Why this?

The occasional piece of my own and a generous helping of others' creations I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Feeling ridiculously lucky to have had the opportunity to spend the day here. Hard to imagine a more enriching experience poetry-wise, considering I got to listen to some of my favorite contemporary poets a) go on and on about craft and b) in conversation w/ each other. Mark Strand and Kay Ryan were highpoints: both enthralled and invigorated (you could see this on so many faces), and were hilarious in the best/slyest sense. Sharon Olds and Billy Collins were also great, if more predictable.

I sadly missed an on-time arrival (underestimated the Brooklyn-Newark commute/first time taking PATH--drat), which would’ve allowed me to attend the presumably great session "I Only Laugh When It Hurts: Wit and Humor in Poetry" (I did get there in time to hear Collins read “Litany,” which was niiice); then there was the botched “me w/ Billy Collins” photo opp (girl whose name I didn’t get: my camera’s not complicated! sigh), but hey.

Also, I like Newark! The little I saw of it, and on crisp sunny days, seems. Only non-airport time I’ve spent there…

Anyway, wanted to share some words I found particularly inspiring--

“Poetry has to have a cadence; otherwise it’s just prose chopped up.” --Mark Strand

“What’s mysterious is why you are the way you are. What about you leads you to write the way you do. … It takes a long time to sound like yourself. It takes a long time to be yourself.” --Mark Strand, on finding/settling into one’s writing voice

“I think you think clearest when you’re not overly excited. … I’m trying to create [in composing a given poem] a written artifact that will allow other people to feel. … I don’t have a concrete notion of the feeling I’m transmitting [though poetry].” --Mark Strand, on writing while not in the midst of some emotional experience/grief/distraction (Related/paraphrased: As poets, we get to revisit misery--the memory of it--while avoiding the actual experience of misery.)

“Where a poem leads you should be both surprising and inevitable.” --Mark Strand

“I think of a house as a great big skull to roam around in.” --Kay Ryan, on describing her ideal writing environment: a big empty house (Related: Ryan often begins writing sessions by spending ten or so minutes reading high-minded/intellectual stuff--nothing “gluey,” in her words. She mentioned Joseph Brodsky’s and Milan Kundera’s essays.)

“I think it’s important to begin w/ very little.” --Kay Ryan, on the value of breaking big material down into smaller/manageable components, then writing about these

“Our writing is always better than we are.” --Kay Ryan, quoting… Kundera?

“As soon as you write a word, that word has friends (rhymes, metaphors, etc.).” --Kay Ryan

“For me, rhyme is extremely bewitching. … Rhyme started happening to me, just as writing started happening to me. … Rhyme makes language cohere to itself.” --Kay Ryan

“Strike while the iron is iron. --Kay Ryan, on doing it now, today, because tomorrow iron may not be iron/things will be different

“I think you always have to kindof go off half-cocked.” --Kay Ryan, on the value of writing about something before you know everything/most things about it

“Be as clear as you possibly can be.” --Kay Ryan, addressing young poets in particular; value of not obscuring intention out of fear/desire to follow some trend

“I think I fear that we can never see anything--never get enough information.” --Kay Ryan

“Nobody can ever go back and tell you how something was made, which I think is kindof great.” --Kay Ryan, on the temporal-ness of creating

“We struggle to ‘get’ them, and then they strangle us.” --Kay Ryan, re: ways of creating that work for us, until they become a sortof tyranny

“I had a visceral reaction to any sortof guidance. … I think it’s important to allow a lot of space for yourself [in creating].” --Kay Ryan

“Being a poet is about valuing the periphery.” --Billy Collins

“You have to come to the realization that no one cares about what you say or think. … [Poetry] is about getting strangers to love you. … Readers don’t care about the poet; they care about the poetry.” --Billy Collins

“If we really, really focus--try to be accurate about what we’re seeing. Accuracy, accuracy.” --Sharon Olds, on the importance of clarity in poetry

“When I can put my pen down. When it no longer calls me back.” --Sharon Olds, on knowing a poem is done

“Verbal rhythm: you either have it or you don’t. It’s hard to teach.” --Billy Collins, on whether/not poetry can be taught

“Either you’re thrilled by your ability to connect two disparate things, or you’re not.” --Billy Collins, on metaphor


Ultimate takeaway from the day: value of fearlessness in one’s writing practice. Beauty (and maturity) in clarity, as this is the only way one will be heard.

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