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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reply to the Question: "How Can You Become a Poet?"

(Spring Beauty by Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American

How can you become a poet?

The poet W. H. Auden once proposed a curriculum for his “daydream College for Bards,” which he set forth in an essay,
The Poet & The City.

1. In addition to English, at least one ancient language, probably Greek or Hebrew, and two modern languages would be required.
2. Thousands of lines of poetry in these languages would be learned by heart.
3. The library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies.
4. Courses in prosody [versification], rhetoric and comparative philology [linguistics] would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.
5. Every student would be required to look after a domestic animal and cultivate a garden plot.

The poet Eve Merriam suggests another approach.


take the leaf of a tree
trace its exact shape
the outside edges
and inner lines

memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
(and how the twig arches from the branch)
how it springs forth in April
how it is panoplied in July

by late August
crumple it in your hand
so that you smell its end-of-summer sadness

chew its woody stem

listen to its autumn rattle

watch it as it atomizes in the November air

then in winter
when there is no leaf left

invent one

~ Eve Merriam (1916-1992), American poet and playwright


dylan said...

Very nice. And Auden's curriculum, while a tad rigorous, has its appealing aspects!

Tabatha said...

I'm afraid I would fail out of Auden's college, but it does sound pretty good. Beautiful poem by Merriam.

Charles Van Gorkom said...

I am only an Autumn leaf,
my language unwritten,
can my crude translations
be poetry?

GretchenJoanna said...

I think I need to become a poet in order to live fully the reality of being, as Charles conveys so well, an autumn leaf. But Auden and Merriam, and Charles, put into words why I am finding it easier to read poems. Not that that is easy, either.