There is this tendency to think that if you could only find the magic way, then you could become a poet. "Tell me how to become a poet. Tell me what to do." . . . What makes you a poet is a gift for language, an ability to see into the heart of things, and an ability to deal with important unconscious material. When all these things come together, you're a poet. But there isn't one little gimmick that makes you a poet. There isn't any formula for it.
One of the surest tests of the superiority or inferiority of a poet is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate mature poets steal bad poets deface what they take and good poets make it into something better or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique utterly different than that from which it is torn the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time or alien in language or diverse in interest.
Happy indeed the poet of whom, like Orpheus, nothing is known but an immortal name! Happy next, perhaps, the poet of whom, like Homer, nothing is known but the immortal works. The more the merely human part of the poet remains a mystery, the more willing is the reverence given to his divine mission.
A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily, like a mariner who is determined not to scrape his bottom on anything solid. A poet's pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.
A true poet is more than just a man who can write a poem with a pen. A true poet writes poetry with his very life. A true poet doesn't use poetic devices to con the heart of a woman but uses the beauty of all that is poetic to serve, cherish, and express love to the heart of a woman. Just as a true warrior is not a conqueror of femininity but a protector of femininity, a true poet is not just a wooer of a woman's heart but one who knows how to nurture and plant love in a woman's heart. Simply put, a true poet is a man who knows how to be intimate with a lover - first and foremost with Christ.
A poet is wounded into speech, and he examines these wounds, meticulously, to discover how to heal them. The bad poet harangues at the pain and yowls at the weapons that lacerate him; the great poet explores the inflamed lips of ruined flesh with ice-caked fingers, glittering and precise; but ultimately his poem is the echoing, dual voice reporting the damages.
Nowadays when a poet with one privately printed book can have his next three years taken care of by a Guggenheim fellowship, a Kenyon Review fellowship, and the Prix de Rome, it is hard to remember what chances the poet took in that small-town world, how precariously hand-to-mouth his existence was. And yet in one way the old days were better; [Vachel] Lindsay after a while, by luck and skill, got far more readers than any poet could get today.
Loneliness is necessary for pure poetry. When someone intrudes into the poet's life (and any sudden personal contact, whether in the bed or in the heart, is an intrusion) the poet loses his or her balance for a moment, slips into being what he or she is, uses his or her poetry as one would use money or sympathy. The person who writes the poetry emerges, tentatively, like a hermit crab from a conch shell. The poet, for that instant, ceases to be a dead person.
My best songs were written very quickly. Just about as much time as it takes to write it down is about as long as it takes to write it...In writing songs I've learned as much from Cezanne as I have from Woody Guthrie...It's not me, it's the songs. I'm just the postman, I deliver the songs...I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet.
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