There are certain notions about poetry that must apparently always automatically spring to mind. I've decided to start a list of them here.

(Please feel free to add your own - I've begun with a list of seven - or to discuss the phenomenon of wrenching certain phrases out of their original contexts and reifying them.)
Poetry is what gets lost in translation.
Poems should not mean but be. (Variant: Poems should not mean but be mean.)
Poetry makes nothing happen.
There are seven types of ambiguity.
The Devil gets all the good lines (in Paradise Lost particularly, but not exclusively).
Publication - is the auction of the Mind of Man.
Write only what you know.

Originally Published: August 25th, 2008

Don Share became the editor of Poetry in 2013. His books of poetry are Wishbone (2012), Squandermania (2007), and Union (2013, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012), and editor of Bunting's Persia (2012) and a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems (2016). He...

  1. August 25, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    "It must give pleasure."

  2. August 25, 2008
     Linh Dinh

    Unjerking, I'd say:
    Write to know what you don't know.
    Poetry is what's worth translating.
    Any fool can be ambiguous.

  3. August 25, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    Poetry is the Devil's wine. --St. Augustine
    Poetry is the Supreme Fiction, madame. --Wallace Stevens
    Poetry is teaching languages and doing clerical work.

  4. August 25, 2008
     benjamin G

    The poem is a mistake.

  5. August 25, 2008

    There is no such thing as poetry, only kinds of poetry.

  6. August 25, 2008
     michael robbins

    Poets are the unacknowledged poets of the world.
    No man but a poet ever wrote, except for money.
    A poet is a poet is a poet.
    Writing poetry is like playing badminton without a net or racquets or shuttlecock.
    Poetry is the worst form of writing, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
    All that is poetic melts into air.

  7. August 25, 2008

    All poetry is experimental poetry (Wallace Stevens).
    By the way, shouldn't the sentences that are quotations come with attributions, since some folks may not know who first wrote them? "Auction of the mind of man" is Emily Dickinson, "without a net" adapts Frost, "should not mean but be" is Archibald MacLeish, and used to be more famous than it is now, and "A poem should be mean" has been circulating for a while, but I'd love to know who first wrote-- or perhaps uttered-- it. It's Frostian, but it's probably not Frost.
    What's cold, roughly cubical, and rides on its own melting?

  8. August 25, 2008

    Aw, attributions would spoil all the fun! Besides, this would have the effect of attributing to the originators ideas that are imputed to them, but which they did not necessarily have themsevles, e.g., making it look as if Auden thought that poetry didn't matter. Maybe we need a separate thread on tropes, if anybody knows what a trope is...

  9. August 25, 2008
     michael robbins

    These trivial tropes reveal a way of truculence.
    Make it pneumatic.
    A poem should let be be finale of seams.

  10. August 25, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Submit to every book prize and press you possibly can!

  11. August 25, 2008

    How can we forget: Poetry is a kind of money.

  12. August 25, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    I thought Don was asking for war-horse maxims in spirit of calling them into question.
    So when I said "It must give pleasure," I meant it in sense of No, it need not, at all.
    As in "Form is never more than an extension of content." That's not true, either.
    But I kind of agree with Michael. The great thing is that no one has any idea, really, what the hell poetry is. So little didacticisms from poets don't amount to much more than those little orange flags the utility company sticks on your lawn when they're about to dig it up for line repairs.
    Stake out a position in flourescent color for a fortnight: The grass grows back; the gas keeps flowing, just like it always had.

  13. August 25, 2008

    There is no such thing as money, only kinds of money.
    (Doodle, did you flip that quote on purpose?)

  14. August 25, 2008
     Don Share

    Kent's right - but I must say I'm enjoying all this!
    By the way, you can listen to W.C.W. saying at Harvard that "if it ain't a pleasure, it ain't a poem."

  15. August 25, 2008

    "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me,I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off,I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" -- Dickinson
    Not much in circulation today, but Robert Graves said that a true poem "is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess, or Muse, the Mother of All Living, the ancient power of fright and lust - the female spider or queen-bee whose embrace is death".
    WCW: "A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant."
    Ain't dogma grand?

  16. August 25, 2008

    Oh! I know it's poetry if it takes the top of my head off, etc.

  17. August 25, 2008

    "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world"
    "I, too, dislike it."
    ...and real toads

  18. August 25, 2008

    Kent, name one poem you like that doesn't give you pleasure.
    Oh, do you like something that isn't pleasurable? That's what liking is. If it doesn't give pleasure, then you don't like it.
    (Oh, maybe you're saying you don't have to like it to like which case, all I can do in response is to make a twirling motion with my index finger around my temple.)

  19. August 25, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Don't injure a knuckle on that finger!

  20. August 25, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Obviously, pleasure is only one of many forms of interest one can take in poems. (How belated can these arguments get? Motion: the pentameter should be broken. All in favor?)
    If you're not part of the poem you're part of the prose.

  21. August 25, 2008

    Maybe I mean something different by pleasure than what you guys do. To me, "all the forms of interest one can take in poems" fall under the umbrella term of pleasure. Irritation, confusion, frustration--these can all be pleasurable.

  22. August 25, 2008

    I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry. Cage.
    Not really generally applicable, though I don't think Cage meant it to be. I like its paradoxicality.
    Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. Sandburg. Very sweet.

  23. August 25, 2008
     Don Share

    On the subject of poetry and pleasure:
    Those who are worthy of their tragic roles
    Do not break up their lines to weep...

  24. August 25, 2008

    ... recollected in tranquility...
    ... we hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us...
    ... not poetry but prose run mad...
    ... spontaneous overflow of emotion!...
    ... immature poets imitate; mature poets steal...

  25. August 25, 2008

    A poem is never finished, only abandoned. Valery. Well . . .
    Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry. Yeats. Hmm. What about rhetorical poetry? As if Yeats's isn't!
    Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance. Frost. A variation of Yeats. Can there be no political grief? No poetical grievance? Bah.
    Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes. Sandburg. Love the consonant rhymes of packsack-keepsake.

  26. August 25, 2008

    The only poetic tradition is the Voice out of the burning bush. The rest is trash and will be consumed. Ginsberg.
    "Yadda yadda yadda . . . "

  27. August 25, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Poetry should be at least as well written as flarf.

  28. August 26, 2008

    A little learning is a dang'rous thing.

  29. August 26, 2008
     Henry Gould

    "The lunatic, the lover and the poet
    Are of imagination all compact -
    They're all whacko, keep em at arm's length"
    - Joe Shackdoorbolt, Doldrums, MN (my neighbor)
    Here's one of my favorite chestnuts, attributed to Henry Gould :
    Poetry is avant-garde because it doesn't change much."

  30. August 26, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    The deaths of modern poetry in America and of Poetry in America are almost interchangeable, certainly inseparable.

  31. August 26, 2008
     Vivek Narayanan

    "It's like making a map." -- Elizabeth Bishop to Susan Howe

  32. August 26, 2008

    poetry is a litmus test- you read me, you are my friend
    you don't, you're material (immaterial!)

  33. August 26, 2008

    The posited death of American Poetry, italicized or not, would presumably be inseparable from the moribund work of American poets.

  34. August 26, 2008
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    I never read poetry; can't stand the stuff
    and who could blame me?
    The bad ones make me gnash my teeth
    and the good ones only shame me.
    Copyright 2008 - 'HARDWOOD - 77 Poems', Gary B. Fitzgerald

  35. August 26, 2008

    The posited death of American Poetry, italicized or not, would presumably be inseparable from the moribund work of American readers.

  36. August 26, 2008

    "The secret of poetry is cruelty." --Jon Anderson

  37. August 26, 2008

    Your quote: "The secret of poetry is cruelty." --Jon Anderson
    Makes me cringe and reminds of what the Pope recently said, "The Proof of God Is Beauty."
    I suppose bad poetry is cruel, good poetry is honest and sublime. Unless, Anderson means the progenitor to poetry- then yes, I agree. Cruelty is fuel.

  38. August 26, 2008

    Poetry is freedom for a soul-driven mind.

  39. August 26, 2008

    Laurel, look closely. That quote was provided by Ashley, not me.

  40. August 26, 2008

    This is a great post.
    Poetry is...
    what I think, but cannot speak.
    Write, but fail to accurately record.

  41. August 26, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Good poetry can be cruel - check out Fred Seidel - & bad poetry is often honest - check out Ted Kooser or Sharon Olds.

  42. August 26, 2008
     Brian Salchert

    To go along with Jon Anderson,
    this from another poet:
    "Poetry is the theory of heartbreak."
    Now from me:
    Because of Michael Robbins,
    "All that is poetic. . . ." might be
    cotton candy or ice cream.
    Poetry is that which.
    Poetry is a can of worms.
    Poetry is a prime number.
    Whoever defines poetry/
    destroys the universe.

  43. August 26, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    Ever tried.
    Ever failed.
    No matter.
    Try again.
    Fail again.
    Fail better.

  44. August 27, 2008

    A poem is an artifact of language.
    Poetry is what happens in the space between words.

  45. August 27, 2008
     Steve S

    No ideas but in things...

  46. August 27, 2008

    "Go in fear of abstractions."
    (Well, I might consider it, if that sentence weren't so scary!)
    And, oh yeah, can't believe nobody's mentioned it:
    and . . .
    News that stays news.
    (p.s. Does anybody have the Confucian citation wherewhat Pound supposedly translated "Make it new" from?)

  47. August 27, 2008
     michael robbins

    I think he said he got it from the emperor Tching Tang (something about a bathtub).
    & I already wrote in this thread: make it pneumatic!

  48. August 27, 2008

    Ah! Pneumatic -- got it now. I missed the ref. Too new! Or, stuck in logopoeia, missing the melopoeia! In other words, I pun-ted.
    I've heard Pound got it from The Analects, but I'm curious to know Where in the Analects, to compare with how Waley, say, or some other tranlator put it. Lazy -- trying to avoid reading the whole Waley!

  49. August 27, 2008
     Marty Elwell

    - Sometimes you have to kill your babies... (revision)
    - There's a difference between the poem you set out to write and the poem you got.
    I'm pretty sure I heard each of these from Steven Cramer.
    - Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt. Poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen. - da Vinci

  50. August 27, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    "From the 'Notes by a Very Ignorant Man' which he added to the Fenollosa reprint we find that we was searching with sporadic success through the leisurely entries in Morrison's multi-volume dictionary (1815-22), where he found for instance the character [gives Chinese character] the founder of the Shang dynasty (1766 B.C.) inscribed on his bathtub: Make It New. 'Renouvelle-toi complèment chaque jour; fais-le de nouveau, encore de nouveau, et toujours de nouveau.' In 'the American language,' 1928, this had yielded 'Renovate, dod gast you, renovate,' but Morrison's was ampler: 'From hatchet, to erect, and wood. To cut down wood. Fresh, new; to renovate; to renew or improve the state of; to restore or to increase what is good, applied to persons increasing in virtue; and to the daily increase of plants.' The axe is at the right of the character, a tree at the bottom left. The full maxim repeats the character twice, with the day sign (sun) twice between; in Canto 53 we find,
    Tching prayed on the mountain and
    wrote MAKE IT NEW
    on his bath tub
    Day by day make it new
    cut underbrush
    pile the logs
    keep it growing."
    -- Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era [Chinese characters & lineation regrettably unrepresentable here]

  51. August 27, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    "Kill all yr darlings" is Faulkner; "Kill yr idols" is SY.

  52. August 27, 2008
     Marty Elwell

    That's it, "kill your darlings". Thanks!
    Mine was a bit more morbid, but it gets the job done.

  53. August 27, 2008

    I remain sospechos that that gad-dumn Italian Pound was triangulating with Makaveli, qui aswert: "A new prince should make Everything New," not in that princely tale but th' book more Liv(el)y.

  54. August 27, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Luc Sante has a totes sweet collection of essays called Kill All Your Darlings. Rimbaud, Dylan, New York, cigarettes, the sadness of "show us yr tits," New Year's Eve, the octopus Victor Hugo, & heroin. And Ginsberg: "Was 'Howl' the last poem to hit the world with the impact of news & grip it with the tenacity of a pop song? ... What was the poem about? For me, then, the title accounted for most of it. It stood for I Want to Be Free & We Are Multitudes & The Stars My Destination & incidentally Get Your Hands off Me."

  55. August 28, 2008

    Thanks Michael.
    So . . . maybe the source isn't Confucius? I wonder what Morrison was quoting.
    Idle curiosity.
    Thanks again.

  56. August 28, 2008

    I want some of what Maya's smokin'!

  57. August 28, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    John, the quotation tells you who Morrison is quoting. It's the emperor Tching Tang, "the founder of the Shang dynasty." He inscribed it on his bath tub (supposedly). But I think the veil of Maya might be onto something.

  58. August 28, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    (Oh, I see, you mean what was Morrison's source for the story. Sorry. I just woke up.)

  59. August 28, 2008

    "the politics in a poem has to do with how it / enters the world"

  60. September 4, 2008
     Dwight Homer

    "A poet must have a dry soul." Howard Nemerov

  61. September 5, 2008

    Pound's old saw that an epic is “a poem including history.”
    Funny that modernism is full of old saws.

  62. September 5, 2008

    > Funny that modernism
    It's only funny until someone loses an I.

  63. September 11, 2008
     Chris Bock

    "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling..."
    "There is poetry when we realize we possess nothing"
    "it matters that great poems get written; it doesn’t matter a damn who writes them."
    "All our ingenuity is lavished on getting into danger legitimately so that we may be genuinely rescued."

  64. September 11, 2008
     Don Share

    I digress from the original ironizing intent of this thread, lost weeks ago, anyhow, to address the quotation above from O.W., which happens to be one of my pettest peeves!
    The following is from Mark Scroggins' blog, Culture Industry:
    ... I quoted Oscar Wilde "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling" – which prompted a useful comment from Don Share: "I'm not sure if genuine feeling is the same as sentimentality, but of the latter, Richard Hugo said: 'Our reaction against the sentimentality embodied in Victorian and post-Victorian writing was so resolute writers came to believe that the further from sentimentality we got, the truer the art. That was a mistake.'" That's a good observation, & deserves as follow-up a bit more of the context of Wilde's remark (which gets quoted as if it were a free-standing aphorism, rather than a line from Gilbert in "The Critic as Artist"):
    the real artist is he who proceeds, not from feeling to form, but from form to thought and passion. He does not first conceive an idea, and then say to himself, 'I will put my idea into a complex metre of fourteen lines,' but, realising the beauty of the sonnet-scheme, he conceives certain modes of music and methods of rhyme, and the mere form suggests what is to fill it and make it intellectually and emotionally complete. From time to time the world cries out against some charming artistic poet, because, to use its hackneyed and silly phrase, he has 'nothing to say.' But if he had something to say, he would probably say it, and the result would be tedious. It is just because he has no new message, that he can do beautiful work. He gains his inspiration from form, and from form purely, as an artist should. A real passion would ruin him. Whatever actually occurs is spoiled for art. All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.
    To which Ernest replies: "I wonder do you really believe what you say?" A good question – one might argue, I suppose, that by this point in the dialogue Gilbert has become rather shall we say "carried away" by his own rhetoric on behalf of a formalist insincerity, a method for the artist to "multiply his personalities."
    The simplest thing to say is that "genuine feeling" – "sincerity" – is not enough to make good poetry (tho it's great for voyeuristically interesting blogs), but that poetry can be a way of embodying such genuine feeling in form – a sincere regard for which (& here I follow Zukofsky, & suspect the Divine Oscar would agree) is a necessity for successful verse.

  65. September 12, 2008

    Poetry is madness without the madman.

  66. September 13, 2008

    Poetry is a lover's whine