Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.
Soldiers of the American Revolution fought that 18th century war with heavy muskets. In the early 20th century, we kids fought it every Fourth of July not only with exploding powder and shimmering flares, but with all of our senses.
Other families bought automobiles; we had a horse-headed hitching post in front of our house and drove horses.
For my Oxford degree, I had to translate French and German philosophy (as it turned out, Descartes and Kant) at sight without a dictionary. That meant Germany for my first summer vacation, to learn the thorny language on my own.
I have lectured at Town Hall N.Y., The Library of Congress, Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Wellesley, Columbia, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana State University, Colorado, Stanford, and scores of other places.
Has the painter not always gone to an art school, or at least to an established master, for instruction? And the composer, the sculptor, the architect? Then why not the writer? Good poets, like good hybrid corn, are both born and made.
I can still remember the feel in my hand of that most wonderful American coin ever minted, a nickel with a buffalo on one side and the head of an Indian on the other. That nickel was a daily proof of our country's past. Bring it back!
I wanted to write poetry almost a little more than I wanted to eat.
Without vision you don't see, and without practicality the bills don't get paid.
I had been warned about Jews by my gentile friends - they did terrible things with knives to boys.
Human life is too difficult for people.
Verse is not written, it is bled; Out of the poet's abstract head. Words drip the poem on the page; Out of his grief, delight and rage.
All families had their special Christmas food. Ours was called Dutch Bread, made from a dough halfway between bread and cake, stuffed with citron and every sort of nut from the farm - hazel, black walnut, hickory, butternut.
I knew about holiness, never having missed a Sunday-school class since I started at four years. But if Jews were also religious, how could our neighbor with the grease-grimy shirt use the word 'damn' about them?
The corncob was the central object of my life. My father was a horse handler, first trotting and pacing horses, then coach horses, then work horses, finally saddle horses. I grew up around, on, and under horses, fed them, shoveled their manure, emptied the mangers of corncobs.
The years rolled their brutal course down the hill of time. Still poor, my clothes still smelling of the horse barn, still writing those doubtful poems where too much emotion clashed with too many words.
I grew up in the prolonged survival of the great age of the horse, with harness and saddle and sleigh bells and horse pictures, not as antiques but the facts of our lives.
You come to know the aches and vanities and tastes and intrigues of an entire neighborhood at a drug store.
Writing is like this -- you dredge for the poem's meaning the way police dredge for a body. They think it is down there under the black water, they work the grappling hooks back and forth.
Corncobs are the greatest fire-making tinder.
Poetry is ordinary language raised to the "N th" power.
But maybe it's up the hills or under the leaves or in a ditch somewhere. Maybe it's never found. But what you find, whatever you find, is only part of the missing, and writing is the way the poet finds out what it is he found.
The sharpest memory of our old-fashioned Christmas eve is my mother's hand making sure I was settled in bed.
All poetry is an ordered voice, one which tries to tell you about a vision in the un-visionary language of farm, city, and love.
To eat in the same room where food is cooked - that is the way to thank the Lord for His abundance.
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