Throwback Thursday

Thursdays at ClimbingSky feature re-posts from 6+ years of MontanaWriter and ClimbingSky. This post was previously published on July 26, 2011. This was the first book review in the series “Poets on Poetry.”

The best way to learn about poetry is to read poetry… and to read poets talking about it. With that in mind, over the next few weeks,MontanaWriter will be highlighting a number of books that feature poets talking about poetry, beginning with Poetry and Ambition: Essays 1982-88by Donald Hall.

The greatest challenge in reviewing a collection of essays written for different occasions, audiences, and publications is trying to say a few things in general about a number of potentially mutually exclusive particulars. Do you highlight each individual essay? Do you group them thematically and talk about them that way? Or do you go a different route altogether? Regular readers of MontanaWriter will no doubt be less than surprised to find that I am choosing the last option.

I first read, Poetry and Ambition (according to my note on the inside front cover) in the summer of 1996. In the summer of 1996, I was an at-home dad with a one and a three-year-old. During the days I would have been doing the parenting thing and during naps editing and writing bible studies and training materials. In the evenings then I had a part-time telemarketing job I went to a few nights of the week.

I would have been reading these essays then… during breaks at work, and in my  cubicle waiting for calls to come in. Donald Hall was helping me to keep my sanity. Poetry has always been that for me.

Picking the volume off the shelf, I look now at lines I underlined and highlighted 15 years ago:

“I see no reason to spend you life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.”(cf. the title essay, “Poetry and Ambition”)

“…you have to realize, the countryside is full of people who who do what they want to do. The suburbs are full of people doing what they hate to do, because they need to in order to maintain their debts.” (cf. part of Hall’s response to question in “An Interview with Donald Hamilton”)

“No excellent poem is immediately receivable, even in silent reading.” (cf. essay “Public Performance/Private Art”)

“Sometimes when people praise the sound of verse, they are dismissed as anti-intellectual.”(cf. essay “Naming the Skin.”)

“The writer of genius is the writer who fails most at what he or she tries hardest to accomplish.” (cf. essay “Theory X Theory”)

“…what a wonderful autobiography [Phillip] Larkin could write, about a life in which nothing has happened: always the most interesting biography.” (cf. essay “Deprivation’s Laureate”)

“‘Poetry is the supreme result of the entire language,’ says Joseph Brodsky. Poetry is what language is for, what language exists to move toward.” (cf. essay “The way to Say Pleasure”)

There are 19 essays in Poetry and Ambition.  Read together they flush out Hall’s substantial understanding of the creative process, poetry and poetic language, the role of poetry in society, and the contributions of individual poets. Included are essays on William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and Philip Larkin and on modern Irish poetry. The excellent title essay is inspiring. The essay “Public Performance/Private Art” is a wonderful treatise on the business-end of writing and performing poetry.

My favorite essay, though, is the one entitled “About ‘Names of Horses.’” In it he provides background to his poem called “Names of Horses.” But more than that, he provides background into the creative process and an entre into reading and appreciating one particular poem. A poem that is now one of my favorite Hall poem’s.

I could easily add many dozen more lines to those I highlighted above… or a dozen notes I made in margins and in the back of the book on blank pages. Hall is that good a writer and this is that good a book.

Throwback Thursday

Thursdays at ClimbingSky feature re-posts from 6+ years of MontanaWriter and ClimbingSky. This post was previously published on February 23, 2011.

T.S. Eliot Reading

T.S. Eliot Reading

One the many things I have collected over the years is quotes about poetry and poets. For years, I used to keep and record my favorite quotes about poetry in a leather-bound journal that I received as a gift. Now I keep and record them electronically. It is much easier to do it that way, though admittedly much less… romantic….

On the last “hump-day” in the longest February in memory, here are just a few of my favorites. I hope you find a few you like and maybe a few new ones for your own collection.

Quotes on Poetry and Poets

Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.  ~W.B. Yeats

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.  ~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.  ~John Keats

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.  ~Samuel Johnson

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.  ~Robert Frost

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.  ~T.S. Eliot

Poetry is life distilled.  ~Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself.  ~Carl Sandburg

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.
~Robert Graves

Poetry is not a civilizer, rather the reverse, for great poetry appeals to the most primitive instincts.  ~Robinson Jeffers

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.  ~Wallace Stevens

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.  ~Paul Valéry

It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.  ~W.H. Auden

What is a Professor of Poetry?  How can poetry be professed?  ~W.H. Auden

To have great poets there must be great audiences too.  ~Walt Whitman

The true poet is all the time a visionary and whether with friends or not, as much alone as a man on his death bed.  ~W.B. Yeats

Drawing and Rewriting

"1946 Smith-Corona Super-Speed" (by m.a.h. hinton)

“1946 Smith-Corona Super-Speed” (by m.a.h. hinton)

The latest hiatus here at ClimbingSky has been the result of me spending my limited free time rewriting poems and short stories and drawing.

I have spent the past month reorganizing my writing. Trying to gather in one organized place what is ready to be published, what needs some tweaks and a bit of editing, and what needs to be rewritten. It has been a big undertaking. 35+ years of scraps, and lines, and stanzas, and poems, and started short-stories and novels, and nearly finished short-stories and novels….

As I am doing that, I am trying to create sketches to go with various poems and stories. The going is slow. I am learning as I go along how drawing and the 53 app work. It is largely trial and error just like writing ultimately is, at least for me.

In September, Frontier Tales is publishing another of my Western short stories. I am waiting to hear back about a few other short stories and a few dozen poems.

In the meantime, I will be drawing and rewriting. Wish me luck!


Throwback Thursday

Thursdays at ClimbingSky feature re-posts from 6+ years of MontanaWriter and ClimbingSky. This post was previously published on July 18, 2011.

Wright_branchIn the North Country, it is high summer. The heat and humidity weigh upon us and we live indoors as much as possible… just like we do in January. Again, we wonder for the thousandth time who was the first European who said, “this would be a great place to live” (cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey in January, hot as a hell-hound’s ass in July). But when the weather breaks, we will forget it all and flee out of doors again… happy to breathe clean air and to feel real breezes upon our faces.

A week ago Sue and I drove through Kentucky and blue grass horse country. Each time we saw horses in a field, I thought of this poem by James Wright. That is the way of a great poem. And this is a great poem in every sense of that word… one of the most beautiful ever written by an American poet.

James Wright seems to me to be in the peculiar position of being frequently anthologized and quoted but seldom read. I include myself in this. I know some of his poems by heart but have spent little time with his body of work. Maybe after I finish working through Sandburg’s Collected Poetry I will take some time to study Wright. It seems like it is high past time for me to do that.

In the meantime, on a hot July Minnesota morning with horses on my mind, what poem could be better than “A Blessing.”


A Blessing
Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

The Most Subjective of Arts

"Bikes in Den Haag" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Bikes in Den Haag” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Last week’s severe heatwave here in the North Country and now a problem with my foot, has kept me from biking for the last week.

This time of year, with daughters home from college, I am basically carless. Most days during the summer, I bike to and from work– a 13-14 mile round trip. It is good exercise and therapy, helping both my mood and energy level.

A week without biking now is beginning to take its toll, on body and on soul. I think the silence here at ClimbingSky can in part be blamed on this.

Most of the blame, and let’s face it “blame” is not the right word… most of the reason has been time spent editing, re-editing, and prepping my many, many poems to be sent out for publication consideration.

I have always been better at writing than at trying to figure out the publishing game. Mainly because I have always felt like it is the writing is the thing after all… and being satisfied with what you have written.

But now I am combing through notebooks and computer files, editing and rewriting, and just beginning to send things more formally into the world.

The fiction publishing world is much clearer. I write a Western short story. I edit it and rewrite it. And I send it off to the very few places that are clearly interested in publishing the kind of Western stories I like to write.

Not so with poetry. Poetry is after all the most subjective of arts. In poetry, beauty is in the ear of the hearer.

So matching a poem with a publisher or publication is a lot of work. More work than I have generally wanted to do in the past. What little energy and time I have seems better used in writing, or reading, or day-dreaming. So I put off the process, and put it off, and put it off.

The result is notebooks and file folders and computer files and computer file folders of poems and scraps of poems and lines of nearly “finished” and half-finished verse. Decades of verse. Sitting and waiting for me to rediscover them again.

And so my summer goes.