemed to fill them full for others we pushed aside, because it stood between us and the pleasures of the Gods.”
– Marcel Proust, A Selection of His Miscellaneous Writings,
   translated by Gerard Hopkins (A Wingate, 1948)
“Books provide the most helpful of road maps for (an) inner journey. They show us the tracks of fellow travellers, footprints left by earlier pilgrims who have trod the path that stretches before us. Their luminosity helps to light our way. As we read we realize that we are not alone.”
– Terry W Glaspey, Books and Reading: A Book of Quotations,
   edited by Bill Bradfield (Dover, 2002)
“In my own story books, before I could read them for myself, I fell in love with various winding, enchanting-looking initials drawn by Walter Crane at the heads of fairy tales. In “Once upon a time,” an “O” had a rabbit running it as a treadmill, his feet upon flowers. When the day came, years later, for me to see the Book of Kells, all the wizardry of letter, initial, and word swept over me a thousand times over, and the illumination, the gold, seemed a part of the word’s beauty and holiness that had been there from the start.”
– Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
(Harvard University Press, 1984)
“I love to feel a book’s weight in the hand, sniff the faintly acrid scent of old paper … The rough or smooth texture of a cloth cover, the incised, elaborate decoration of the Andrew Lang fairy books, green, blue, purple, grey and crimson, were an excitement in themselves.”
– Catherine Peters in A Passion for Books, edited by Dale Salwak
   (St Martin’s, 1999)
“As I grew older, the images of bleak yet rapturous imposture – particularly in fairy tales – aroused an inescapable sensation of wanting to write. Princesses turned into mute swans, princes into beasts. Think of the eerie lure of the Pied Piper! I began to pursue that truly voluptuous sensation in middle childhood.”
– Cynthia Ozick in The Book That Changed My Life,
  edited by Diane Osen (Modern Library, 2002)

Illustration: Jessie Willcox Smith

Some thoughts for Monday

“Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt
again. Self-reinvention is everything.”
– Amy Gerstler, ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’
“I like to hear and smell the countryside, the land my characters inhabit. I don’t want these characters to step off the page, I want them to step out of the landscape.”
– Peter Matthiessen
“What crazies we writers are, our heads full of language like buckets of minnows standing in the moonlight on a dock.”
– Flannery O’Connor
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
– Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
“Poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face.”

– Anne Sexton
“Writing is finally a series of permissions you give to yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To leap. To fly. To fail.”
– Susan Sontag
“Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at the know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”
– Brenda Ueland
“I learned that when writing you should not feel like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.”
– Brenda Ueland
“Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day’s progress through the dazzling quicksand, the marsh of blank paper.”
– John Updike
“We put on our stories before our clothes …”
– William Wenthe

Jamaica Kincaid on writing

“One of the things I found when I began to write was that writing exactly what happened had a limited amount of power for me. To say exactly what happened was less than what I knew happened.”
– Jamaica Kincaid, Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out,
edited by Donna Perry (Rutgers University Press, 193)

Happy Mother’s Day

“And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.”
– Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose
Mothers, grandmothers and foremothers, we love you and we thank you.