Quotes About Poetry

Poetry is an investigation, not an expression, of what you know.

—Mark Doty

I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.

—William Stafford

And it makes me wonder if one of the jobs of a poet is to take us gently by the chin and turn our head and make us look — really look — at the things that most repulse us. It is their job to show us it’s not really that bad after all…or else that it’s worse than we ever could have imagined.

—Mary Lee Hahn

Poetry puts starch in your backbone so you can stand, so you can compose your life.

—Maya Angelou

The poet’s job is to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name, to tell the truth in such a beautiful way, that people cannot live without it.

—Jane Kenyon

I have defined poetry as a ‘passionate pursuit of the Real.

—Stanley Kunitz

The tougher the form the easier it is for me to handle the poem, because the form gives permission to be very gut honest about feelings.

—Maxine Kumin

If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.

—Nikki Giovanni

I know I am in the grip of a true poem when I can hardly bear to read it calmly at first, so all-embracing and far-reaching is its instantaneous effect on me. I realize I am about to meet with psychic turbulence.

—Dennis O’Driscoll

Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley.

—Charles Simic

Poetry is like a substance, the words stick together as though they were magnetized to each other.

—David Gascoyne

Poetry is a dividend from what you know and what you are.

—Czeslaw Milosz

Poetry is like standing on the edge of a lake on a moonlit night and the light of the moon is always pointing straight at you.

—Billy Collins

Poetry is either language lit up by life or life lit up by language.

—Peter Porter

Poetry is not a matter of feelings, it is a matter of language. It is language which creates feelings.

—Umberto Eco

Poetry is language wrought by feeling and imagination to such a pitch that it enacts and embodies the thing it says.

—Christopher Middleton

Poetry’s a zoo in which you keep demons and angels.

—Les Murray

Poetry is… A kind of leaving of notes for another to find, and a willingness to have them fall into the wrong hands.

—Matthew Hollis

Poetry is what makes the invisible appear.

—Nathalie Sarraute

Poetry is a perpetual redefinition of beauty and truth in patterned language. An assault on yesterday’s beauty which no longer shines. An assault on yesterday’s truth which has become a lie.

—Rosanna Warren

A poem is a box, a thing, to put other things in. For safe keeping.

—Marianne Boruch

A poem is a cup of words open to the sky and wind in a bucket.

—Naomi Shihab Nye

Every poem is an answer to the question what poetry is for.

—Jamie Mckendrick

The ‘idea’ for the poem, which may come as an image thrown against memory, as a sound of words that sets off a traveling of sound and meaning, as a curve of emotion (a form) plotted by certain crises of events or image or sound, or as a title which evokes a sense of inner relations; this is the first ‘surfacing’ of the poem. Then a period of stillness may follow.

—Muriel Rukeyser

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting.

—Robert Frost

Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.

—Mary Oliver

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.

—Leonardo da Vinci

Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as geometry.

—Gustave Flaubert

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

—Carl Sandburg

Whatever a poem is up to, it requires our trust along with our consent to let it try to change our way of thinking and feeling. Nothing without this risk. I expect hang gliding must be like poetry. Once you get used to it, you can’t imagine not wanting the scare of it. But it’s more serious than hang gliding. Poetry is the safest known mode of human risk. You risk only staying alive.

—William Meredith

The first line of a poem is a hawk which won’t let go of its prey.

—Gabriel Preil

By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us an opportunity to think about ourselves as human beings on this planet and what we mean to each other.

—Rita Dove

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.

—Robert Frost

A poem is a record of a discovery.

—Ted Kooser

A poem is a hand, a hook, a prayer. It is a soul in action.

—Edward Hirsch

The poem is a capsule where we wrap up our punishable secrets.

—William Carlos Williams

I like writing about things you can’t get back to – [writing about] the thing that you get rid of, and you later wish you hadn’t.

—Katrina Vandenberg

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

—Percy Shelley

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.

—Jean Cocteau

Every reader brings their own background into the poem. But poets are bridge-builders and readers must decide whether or not to cross.

—John Mutford

When power narrows the areas of men’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence.

—John F. Kennedy

If we are moved by a poem, it has meant something, perhaps something important, to us; if we are not moved, then it is, as poetry, meaningless.

—T.S. Eliot

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?

—Emily Dickinson

Haiku is a way of culling things from the stream of things that rush past the senses.

—Michael J. Rosen

If I don’t take the risk, I’ll wind up with a bloodless poem. I have to be out there on the edge.

—Ted Kooser

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

—Leonard Cohen

Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.

—Carl Sandburg

Poetry is man’s rebellion against being what he is.

—James Branch Cabell

Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.


Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.

—Thomas Gray

Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.

—J. Patrick Lewis

Poets are like magicians, searching for magical phrases to pull rabbits out of people’s souls.

—Terri Guillemets

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.

—Samuel Johnson

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.

—Salman Rushdie

Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.

—Mary Oliver

Breathe-in experience, Breathe-out poetry.

—Muriel Rukeyser

A poet must never make a statement simply because it is sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true.

—W.H. Auden

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry.

—Mark Strand

There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.

—Gustave Flaubert

Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.

—Eli Khamarov

It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.

—Stephen Mallarme

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

—Carl Sandburg

The poet is the priest of the invisible.

—Wallace Stevens

Poetry is not the assertion that something is true, but the making of that truth more real to us.

—T. S. Eliot

Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.

—Thomas Hardy

Great poetry is always written by somebody straining to go beyond what he can do.

—Stephen Spender

When one’s not writing poems – and I’m not at the moment – you wonder how you ever did it. It’s like another country you can’t reach.

—May Sarton

End with an image and don’t explain.

—Stanley Kunitz