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This section collects famous historical essays about poetry that have greatly influenced the art. Written by poets and critics from a wide range of historical, cultural, and aesthetic perspectives, the essays address the purpose of poetry, the possibilities of language, and the role of the poet in the world. They are arranged in chronological order.

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Essay on Poetic Theory
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
1864

To Alexander William Mowbray Baillie Sept. 10. 1864. Dear Baillie,— Your letter has been sent to me from Hampstead. It has just come, and I do a rare thing with me, begin at...

Showing 1 to 20 of 55 Essays
  • By Brenda Hillman2006

    I’m thrilled to be presenting a lecture honoring Judith Stronach to many colleagues and friends, and I’m grateful to Ray for publishing this series of lectures by poets—I feel fortunate...

  • By Nathaniel Mackey2005

    Performance is a bothersome word for writerly poets. Performance art, poetry slams, and the like have made the term synonymous with theatricality, a recourse to dramatic, declamatory, and other tactics...

  • By Annie Finch2005

    Even at this late-postmodernist moment, when self-defined innovative poetry needs to build on a long tradition of previous self-defined innovative poetry, such poetry still defines itself in opposition to tradition....

  • By Barbara Guest2000

                     There is an invisible architecture often supporting    the surface of the poem, interrupting the progress of the poem. It reaches into the poem in search for an identity with the...

    Black and white image of an ornate steel and glass ceiling.
  • By Alice Notley1998

    For a long time I've seen my job as bound up with the necessity of noncompliance with pressures, dictates, atmospheres of, variously, poetic factions, society at large, my own past...

  • By Ann Lauterbach1998

    In May 1998, the critic Michael Brenson organized a symposium at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York at which a number of people in the arts were asked to consider...

  • By Adrienne Rich1993

    The society whose modernization has reached the stage of integrated spectacle is characterized by the combined effect of five principal factors: incessant technological renewal, integration of state and economy, generalized...

    Black and white photograph of Adrienne Rich sitting at a desk
  • By Lyn Hejinian1985

    “The Rejection of Closure” was originally written as a talk and given at 544 Natoma Street, San Francisco, on April 17, 1983.(1) The “Who Is Speak­ing?” panel discussion had taken...

  • By Richard Hugo1982

    You hear me make extreme statements like “don’t communicate” and “there is no reader.” While these state­ments are meant as said, I presume when I make them that you can...

    Image of a miniature model town.
  • By Michael Palmer1979

          (sermon faux – vraie historie)       . . . and the old dogmatism will no longer be able to end it.       ADOLFO SÁNCHEZ VÁZQUEZ The flower of capital is small and...

  • By Robin Blaser1967

    especially for Ebbe Borregaard (1)   I am writing here about my poetry in relation to poetry. The writing had an occasion: for a few in San Francisco, where I read it...

  • By Denise Levertov1965

    For me, back of the idea of organic form is the concept that there is a form in all things (and in our experience) which the poet can discover and...

    Image of a rows of stadium seats labeled by color and number.
  • By Langston Hughes1965

    Poets and versifiers of African descent have been publishing poetry on American shores since the year 1746 when a slave woman named Lucy Terry penned a rhymed description of an...

  • By Jack Spicer1965

    THOMAS PARKINSON:(1) I think we can start the lecture now. This seems to be old home week. We have Jack Spicer with us, as we have off and on now...

  • By Jack Spicer1965

    JACK SPICER: Well, I really ought to explain the structure of the three lecture/readings, more than is on the flyer that some of you saw. Essentially what’s going to happen...

  • By George Oppen1963

    Sargent is reported to have said to Renoir that he painted “cads in the park.” And Sargent was of course quite right.(1) The passion of the Im­pressionists to see, and...

  • By Amiri Baraka1963

    Speech is the effective form of a culture. Any shape or cluster of human history still apparent in the conscious and unconscious habit of groups of people is what I...

  • By Langston Hughes1956

    You can start anywhere—Jazz as Communication—since it’s a circle, and you yourself are the dot in the middle. You, me. For example, I’ll start with the Blues. I’m not a...

  • By Charles Olson1950

    PROJECTIVE                                                                           VERSE[1]                                            (projectile          (percussive          (prospective                   ...

  • By William Carlos Williams1948

    Talk given at the University of Washington, 1948 Let’s begin by quoting Mr. Auden—(from The Orators): “Need I remind you that you’re no longer living in ancient Egypt?” I’m going to say...