Artist should be left alone to paint or not to paint, write or not to write.
I’ve always been highly energized and have written poems in spurts. From the god-given first line right through the poem. And I don’t write two or three lines and then come back the next day and write two or three more; I write the whole poem at one sitting and then come back to it from time to time over the months or years and rework it.
Unless I have something already moving through the mind, I don’t go to the typewriter at all. The world has so many poems in it, it has never seemed to me very smart to force one more upon the world. If there isn’t one there to write, you just leave it alone.
I write for love, respect, money, fame, honor, redemption. I write to be included in a world I feel rejected by. But I don’t want to be included by surrendering myself to expectations. I want to buy my admission to others by engaging their interests and feelings, doing the least possible damage to my feelings and interests but changing theirs a bit. I think I was not aware early on of those things. I wrote early on because it was there to do and because if anything good happened in the poem I felt good. Poems are experiences as well as whatever else they are, and for me now, nothing, not respect, honor, money, seems as supportive as just having produced a body of work, which I hope is, all considered, good.
I couldn’t avoid being a poet. I was really having a pretty rough time of things, and I had a lot of energy, and poems were practically the only recourse I had to alleviate that energy and that anxiety. I take no credit for all the poems I’ve written. They were a way of releasing anxiety.
Trying to make a living from poetry is like putting chains on butterfly wings.
In the long poem, if there is a single governing image at the center, then anything can fit around it, meanwhile allowing for a lot of fragmentation and discontinuity on the periphery. Short poems, for me, are coherences, single instances on the periphery of a nonspecified center. I revise short poems sometimes for years, whereas, since there is no getting lost in the long poem, I engage whatever comes up in the moment and link it with its moment.
[On inspiration]: I think it comes from anxiety. That is to say, either the mind or the body is already rather highly charged and in need of some kind of expression, some way to crystallize and relieve the pressure. And it seems to me that if you’re in that condition and an idea, an insight, an association occurs to you, then that energy is released through the expression of that insight or idea, and after the poem is written, you feel a certain resolution and calmness. Well, I won’t say a “momentary stay against confusion” (Robert Frost’s phrase) but that’s what I mean. I think it comes from that. You know, Bloom says somewhere that poetry is anxiety.
Somewhere along the line, I don’t know just when, it seems to me I was able to manage the multifariousness of things and the unity of things so much more easily than I ever had before. I saw a continuous movement between the highest aspects of unity and the multiplicity of things, and it seemed to function so beautifully that I felt I could turn to any subject matter and know how to deal with it. I would know that there would be isolated facts and perceptions, that it would be possible to arrange them into propositions, and that these propositions could be included under a higher category of things — so that at some point there might be an almost contentless unity at the top of that sort of hierarchy. I feel that you don’t have to know everything to be a master of knowing, but you learn these procedures and then you can turn them toward any subject matter and they come out about the same. I don’t know when I saw for myself the mechanism of how it worked for me. Perhaps it was when I stopped using the word salient so much and began to use the word wikt:suasion.
Poetry is everlasting. It is not going away. But it has never occupied a sizeable part of the world's business, and it never will.