Friday, April 14, 2023

Friday Writings #72: Writing About Writing



Hello again, dear Wordsmiths!

I love to read not only all your poems and stories, but also your background notes (if any). The whole process of writing is endlessly fascinating to me.

Poems about poetry and the writing of poetry

Forty-odd years ago when I first discovered my tribe of other poets in Melbourne, and then the rest of Australia, there was a belief current among many of them that one ‘shouldn’t’ write poems about writing poetry. It was considered too inward-looking, too self-centred, not likely to speak to people in general.

And yet, many poets have done it, starting with Horace in ancient Rome, with a piece titled Ars Poetica which gave the practice its name. That means ‘the art of poetry’ but has come to be used for poems about poetry. Hands up anyone here who hasn’t done it, at least once? No-one? I thought so!

Of course the subject fascinates us – and if those poems only speak to other poets, well, these days there are a lot of us around. (And anyway, I subscribe to the view that there should be no 'shoulds' in writing poetry.)

A favourite quote from one such poem is:

… poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

– Czeslaw Miłosz: Arts Poetica?

perhaps explained by an earlier verse in the same poem:

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

Don’t you love it? Oh, I want at least some of my poems to be tigers! (Though I might want others to be flowers, or breezes, or sea-shells.)

However, I also love the more traditional view in these lines by James Elroy Flecker, from The Golden Journey to Samarkand:

We who with songs beguile your pilgrimage
And swear that Beauty lives though lilies die,
We Poets of the proud old lineage
Who sing to find your hearts, we know not why …

My very favourite piece of ars poetica, expressing a similar sentiment, is:

In My Craft or Sullen Art

By DylanThomas 

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Another which runs that very close in my estimation is:

Necessary Explanation

By Yannis Ritsos
translated by Rae Dalven

There are certain verses—sometimes entire poems—
whose meaning even I don’t know. What I don’t know
sustains me still. And you are right to ask. Don’t ask me.
I don’t know, I tell you.
                                     Two parallel lights
from the same center. The sound of the water
falling in winter from the overflowing drainpipe
or the sound of a drop as it falls
from a rose in the watered garden
very slowly on a spring evening
like the sob of a bird. I don’t know
what this sound means; nevertheless I accept it.
Whatever else I know I explain to you. I don’t neglect it.
But these things too add to our lives. As she was sleeping
I watched her knee squaring the sheet—
It wasn’t only love. That angle
was the crest of tenderness, and the fragrance
of the sheet, the cleanness and of the springtime completed
that inexplicable thing I sought, again in vain, to explain to you.

Stories about story-telling

Let’s not entirely neglect the storytellers among us (even while acknowledging that poems can be stories too). Stories about storytelling include The Neverending Story (book and film), the Australian non-fiction study Finding Eliza by Larissa Behrendt – and the famous originator, a whole lot of separate stories within a story about story-telling: The Arabian Nights.

 If you would like a prompt this time, I invite you to write about writing: either write a poem about writing poetry, or tell us a story about story-telling.
Guidelines: Prompted or not, we welcome poetry or prose, old or new, one post per person, 369 words maximum. Please link, via Mister Linky, to your blog post and also follow the other links to see what the rest of us have written. Having a little chat to us, in the Comments below, is optional (but welcomed).

Have fun!

Next week, Magaly will ask us to find inspiration in the phrase “time affects all things”.


 Image of writer by Brent Gorwin on Unsplash.

Note: My favourites have lasted over the years. Some of you may recall the poems quoted above from our old days as Poets United – but I thought such wonderful lines could bear repeating.


  1. This was a fun write, as generally usual, I didn't make an "A" grade write for the wonderful teach, Rosemary. It is mostly made up but I did write a few poems in grade school. Strickly Grammer for High School.
    So "Thanks to Rosemary, Good Job!!"
    And a Happy Friday write to all. Like my NASA Houston boss used to say as he walked through our room, "Write faster". Hmmm??
    Part of our job was to write the official Daily Mission Report every morning if there was a mission going on, for the activity the day before. We worked in Mission Control and had other duties besides writing.

    1. p.s. I'd love to write to your nice photo.
      Lots could be said, written, about.

    2. Ha ha, 'Write faster' might be excellent advice for those of us whose years are getting long!

  2. Not writing to the prompt today but terribly guilty of writing tons of poems about poems - to the extent of thinking the poem is the metaphor for the poet. Horribly guilty :)

    1. Oh, you're taking it to a new level, lol, 'thinking the poem is the metaphor for the poet'! (You might be right.)

  3. Dylan's thoughts like "spindrift pages" touch something both real and dreamy about poetry.

  4. A quick mention ... not only are the prose and poetry wonderful here, the comments are as well. Happy Writing!!!

  5. Good day, Poets & Storytellers!

    What Dylan Thomas said "I labour by singing light /
    Not for ambition or bread"
    may apply to most of us. We write because we love to.

    Good to be back joining you guys again. I thought I could write a poem a day in April, and joined our local version of NaPoWriMo. It's a facebook group, and there are some really good poetry there. I started brightly and fizzled out soon after. Nah, a poem a day is not for me. :)

    Hope you'll like what I wrote for today's prompt. :)

    1. Ha, I committed myself to a (small) poem a day for the whole year! They get prosier and prosier.

  6. I, too, delight in notes about the writing process. It's always so wonderful to see where a poem or story came from. It makes me feel part of the whole thing.


Please be respectful of all the people on this site, as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.