Sunday, December 26, 2021

Wise Words


Thoughts on writing from authors born December 27:


from British poet Mina Loy (Lunar Baedeker, Insel, Stories and Essays) (1882-1966):

Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.


from German novelist and screenwriter Thea von Harbou (Das indische Grabmal, Dr. Mabuse films, Die Nibelungen films, Metropolis, M) (1888-1954):

This book is not of today or of the future.

It tells of no place.

It serves no cause, party or class.

It has a moral which grows on the pillar of understanding:

The mediator between brain and muscle must be the Heart.


from American Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Louis Bromfield (Early Autumn) (1896-1956):

There is a rhythm in life, a certain beauty which operates by a variation of lights and shadows, happiness alternating with sorrow, content with discontent, distilling in this process of contrast a sense of satisfaction, of richness that can be captured and pinned down only by those who possess the gift of awareness.


from American poet Charles Olson (Projective Verse, The Distances, The Maximus Poems) (1910-1970):

of rhythm is image / of image is knowing / of knowing there is / a construct

The poem, for me, is simply the first sound realized in the modality of being.

A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.

You can read everybody. It's not even interesting to tell the truth because to some extent it's false.

I defer to all these other American poets who, for some reason, I both envy and admire.


from British-born American novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed (A Middle Class Education, Frank and Maisie, Office Politics, The House that George Built) (1930-2011):

I picked up the writing on the very day he died. It was the only consolation I could find.

One reason the human race has such a low opinion of itself is that it gets so much of its wisdom from writers.

It's the old case against symbols: if you get them, they seem obvious and artificial, and if you don't, you miss the whole point.

Every writer is a writer of the generation before.

You noodle around with tempo and sound until you get the perfect fit for that particular song, and then, so long as you can sustain it, God is on your side and everything comes easily and even the waiters smile.

The only reason I didn't kill myself after I read the reviews of my first book was because we have two rivers in New York and I couldn't decide which one to jump into.

I rail against writers who talk about the loneliness of it all—what do they want, a crowd looking over their typewriters? Or those who talk about having to stare at a blank page—do they want someone to write on it?

Books about suicide make lousy gifts.


from Australian novelist Alex Miller (The Ancestor Game, Journey to the Stone Country, Lovesong, Autumn Laing) (born 1936):

Story is the greatest human mystery.


from New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate Bill Manhire (How to Take Off Your Clothes at the Picnic, Zoetropes, Milky Way Bar, Lifted, Wow) (born 1946):

I suppose what I really like is to set up a system which looks wonderfully secure when you first encounter it on the page, but within the framework there are crazy things which tip the reader off-balance.


from Nigerian-American novelist, poet, and essayist Chris Abani (Graceland, Becoming Abigail, The Virgin of Flames, The Secret History of Las Vegas) (born 1966):

... it's the agents of our imagination who really shape who we are.

Story is powerful. Story is fluid and it belongs to nobody.

Every successful artist comes from a family—parents or siblings or both—who, although equally gifted, chose not to pursue the treacherous and difficult path of the artist.

The question is, how do I balance narratives that are wonderful with narratives of wounds and self-loathing? And this is the difficulty that I face. I am trying to move beyond political rhetoric to a place of ethical questioning. I am asking us to balance the idea of our complete vulnerability with the complete notion of transformation or what is possible.

The privilege of being a writer is that you have this opportunity to slow down and to consider things.

The art is never about what you write about. The art is about how you write about what you write about.

In this time of the Internet and nonfiction, to be on an actual bookshelf in an actual bookstore is exciting in itself.


from American history and culture author Sarah Vowell (Assassination Vacation, The Wordy Shipmates, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States) (born 1969):

History is full of really good stories. That's the main reason I got into this racket: I want to make the argument that history is interesting.

I have a similar affection for the parenthesis (but I always take most of my parentheses out, so as not to call undue attention to the glaring fact that I cannot think in complete sentences, that I think only in short fragments or long, run-on thought relays that the literati call stream of consciousness but I still like to think of as disdain for the finality of the period).

I'm a big fan of editing and keeping only the interesting bits in.

No one I know actually reads what I write, so thank heavens for you strangers.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Wise Words

Thoughts on Art from people born December 20:


from American philosopher Susanne K. Langer (Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art, Feeling and Form, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling) (1895-1985):

Art is the objectification of feeling, and the subjectification of nature.

A signal is comprehended if it serves to make us notice the object or situation it bespeaks. A symbol is understood when we conceive the idea it presents.

Music is the tonal analogue of emotive life.

Language is, without a doubt, the most momentous and at the same time the most mysterious product of the human mind.

It is significant that people who refuse to tell their children fairytales do not fear that the children will believe in princes and princesses, but that they will believe in witches and bogeys.

The high intellectual value of images, however, lies in the fact that they usually, and perhaps always, fit more than one actual experience.

... the image of feeling created by artists, in every kind of art—plastic, musical, poetic, balletic—serves to hold the reality itself for our labile and volatile memory, as a touchstone to test the scope of our intellectual constructions.


from American author Hortense Calisher (In the Absence of Angels, Queenie, The Bobby-Soxer, Sunday Jews) (1911-2009):

The words! I collected them in all shapes and sizes and hung them like bangles in my mind.

I get up and I have coffee and I speak to no man and I go to my desk.

It has always seemed to me that if you could talk about your work in fully-formed phrases, you wouldn't write it. The writing is the statement, you see, and it seems to me that the poem or the story or the novel you write is the kind of metaphor you cast on life.

The novel is rescued life.

Every art is a church without communicants, presided over by a parish of the respectable. An artist is born kneeling; he fights to stand. A critic, by nature of the judgment seat, is born sitting.

I always say that one's poetry is a solace to oneself and a nuisance to one's friends.

This is my answer to the gap between ideas and action—I will write it out.


from Romanian-born Peabody Award- and Ovid Prize-winning American author Andrei Codrescu (Road Scholar, The Blood Countess, No Time Like Now) (born 1946):

The real technology—behind all our other technologies—is language. It actually creates the world our consciousness lives in.

These are the poems of a traveler and a lover who feels both the terror of time passing and the consolation of eternity. From such tension spring lovely poetic objects, ready for intelligent use.

The time has come for writers to become inaccessible again. The reason is not some kind of 'mystique' that makes people curious (though it helps), but the fact that no real writers ever lay down anything real in public—they work in solitude, they think hard, and their thoughts are rarely nice or 'friendly.'

Only the poor can create art.


from American writer Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street, Women Hollering Creek and Other Stories) (b. 1954):

I tell people to write the stories that you're afraid to talk about, the stories you wish you'd forget, because those have the most power. Those are the ones that have the most strength when you give them as a testimony.

Writing is like sewing together what I call these 'buttons,' these bits and pieces.

We need to write because so many of our stories are not being heard. Where could they be heard in this era of fear and media monopolies? Writing allows us to transform what has happened to us and to fight back against what's hurting us. While not everyone is an author, everyone is a writer and I think that the process of writing is deeply spiritual and liberatory.

There are two things you need to ask for, to open up that channel, so you get the light. One is humility, because our ego is always going to block that guidance, and so you ask for humility. And the second thing you're going to ask for is courage, because what you're going to be asked to do is bigger than what you think you can do

The beauty of literature is you allow readers to see things through other people’s eyes. All good books do this.

I'm a witch woman—high on tobacco and holy water. I'm a woman delighted with her disasters. They give me something to do. A profession of sorts...I have the magic of words. The power to charm and kill at will.


from Swiss-born philosopher and author Alain de Botton (Essays in Love, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Architecture of Happiness) (born 1969):

Most of what makes a book 'good' is that we are reading it at the right moment for us.

It is in books, poems, paintings which often give us the confidence to take seriously feelings in ourselves that we might otherwise never have thought to acknowledge.

The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.

It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver—because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator—a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

One kind of good book should leave you asking: how did the author know that about me?

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Wise Words

Thoughts on Art from creative people born December 13:

from Canadian painter and writer Emily Carr (The Indian Church, Big Raven, Klee Wyck) (1871-1945)

I think that one's art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows.

...real art is religion, a search for the beauty of God deep in all things.

It's all the unwordable things one wants to write about, just as it's all the unformable things one wants to paint—essence.

I am always watching for fear of getting feeble and passé in my work. I don't want to trickle out. I want to pour till the pail is empty, the last bit going out in a gush, not in drops.

There is no right and wrong way to paint except honestly or dishonestly. Honestly is trying for the bigger thing. Dishonestly is bluffing and getting through a smattering of surface representation with no meaning.

Be careful that you do not write or paint anything that is not your own, that you don't know in your own soul.


from American experimental poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen (Before the Brave, Journal of Albion Moonlight, Collected Poems) (1911-1972):

Art is not to throw light but to be light.

I don't consider myself to be a painter. I think of myself as someone who has used the medium of painting in an attempt to extend—give an extra dimension to—the medium of words. It happens very often my writing with a pen is interrupted with my writing with a brush—but I think of both as writing.

Dogs with broken legs are shot; men with broken souls write through the night.


from American writer Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer novels) (1915-1983):

We writers, as we work our way deeper into our craft, learn to drop more and more personal clues. Like burglars who secretly wish to be caught, we leave our fingerprints on broken locks, our voiceprints in bugged rooms, our footprints in the wet concrete.

I wanted to write as well as I possibly could to deal with life-and-death problems in contemporary society. And the form of Wilkie Collins and Graham Greene, of Hammett and Chandler, seemed to offer me all the rope I would ever need.

The surprise with which a detective novel concludes should set up tragic vibrations which run backward through the entire structure.

The walls of books around him, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its disasters.


from Canadian Tony-, Oscar-, and Emmy-winning actor Christopher Plummer (Cyrano, Barrymore, Beginners, Arthur Halley’s The Moneychangers, The New Adventures of Madeline) (1919-2021):

Try and stay sober. Until the curtain call. And for God's sake, have fun. Don't suffer for your art. Just have fun.


from American Tony-, Grammy-, and Emmy-winning actor-singer Dick Van Dyke (Bye Bye Birdie, Mary Poppins, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Van Dyke and Company) (born 1925):

You need someone to love, and something to do that you enjoy, and something to hope for, and that's enough for me.

Somebody asked what I wanted on my gravestone. I'm just going to put: 'Glad I Could Help.'

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Wise Words

Thoughts on creativity from artistic people born on December 6:

from Italian courier, diplomat, and writer Baldassare Castiglione (Il libro del cortegiano) (1478-1529):

Practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought.


from English mystical poet and author Evelyn Underhill (Mysticism, The Mystic Way, Theophanies, Worship) (1875-1941):

Art is the link between appearance and reality.


from American poet Joyce Kilmer (Trees and other Poems) (1886-1918):

At present, I am a poet trying to be a soldier. To tell the truth, I am not interested in writing nowadays, except in so far as writing is the expression of something beautiful ... The only sort of book I care to write about the war is the sort people will read after the war is over—a century after it is over.


from English writer Sir Osbert Sitwell (Before the Bombardment, Left Hand! Right Hand!) (1892-1969):

For Poetry is the wisdom of the blood,/ That scarlet tree within, which has the power/ To make dull words bud forth and burst in flower.

The artist, like the idiot or clown, sits on the edge of the world, and a push may send him over it.

Poetry is like fish: if it's fresh, it's good; if it's stale, it's bad; and if you're not certain, try it on the cat.

The only difference between an artist and a lunatic is, perhaps, that the artist has the restraint or courtesy to conceal the intensity of his obsession from all except those similarly afflicted.


from German-born American photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt (Life, Witness to Our Time, The Eye of Eisenstaedt) (1898-1995):

I enjoy traveling and recording far-away places and people with my camera. But I also find it wonderfully rewarding to see what I can discover outside my own window. You only need to study the scene with the eyes of a photographer.

I don’t use an exposure meter. My personal advice is: Spend the money you would put into such an instrument for film. Buy yards of film, miles of it. Buy all the film you can get your hands on. And then experiment with it. That is the only way to be successful in photography. Test, try, experiment, feel your way along. It is the experience, not technique, which counts in camera work first of all. If you get the feel of photography, you can take fifteen pictures while one of your opponents is trying out his exposure meter.

All photographers have to do, is find and catch the story-telling moment.

People will never understand the patience a photographer requires to make a great photograph, all they see is the end result. I can stand in front of a leaf with a dew drop, or a rain drop, and stay there for ages just waiting for the right moment. Sure, people think I'm crazy, but who cares? I see more than they do!

I dream that someday the step between my mind and my finger will no longer be needed. And that simply by blinking my eyes, I shall make pictures. Then, I think, I shall really have become a photographer.

We are only beginning to learn what to say in a photograph. The world we live in is a succession of fleeting moments, any one of which might say something significant.


from English poet and editor Michael Roberts (These Our Matins, The Faber Book of Modern Verse) (1902-1948):

The poet is always concerned with achieving a balance between the inner and the outer world; it is his business to hold in a single thought reality and justice.

A good work of art reveals something that is in reality. A new metaphor, a new myth, a new type of character, all these reveal a feature of reality for which we previously had no name.


from American Grammy-winning jazz great Dave Brubeck (Songs of Joy & Peace, Lifetime Achievement) (1920-2012):

Art may not have the power to change the course of history, but it can provide a perspective on historical events that needs to be heard, even if it's seldom heeded. After all the temporary influences that once directed the course of history have vanished, great art survives and continues to speak to each generation.

There's a way of playing safe, there's a way of using tricks and there's the way I like to play which is dangerously where you're going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven't created before.

And there is a time where you can be beyond yourself. You can be better than your technique. You can be better than most of your usual ideas. And this is a whole other category that you can get into.

When things are going well, I hate to quit.

When you hear Bach or Mozart, you hear perfection. Remember that Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were great improvisers. I can hear that in their music.

I'm always hoping for the nights that are inspired where you almost have an out of body experience.


from American minister Nicky Cruz (Run Baby Run, One Holy Fire, Soul Obsession, The Devil Has No Mother) (born 1938):

You can argue with someone's opinion, but you can't argue with their story.


from Austrian Nobel Prize-winning novelist, playwright, poet, and essayist Peter Handke (Publikumsbeschimpfung, Kaspar, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter, Wunschloses Unglück, Der Himmel über Berlin) (born 1942):

I am a writer. I am rooted in Tolstoy, I am rooted in Homer, I am rooted in Cervantes.

You can't be silent and create silence in being silent. So you have to create silence or, rather, the effect of silence, through words.

If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.

The biggest achievement is to create silence. I think every real writer who has a passion to do justice to the world thinks this way.


from American Young Adult novelist Jason Reynolds (When I Was the Greatest, Track series, Long Way Down, Look Both Ways) (born 1983):

I just want young people to read my books and feel cared for, feel safe, feel like there's someone else in the world who understands—or at least acknowledges—your existence.

Writing is like any other sort of sport. In order for you to get better at it, you have to exercise the muscle.

Dreams don’t have timelines, deadlines, and aren’t always in straight lines.

Little. Don’t ever let someone call your life, your dreams, little. Hear me?

You, my dear, should spend more time in a library. It’s not just a hiding place, but also the place where the chases happen.