Louise Bogan on the practice of lyric poetry

L. Bogan

The practice of lyric poetry – the most intense, the most condensed, the most purified form of language – must be centered in a genuine gift. The chances of getting away with pure fakery within it are very small. One cannot fib – it shows. One cannot manipulate – it spoils. One cannot apply decoration from the outside; or pretend that non-feeling is feeling; or indulge in any of the lower-grade emotions, such as self-pity. The truth: and we can look back and see that piece of paper, in Dante, burning in the way paper always burns; and feel the coolness of Shakespeare’s flowers; and the wet loops of Sabrina’s hair. All immortal and all true.

But it’s silly to suggest the writing of poetry is something ethereal, a sort of sou-crashing, devastating emotional experience that writes you. I have no fancy ideas about poetry. It’s not like embroidery or painting on silk. It doesn’t come to you on the wings of a dove. It’s something you have to work hard at.


The secure pulses of the heart
Drive and rock in dark precision,
Though life brings fever to the mouth
And the eyes vision.

Whatever joy the body takes,
Whatever sound the voice makes purer,
Will never cause their beat to faint
Or become surer.

These perfect chambers, and their springs,
So fitly sealed against remorse
That keep the lifting shaft of breath
To its cool course,

Cannot delay, and cannot dance –
Until, wrung out to the last drop,
The brain, knowing time and love, must die,
And they must stop.

(from Journey Around My Room, the autobiography of Louise Bogan)

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