Monday, October 30, 2006

Here's a Picker-Upper

  1. We never know the value of our own work, and everything reasonable leads us to doubt it: for we can be certain that few contemporaries will be read in a hundred years. To desire to write poems that endure—we undertake such a goal certain of two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and that if we succeed we will never know it.
  2. But for some people it seems ambitious merely to set up as a poet, merely to write and to publish. Publication stands in for achievement—as everyone knows, universities and grant-givers take publication as achievement—but to accept such a substitution is modest indeed, for publication is cheap and easy.
  3. True ambition in a poet seeks fame in the old sense, to make words that live forever. If even to entertain such ambition reveals monstrous egotism, let me argue that the common alternative is petty egotism that spends itself in small competitiveness, that measures its success by quantity of publication, by blurbs on jackets, by small achievement....

----------------------------------------------------------------------Donald Hall

The Poem must become more important than the Poet!


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"Poetry and Ambition" was originally delivered as a lecture at a meeting of the Associated Writing Programs, then turned into an essay with the addition of material from another lecture given at New England College. It appeared in the Kenyon Review, n.s., 5, no. 4 (1983), and was reprinted in Pushcart Prize IX: Best of the Small Presses, 1984-85, and the AWP Bulletin, Feb.-Mar., 1987. Published in 1988 in Poetry and Ambition: Essays 1982-88 by Donald Hall.

2 comments:

Robert said...

Excellent. So many write poetry to be poets, and not for the sake of the poem. And everywhere this path is frought with the perils of ambition. Great quote. Great reminder.

Nick said...

I need the occasional reminder myself from time to time!