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Monday, May 29, 2006


I went through a phase a while ago of collecting poetry-themed quotations. Here's a selection. Some are stupid, some are intelligent comments about someone's else stupidity. The picture of Flaubert is a nod to the genre of the sottisier, as beloved of his Bouvard and Pécuchet.

On translation: “My view is that you translate the poetry not the language” (John F. Deane, Books Ireland, March 1998)

“Contemporary poetry is often obscure or self-referential, neither scans nor rhymes nor tells a story, is impossible to memorise, is often about the act of writing poetry itself, is humourless, and can be more like a puzzle than a poem (…) Can you remember even one poem by a living poet?” (The Economist, December 20 1997)

Julia Copus: What effect have the prizes had on your writing?
Helen Dunmore: I don’t think they have an effect on one’s writing—because, after all, when you win the prize you’ve already written the book. (Interview with Helen Dunmore, Bloodaxe Catalogue)

“I have avoided (Muldoon’s) poetry up to now. People told me it was difficult, and I don’t like poetry which is difficult.” (John Whitworth, Poetry Review, Autumn 1997)

Paul Muldoon: One has to remember that mediocrity is the norm.
Stephen Magee: In all times and in all places?
Paul Muldoon: I think so. (Interview with Paul Muldoon, Honest Ulsterman, Autumn 1996)

“Esprit de corps and camaraderie undoubtedly have their place in poetry—and that place is the pub.” (Dennis O’Driscoll, Thumbscrew, Spring 1997)

“O’Hagan in her Dantesque mid-life journey takes considerable chances by paradoxically not taking too many.” (Peter Van de Kamp, Irish University Review Spring/Summer 1996)

“There is more poetry here than meets the eye.” (Fred Johnston, Books Ireland, April 1996)

“That’s the kind of poet Jane Holland is, a superb thinker-ahead, a person who always knows where the poem is going to go, even before the poem has been written: and that’s not in any reductive way, that’s in a way that makes you raise your fist and go yessssssss!” (Ian McMillan, Poetry Review, Autumn 1997)

“Poets travel for the same reason a bagpiper walks back and forth when he plays, because a moving target is harder to hit.” (Gary Geddes, Arc, Spring 1997)

Influential contemporaries: “Which of the bright leaves / the naked tree once fluttered / seems to it most lost?” (Eleanor Brown, reply to questionnaire, Poetry Review, Winter 1996/1997)

“Poetry and story are an integrated part of the lives of the Irish (…) There are poets everywhere, storytellers, and you hear verse quoted by cab drivers and doctors, administrators and barmen.” (Thomas E. Kennedy, The Literary Review, Summer 1997)

“A young woman of my acquaintance was reading Keats in the ambulance as she went to have her stomach pumped out.” (Fleur Adcock, Thumbscrew, Winter 1997/8)

“Is there any way a contemporary New Zealand poet could put the term ‘Business Roundtable’ in a poem without sounding lame?” (John Dolan, Landfall, Spring 1997)

“I have thought about your request for a poem for the last few years and really wanted to respond except I don’t know any poems.” (Stephen Pearce, Lifelines 3, 1997)

“Since I never read Lit. Crit. unless paid to do so, I haven’t read a word about most of my favourite poets.” (Sheenagh Pugh, Thumbscrew, Summer 1997)

“The abysmal state of poetry reviewing is not, paradoxically, hurting the state of poetry (…) Rather, there seems to be a mechanism at play that is making ‘literary journalism’ irrelevant so far as contemporary literary production is concerned.” (Marjorie Perloff, P.N. Review, May-June 1997)

“Self-respect, if not some vestige of national pride, would surely make any Irish poet flinch from the caresses of John Carey and his like, the whole Sunday newspaper crowd whose praise—as Heaney must surely know—isn’t worth having.” (Interview with Peter McDonald, Brangle, 1997)

“Carol Rumens despairs that we may end up with an anthology of 2000 women poets for the millennium. That is precisely what we should have!” (Tamar Yoseloff, Poetry London Newsletter, Autumn 1997)

“‘If this Davie really is as significant a poet as you claim, surely it’s rather strange that one never hears of him on the wireless.’” (Participant on WEA course to Neil Powell, P.N. Review, March-April 1997)

“In the end it is the author, and not the individual poems that make the impression.” (Ted McNulty, review of Ron Houchin, Poetry Ireland Review, Winter 1997)

“I’m certain the worst publicity a British poet could have is to be made Poet Laureate or Professor of Poetry at Oxford, in this ‘culture’ that we have.” (Roy Fisher, Prop, Winter 1996)

“The Henry Street referred to in the title of the book is in Galway. There is no note on that item of geography. Anyone buying this book, therefore, because they remember Henry Street in Dublin or anywhere else will be disappointed.” (Fred Johnston, W. P. Monthly, March-April 1997)

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