Thursday, January 18, 2007

Quotes on Ambition

I've just finished Donald Hall's collection of essays on poetry, Breakfast Served Any Time All Day, and his essay "Poetry and Ambition" seems to be resonating with me. A few quotes I find especially memorable:

"I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems."

"Poets who stay outside the circle of peers--like Whitman, who did not go to Harvard; like Dickinson for whom there was no tradition; like Robert Frost, who dropped out of two colleges to make his own way--these poets take Homer as their peer. To quote Frost again: 'The thing is to write better and better poems. Setting our heart when we're too young on getting our poems appreciated lands us in the politics of poetry which is death.'"

"Although in theory workshops serve a useful purpose in gathering young artists together, workshop practices enforce the McPoem. This is your contrary assignment: Be as good a poet as George Herbert. Take as long as you wish."

"If it seems hopeless, one has only to look up in perfect silence at the stars... and it does help to remember that poems are the stars, not poets. Of most help is to remember that it is possible for people to take hold of themselves and become better by thinking. It is also necessary, alas, to continue to take hold of ourselves -- if we are to pursue the true ambition of poetry. Our disinterest must discover that last week's nobility was really covert rottenness, et cetera. One is never free and clear; one must work continually to sustain, to recover."

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