In the book, The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art, Reginald Gibbons, the editor, begins by explaining that poets before the 20th century didn't have a tendency to write about their work; apparently poets wanted to write poetry, not write about poetry. If poets do write about poetry, do they write well?
Because of the 1979 publication date, the first thing I did was count how many women are included: Marianne Moore, Louise Bogan, Denise Levertov. Three.
To be fair, I bought the book primarily because it contains Dylan Thomas's "Poetic Manifesto" (184). In it, he writes about how the sound of words was the first influence on him in his childhood:
And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milk carts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles…I cared for the colors the words cast on my eyes.
Sounds turn to colors. The ears and eyes connect. The beginning of writing poetry with one's whole body.
While he writes about his love of words he also describes their limits, "…I do not like writing about words, because then I often use bad and wrong and stale and woolly words." He read everything and learned about "bad tricks" (often disguised as "technical devices"), and how "good tricks" were difficult to master. He believed he could learn from both the bad and good writers. And that he could and should use any trick necessary to make the poem work. Never mind what he says, Thomas shows that he can write about poetry with clarity. The book is worth looking through, if only for his piece.
Denise Levertov writes of forms (254). My understanding of her piece is that for some people, structure already exists in the world to be written about, while for others, they must write to give the world structure. She writes that to begin writing poetry:
…first there must be an experience…of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech.
"Brought to speech" echoes of being brought to one's knees, as if a poem were a prayer. The words fall into a compelling order, a structure that must be communicated. The meaning becomes clear. The writer is compelled to write. Her essay has inspiring portions, such as the one above, but overall I found it hard to follow. William Carlos Williams (201) shows how the ordinary suddenly becomes magical:
For under that language to which we have been listening all our lives a new, a more profound language underlying all the dialectics offers itself. It is what they call poetry.Writing and reading poetry are ways of seeing language from a different angle. As Williams points out, we've heard the words all our lives. Rearranging the words can create new meaning. Digging below the surface brings up treasure. The gathering of words. Feeling the intense experience. Uncovering the mystery. These are all part of the poet's work.