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floating oceans the whole sentence comes out

How to Write Poetry

There are floating oceans of literature on how to write poetry, mostly written by professors of poetic art who have never written a line themselves. Helen F. Macmillan quotes Vachel Lindsay on this subject :

      “You won’t find any word revisions, that isn’t the way I revise. I write my poems by the line — not by the word. Most poets, you know, write poetry as a craftsman would, make a piece of mosaic by fitting together pieces of colored glass. When a word doesn’t fit they take it out and try another. Sometimes it takes half a dozen tries to get a word just the right shape and color. You know how the manuscript looks then, with interlinings and words crossed out and rewritten. I don’t work that way. If I don’t like one word in a sentence I have written the whole sentence comes out. The original draft of my poems is usually about four or five times as long as the finished piece. I suppose that is what people mean when they speak of the conversational quality of my poetry. It can be too conversational of course. That’s the danger. But then, the other method has its dangers too. Too much puttering with a line is apt to take all the punch out of it. Kipling wrote by the sentence, I think, and of course, most prose writing is done that way. But nearly all poets use the other method.”

      This quotation is taken from an essay on Lindsay in search of his youth; by Helen F. MacMillan in the Boston Transcript: The troubador poet writes his poetry to be read aloud by himself in a booming voice that carries like a calliope.

ex The Lariat 9:4 (April 1927) : 163 : link


The Lariat : A monthly roundup of Western discussion and criticism devoted to higher standards of literature on broad cultural lines of expression.

hathitrust record :
published: Salem, Or., May 1923-1927; Amity, Or, 1928-
editor: 1923-1927, Ernst Hofer.
all NYPL : link

an introduction to The Lariat (including its editor and its editorial leanings) can be found at (the seemingly orphaned, but still accessible as of 20230521) website of the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest :
Aggressive Regionalism : Commentary : 5. The Lariat : link

On Ernst Hofer (1855-1934), see
Rolf Swenson, “Ernst Hofer: A German Republican Journalist in Iowa, 1855-1890,” The Annals of Iowa 51:6 (Fall 1992): 565-602 : link (pdf)

same page (163) :
      One of our universities endowing a chair in barbering and bobbing. So far none has endowed a chair in Poetry.

22 May 2023