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.

  • Featured Essay

    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 inopposition to tradition. With an inheritance of genuine innovation, of poets who did everything they . . .

    By Annie Finch
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    • 2006
      By Brenda Hillman

      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 to be among such illustrious company.
      When I began to work...

    • 2005
      By Nathaniel Mackey

      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 aimed at propping up words or at helping them out—words...

    • 2005
      By Annie Finch

      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. With an inheritance of genuine innovation, of poets who did...

    • 2000
      By Barbara Guest

                       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 poem,
      its object is to possess the poem for a brief...

    • 1998
      By Alice Notley

      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 practices as well. For a long time--well in fact since...

    • 1998
      By Ann Lauterbach

      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 certain words. My word was “experimental.” This is a somewhat...

    • 1993
      By Adrienne Rich

      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 secrecy, unanswerable lies, and eternal present.
      The spectator is simply supposed...

    • 1985
      By Lyn Hejinian

      “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 place several weeks earlier, and with the “Poetry & Philosophy”...

    • 1982
      By Richard Hugo

      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 communicate and can write clear English sentences. I caution against...

    • 1979
      By Michael Palmer

            (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 white large and grey-green in a storm its petals sing....

    • 1967
      By Robin Blaser

      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 last March 8th [1967].(2) I want to talk about the...

    • 1965
      By Denise Levertov

      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 reveal. There are no doubt temperamental differences between poets who...

    • 1965
      By Langston Hughes

      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 Indian attack on the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, a quarter...

    • 1965
      By Jack Spicer

      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 for about twenty years, and it’s always a pleasure. Jack...

    • 1965
      By Jack Spicer

      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 is that each evening I’m going to read some of...

    • 1963
      By George Oppen

      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 to see more clearly was a desire to see past...

    • 1963
      By Amiri Baraka

      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 mean by culture. All culture is necessarily profound. The very...

    • 1956
      By Langston Hughes

      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 Southerner. I never worked on a levee. I hardly ever...

    • 1950
      By Charles Olson

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

    • 1948
      By William Carlos Williams

      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 one thing to you—for a week! And I hope to...

    • 1944
      By William Carlos Williams

      The War is the first and only thing in the world today.
      The arts generally are not, nor is this writing a diversion from that for relief, a turning away. It is the war or part of it, merely a different...

    • 1926
      By Langston Hughes

      One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, “I want to be a poet—not a Negro poet,” meaning, I believe, “I want to write like a white poet”; meaning subconsciously, “I would like to...

    • 1925
      By Gertrude Stein

      There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking. By this I mean so simply that anybody...

    • 1920
      By T. S. Eliot

      Few critics have even admitted that Hamlet the play is the primary problem, and Hamlet the character only secondary. And Hamlet the character has had an especial temptation for that most dangerous type of critic: the critic with a mind...

    • 1920
      By T. S. Eliot

      In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to “the tradition” or to “a tradition”; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of...

    • 1919
      By D. H. Lawrence

      It seems when we hear a skylark singing as if sound were running forward into the future, running so fast and utterly without consideration, straight on into futurity. And when we hear a nightingale, we hear the pause and the...

    • 1918
      By Ezra Pound

      A RETROSPECT
      There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and retrospect.
      In the spring or early summer of 1912, “H. D.,” Richard Aldington and myself decided that we...

    • 1915
      By Amy Lowell

      In March, 1914, a volume appeared entitled “Des Imagistes.” It was a collection of the work of various young poets, presented together as a school. This school has been widely discussed by those interested in new movements in the arts,...

    • 1914
      By Mina Loy

      DIE in the Past
      Live in the Future.
      THE velocity of velocities arrives in starting.
      IN pressing the material to derive its essence, matter becomes deformed.
      AND form hurtling against itself is thrown beyond the synopsis of vision.
      THE straight line and the circle are...

    • 1914
      By Wyndham Lewis

      Longlive the great art vortex sprungup in the centre of this town!
      Westand for the Reality of the Present—not for the sentimental Future, or the sacripant Past.
      We want to leave Nature and Men alone.
      Wedo not want to...

    • 1914
      By Ezra Pound

      VORTEX.
      POUND.
      ______

                The vortex is the point of maximum energy.
               It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency.
               We use the words “greatest efficiency” in the precise sense—as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.
               You may think of...

    • 1911
      By T. E. Hulme

       
                                                      [Speculations, 113—40]
      I want to maintain that after a hundred years of romanticism, we are in for a classical revival, and that the particular weapon of this new classical spirit, when it works in verse, will be...

    • 1880
      By Matthew Arnold

      “The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay. There is not a creed which is not shaken,...

    • 1864
      By Gerard Manley Hopkins

      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 once on an answer. I have just finished The Philippics...

    • 1855
      By Walt Whitman

      America does not repel the past or what it has produced under its forms or amid other politics or the idea of castes or the old religions . . . accepts the lesson with calmness . . . is not...

    • 1846
      By Edgar Allan Poe

      Charles Dickens, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an examination I once made of the mechanism of “Barnaby Rudge,” says—“By the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his ‘Caleb Williams’ backwards? He first involved his hero...

    • 1846
      By Margaret Fuller

      A DIALOGUE.
      POET. CRITIC.
      Poet. Approach me not, man of cold, steadfast eye and compressed lips. At thy coming nature shrouds herself in dull mist; fain would she hide her sighs and smiles, her buds and fruits even in a veil of...

    • 1844
      By Ralph Waldo Emerson

      A moody child and wildly wise
      Pursued the game with joyful eyes,
      Which chose, like meteors, their way,
      And rived the dark with private ray:
      They overleapt the horizon’s edge,
      Searched with Apollo’s privilege;
      Through man, and woman, and sea, and star,
      Saw the dance of nature...

    • 1821
      By Percy Bysshe Shelley

      According to one mode of regarding those two classes of mental action, which are called reason and imagination, the former may be considered as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another, however produced, and the latter, as...

    • 1820
      By Thomas Love Peacock

      Qui inter hæc nutriuntur non magis sapere possunt, quam
 bene olere qui in culinâ habitant.
      [Those so trained (in schools of rhetoric) can no more acquire good taste than those who live in a kitchen can smell good—ed.]
                Petronius
      Poetry, like the...

    • 1818
      By William Hazlitt

      Poetry, then, is an imitation of nature, but the imagination and the passions are a part of man’s nature. We shape things according to our wishes and fancies, without poetry; but poetry is the most emphatical language that can be...

    • 1817
      By John Keats

      [On Shakespeare and “Eternal Poetry”: Letter to J. H. Reynolds, 17, 18 April 1817]
      Carisbrooke April 17th
      My dear Reynolds,
      Ever since I wrote to my Brothers from Southampton I have been in a taking, and at this moment I am about...

    • 1817
      By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

      Occasion of the Lyrical Ballads, and the objects originally proposed—Preface to the second edition—The ensuing controversy, its causes and acrimony—Philosophic definitions of a poem and poetry with scholia. During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbors, our...

    • 1800
      By William Wordsworth

      The first volume of these Poems has already been submitted to general perusal. It was published, as an experiment, which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the...

    • 1779
      By Samuel Johnson

      “LIFE OF MILTON” (1779; EXCERPT)
      He was at this time [1624, aged fifteen] eminently skilled in the Latin tongue; and he himself by annexing the dates to his first compositions, a boast of which the learned Politian [Angelo Poliziano (1454–94), poet...

    • 1715
      By Alexander Pope

      Homer is universally allowed to have had the greatest invention of any writer whatever. The praise of judgment Virgil has justly contested with him, and others may have their pretensions as to particular excellences; but his invention remains yet unrivalled....

    • 1711
      By Alexander Pope

      PART 1
      'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
      Appear in writing or in judging ill;
      But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence
      To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
      Some few in that, but numbers...

    • 1674
      By John Milton

      The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and Virgil in Latin; Rhime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a...

    • 1668
      By John Dryden

      It was that memorable day, in the first Summer of the late War, when our Navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed Fleets which any age had ever seen, disputed the command of...

    • 1644
      By John Milton

      For the studies, first they should begin with the chief and necessary rules of some good grammar, either that now used, or any better: and while this is doing, their speech is to be fashioned to a distinct and clear...

    • 1583
      By Sir Philip Sidney

      When the right virtuous Edward Wotton and I were at the Emperor’s [Maximilian II] court together, we gave ourselves to learn horsemanship of John Pietro Pugliano, one that with great commendation had the place of an esquire in his stable;...

    • 100
      By Longinus

      II
      First of all, we must raise the question whether there is such a thing as an art of the sublime or lofty. Some hold that those are entirely in error who would bring such matters under the precepts of art....

    • -15
      By Horace

      (EPISTLE TO THE PISOS)
      If a painter should wish to unite a horse’s neck to a human head, and spread a variety of plumage over limbs [of different animals] taken from every part [of nature], so that what is a beautiful...

    • -335
      By Aristotle

      SECTION 1
      PART I
      I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and...

    • -380
      By Plato

      BOOK III
      [participants] SOCRATES–ADEIMANTUS
      [Socrates narrates:]
      Such then, I said, are our principles of theology—some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honor the gods and...

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