Some Miscellaneous Quotes About Writing

These quotes really resonated with me.  I hope you will enjoy them too.  They are not arranged in any particular order.

“Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstances too: bad luck, loss, pain.  If you make something out of it, then you’ve no longer been bested by these events.”    Louise Gluck (author and poet, born 1943)

From my text in my Advanced Writing Class On Writing Well 31st anniversary edition by William Zinsser: “[This] thing is true of writers.  Sell yourself and your subject will exert its own appeal.  Believe in your own identity and your own opinions.  Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.  Use its energy to keep yourself going.” p.23

“I express myself with my friends and family.  Novels are not about expressing oneself, they’re about something beautiful, funny, clever and organic.  Self expression? Go and ring a bell in the yard if you want to express yourself.” Novelist Zadie Smith

“Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” John Edgar Wideman, writer

“Writers are driven by compulsion to put some part of themselves on paper…” Zinsser

Contrasting views? Yes.  Conflicting ones? Maybe not.  Thoughts?


Monday morning fell on a Wednesday this morning, primarily because my total thoughts, actions and life has been busy thinking about and preparing for My Better Half’s birthday yesterday.  It was a celebration for two, but involved cooking his favorite meal and was full of many gifts and greetings from family and friends.

Again I’ve been browsing through my old Graduate School poetry anthology, and tucked into the back was a folded piece of paper, an old essay test.  It consisted of one question, “What is Poetry?” As was my habit many times on compositions, I turned the theme into something I thought the professor would pause over and wrote the following:

What Poetry Is Not

Poetry is not “an expression of pure emotion,” a definition I learned in high school. It does deal with emotion…sometimes. It is not the beautiful statement of some high truth. Instead, it is that truth itself–with decorations.  It is not always fine sentiments in fine language, but sometimes lowdown sentiments expressed in gutter language.  Poetry is not something separate from ordinary life.  What “makes” it poetry  is not separate from the busyness of living.The matters with which poetry concerns itself are what matters to ordinary people. Poetry is not just a bundle of things poetic in themselves, a list of “My Favorite Things, Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” Part of what makes a poem a poem is what holds these things together in a meaningful relationship as opposed to a collection of pleasing items. On the other hand, poetry is not just a group of mechanically combined elements…meter, rhyme, figurative language, etc.  The relationship among these elements is important.  They must work together to impart a specific impression, feeling, sense of things to the reader.

The poet makes the “familiar strange and the strange familiar.” Perhaps with John Ciardi, our textbook author, we should ask not, WHAT does a poem mean, but HOW does a poem mean? How does it go about being a human re-enactment of a human experience?  A poem  is an expression of a moment of pure realization of being that brings to the reader in a vivid way some scene or sensation…but it is more than that. Almost always a writer conveys information, but he conveys an attitude toward and a feeling about that information.  The poet becomes the translator  and the transmitter of experience to others. By choosing and shaping words, by selecting and presenting images, the poet forms the verbal object that captures and imparts his contact/confrontation with Nature/God/Reality.  The poem itself exists as a bridge between the reader and the Cosmos.


The following books are “assigned” for the next quarter of the PWR (Powerful Women Readers) on-line book club.  All are available at public libraries and  second hand or new through Amazon. All except Sea Change are available in paperback. I chose these three books because they were all on my TBR (To be read) shelf in my book closet.  I have been wanting to read these books for a long time.  Some come recommended by friends, others by other book clubs.  You should pick one of the three to read by our next get-together which should be in approximately three months.Get a copy or copies and get started this weekend.

Let’s begin with Sea Change by Frank Viva, a prominent artist and designer who lives in Toronto.  This is a children’s book that is not your usual children’s book, nor is it illustrated like conventional children’s books.  Looking at the cover and speculating about the very adult topic was enough to cause me to purchase it at Half Price Books.  I will read it first and will loan out my copy to borrow.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden has been read and discussed by many book clubs worldwide. This novel was published in 1997 and is rapidly becoming a classic, primarily because so many people have read it. It lets us peek into another culture and another time so unlike our own that reading it is bound to be an illuminating experience.

The final book is by one of my favorite science fiction writers, Madeline Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time).   It tells of the continuing adventures of the Murry family AFTER the famous trilogy, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (All of which I’ve read and have been blown away by) ends.  It can be read as a stand alone, but for readers of the trilogy and other Lengle books, familiar characters appear and reappear like old friends and relatives of favorite characters in the first three books.

I hope you will be happy with these choices.  Please advise if you cannot obtain copies somewhere.

Friends of PWR are encouraged to join us on line and to comment on the three books as they are discussed and reviewed in the coming quarter.

Let’s stretch and read some books we’ve been meaning to read or wanted to read but haven’t gotten around to yet.

Happy Reading!



Here are brief reviews of two books I finished last week, both worth investing our precious reading time in:

Paper Hero,by Leon Hale, a local humorist and colorist, was a re-read and was originally an “assignment” for the Third Tuesday Book Club.  Wanting something “Christmassy” last Christmas, we all agreed we’d enjoyed Paper Hero enough to read Hale’s essays, collected under the title One Man’s Christmas.  This led me to  revisit  Paper Hero to remind myself of Hale’s childhood and journalism background, and I’m glad I made the journey.

Paper Hero,a memoir or autobiography starts out in Hale’s childhood.  It was during the depression, and Hale’s father was a traveling salesman, trying hard to feed his family.  Because of frequently getting laid off, Hale’s father moved his family around from rent house to rent house, frequently. Like many people during the depression, although the family lived in the city, they kept a cow and chickens, plus had a garden .  Early on Hale got a job throwing newspapers, thus the title, Paper Hero. His description of his college days (on a scholarship) describes him finding out what he was good at.  Like many young men of his era, WWII interrupted his life for several years. He was in combat and eventually was (before there was such a thing) an embedded Journalist for a paper.  He goes on to describe his earliest jobs at  the Houston Post, then at the Houston Chronicle, when the Post folded.  This is where our group had first met him, as a columnist whom we would never mis reading.  Once in a while he will still (He is in his 90s) write a guest column ,or the Chronicle will re-run one of his classic columns. His columns are hilarious at times and always warm and touching.  His autobiography is the same.

Jhumpa Lahiri is responsible for the fine film,The Namesake, so when I read about The Lowland,a National Book Award finalist published in 2013, I ordered a copy.  I was not disappointed.  Her novel tells (in her particularly beautiful storytelling style) the tale of two Indian brothers, born very close together and together in every undertaking whether it be mischief or scholarly pursuits. Subbhash, the elder is quiet, a serious scholar and totally apolitical.  Udayan, the younger, is rash, a risk taker, very political, and the favored son of the boys’  mother. While Subbash is studying  and teaching in America, Udayan, like many Indian students of the time, fights with a radical political party, taking dangerous assignments even though he has taken a wife, Gauri.  Udayan is executed, and against the wishes of his parents, Subbash weds Udayan’s pregnant wife and relocates her to Providence, RI.

Beautiful writing is present throughout this engrossing novel with the lowlands, “…dark, dank, weedy places that haunt out lives,” first in India, then in Providence, become  a metaphor for the lives of the characters as well as the plot of the novel.  It has been said of Lahiri, she “…spins the globe and comes full circle.” The twists and turns of the plot and the memorable characters she creates allow her to do just that in this fine novel.


Returning to an old classic, Ciardi’s “How Does a Poem Mean?”, good figurative language is concrete, condensed and, above all interesting. It has a precision and vividness absent from everyday language. A paraphrase of a poem will almost always have more words and less impact than the original. The most effective metaphors are fresh, not outworn cliches. They conjure up pictures and other sensory recollections of sounds, smells, tastes. Since thoughts occur as pictures or images, not couched in words, the multitude of shifting images and pictures called up by words is a natural process.

Dramatically, a metaphor is an indirect comparison where a simile is a direct one. “He was a colt running across the meadow” is more direct than “He ran like a colt across the meadow.” A metaphor can be a one-line comparison or an overall comparison sustained throughout a longer piece.  This imagery becomes a wider term than metaphor; it is the “total sensory suggestion of poetry” (Ciardi). For example, Hawthorne’s novel The Blythedale Romance is saturated with a sense of illusion which several metaphors help to sustain. The theme of concealment of thoughts, emotions, and deeds reigns throughout and is paralleled by the concealment feature of the snow and the snowstorms. Thus, the snow image joins veils, masquerades, and mesmerisms and clairvoyance as major metaphors in the novel. The snow asserts its presence as a white veil (like that of the veiled lady) which adds to the mystery and ambiguity of the novel and the events which occur in it.

Metaphor, whether in poetry or in novels, is a powerful tool the poet/novelist can use to aid the reader in his search for meaning.  When used well, this tool makes the poem/novel clearer and denser at the same time; it clarifies or mystifies. Metaphor or metaphoric language sums up the importance of figurative language in general.  As Robert Frost wrote, ” Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another.”


When one approaches a poem, one should not just go message hunting.  Perhaps this is why Ciardi (Understanding Poetry) feels the pertinent question to ask is not WHAT does a poem mean, but HOW does a poem mean?  How does it build its form out of images, ideas, and rhythms? These elements help to intensify and become an inseparable part of the meaning.  Yeates writes, “O body swayed to music, O quickening glance,/ How shall I tell the dancer from the dance?”  Even Whitman’s seemingly non-selective catalogs in Leaves of Grass become a part of an overall meaning in a grand cosmic sense.

Imagery, specifically metaphor, is a vehicle for carrying the reader into the poetry. If the reader brings to the element of the comparison a flexible mind, a willingness to see likenesses, to share, to make analogies, the poet will attempt  to give him an experience of the other element which is being compared.  Added to this is the pleasurable interplay of the two things.

The poet addresses both sides of the metaphor at once, but to assume that because two statements could be placed in the same category they are the same thing or mean the same thing is to ignore connotative differences.  For example, the carpe diem theme is expressed in both statements, but it is a far cry from “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” to “Make hay while the sun shines.”

The use of metaphor is saying one thing in terms of something else.  Cardi says, “The poet pretends to be talking about one thing, and all the while he is talking about many others.” It is speaking of the unknown in terms of the known; it is pegging an unknown experience to a similar known experience.  When Burns writes, “My luve is like a red, red rose,” the reader knows what a red, red rose is, but he doesn’t know what Burns feels about “my luve”.  However, in linking Burns’ love to the known feelings stimulated by a rose, the reader finds a sense of how Burns feels about his love.  Figurative language with illogically linked terms forces the reader to notice the connection.  He must think in terms of personal definitions rather than connotations.