In 250 words or fewer, poets share their thoughts on poetry in essays or excerpts from One Pause conversations.

Paisley Rekdal

Letting Go and Control

by Paisley Rekdal

For me, all aspects of poetry require only one skill: the ability to move between letting go and being in control. The first asks you to forget yourself as much as possible, the second requires an almost preternatural self-awareness.

First, you have to learn how to let go of any outside sense of time, shame, hesitation, or expectation. You have to open yourself up to what you don't know you want to say in order to say it. After that, you have to be in control, understanding the true achievements of your poem as you shape it.

The more you write, oddly, the harder it may be to reach one stage or another, and to make these stages work for you. Some find it hard to put themselves in the space of letting go the more they publish. Some take past success as an excuse for ceding control over their future work. Others give in too easily to editorial advice, or take none at all. And still others forget how there are fallow periods during which we need to stop working. The impulse then is to control. But the heart, or mind or spirit, is asking us to give in.

Letting go and control. If you can master this practice, I believe you will have learned nearly everything important about writing. At least I hope so. I try to re-learn it every day. I know that I will always be trying.

Franz Wright

On Beauty and the First Poem

by Franz Wright

One Pause: What is the role of beauty in a poem?

Franz Wright: You had to ask the old question, didn’t you? What is beautiful? How do you define beautiful? Some people say a herd of black horses running across the plain, some of them a beautiful sunset, a fleet of warships heading out from the port are beautiful. I say whatever one loves is beautiful.

One Pause: What was the first poem you ever wrote and what were the circumstances?

Franz Wright: All of a sudden, I woke up…I had been staying out in this place, in Northern California; I used to go there as a teenager. (I had) you know, a very brief, powerful feeling and it sounded like, "Come on, go on and get up!"—just ecstasy that you feel sometimes at that age when walking in the morning… You know, with poetry you are really close. You are never far from the most ancient impulses in human beings. You have to say something back. Or some thought Whitman said: "How could I survive the sunrise if I did not always constantly send sunrise out of me?"

I went on and wrote this (poem). It had seven lines. I had an experience like "Wow. I want to do that again," and it took me another five years before I wrote something. I remember I was about nineteen, one day in college…I went over to my teacher’s house. I knew I had done it but I did not know how I did it. I took another fifteen years to figure it out.

(adapted from an interview, September 24, 2011)

Keith Taylor

On Beauty and the Aesthetic Response

by Keith Taylor

The arts touch on human experience, spiritual experience, and psychological experience, but they are not those things. They are an exploration of the aesthetic in us—the exploration of beauty. There seems to be a need in our species for an aesthetic response to the world. That aesthetic response is a response to beauty, but beauty could be lot of different kinds of things. I can find it beautiful when I see a bald eagle tear apart a dead carp that has been lying there and rotting for two and half weeks. I can find it beautiful when I see a Cooper’s Hawk eat a tufted titmouse in my backyard. I watch it devour absolutely everything.

There are lots of poets who respond to things in the world that we consider ugly, and they don’t try to make them “beautiful,” but yet the response is an aesthetic response, and I think important as an aesthetic response. It seems to me very clear, just given the absolutely visceral necessity that so many different kinds of people in different kinds of places have felt for some kind of artistic expression. It cuts across class; it cuts across race; it cuts across nationality; it cuts across language. There is a need to recognize and formalize our response to things in a way that I can only call aesthetic, artful—and that is tied in with what beauty may be.

(adapted from an interview with One Pause Director, Sarah Messer, June 18, 2011)

Mark Cox

Revision (from “On Voice”)

by Mark Cox

Revision is the means by which we gradually gain perspective on the different facets of ourselves and by which we come to know all the many voices, which must come together to create our one voice. It allows us to see what is beyond us, in particular our personal limitations and patterns. Once we can see patterns of style, we can see they are a reflection of patterns in our way of being, reflections of involuntary frames of reference so deeply ingrained in us that we don’t even remember them, let alone recognize them. Viewed in this way, experimentation and revision offers us nothing less than the ability to change our lives, to live consciously.

To my mind, my body of work is really one long poem. I see it as the record of my being in time. Sometimes I will approach that very lyrically, trying to absorb the subverbal intensity of a moment in time; other times I find myself trying to discursively understand the moment’s causal relationship to other moments. Both modes are important to me, parts of who I am. Ultimately, on my good days, I choose not to limit myself, to take risks, to love the writing process more than what gets written; to love revision even more than the early bursts of energy that trigger poems. On my good days, occasionally, a voice coalesces for me and I write it down.

Suzanne Wise

Poetry and the Public, or What Poetry Isn’t

by Suzanne Wise

The reason we go to poetry is not for wisdom, but for the dismantling of wisdom.
—Jacques Lacan

There are those who believe Poetry should be accessible to all. Poetry should fill stadiums. Poetry should inspire or at least comfort. Poetry should demonstrate a measureable positive impact on the population—helping with literacy, say, or conflict resolution—or else let it starve and die.

Poetry should be left alone to thrive along the outskirts. Poetry should be thrown a bone now and again but should not be made to beg.

Poetry is not a domesticated beast raised on fresh grass in order to be shot down and spoon-fed to the Public so the Public can acquire a taste for it. Nor is the Public a Baby that can only understand the simplest, most benign versions of Poetry.

Poetry is not a vehicle for driving us to the edge of What We Have In Common.

Poetry is not a beautiful veil to be pulled back from the face of Life so as to discover our own Image smiling wisely back at us.

Poetry can be companionable but Poetry is an eccentric, unconsolable, loner of a companion. Poetry challenges, unsettles, dismantles. Poetry yowls at the absent moon. In these ways Poetry is not unlike religion for the truly religious. Poetry is not an answer to a call but the calling out of some shadowy comrade in the resistance movement that is awareness of one’s own life and death.