Friday, January 23, 2009

What You Should Know to Be a Poet

all you can know about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
the names of stars and the movements of planets
and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful elegant mind.

at least one kind of traditional magic:
divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;

the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods;

kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels
and maidens perfum’d and golden—

& then love the human: wives husbands and friends.

children’s games, comic books, bubble-gum,
the weirdness of television and advertising.

work, long dry hours of dull work swallowed up and accepted
and livd with and finally lovd. exhaustion,
hunger, rest.

the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, enstasy

real danger. gambles. and the edge of death.

—Gary Snyder (from Regarding Wave, 1970)

Gary Snyder published “What You Should Know to Be a Poet” nearly 40 years ago. What would you add or remove from the list to reflect what you feel a poet should know today? Why?


  1. I would add to the list something about different forms/types of poetry. It would be immensely boring if everyone wrote only haikus.

  2. I would add something about knowing about other cultures, as well as politics. I often include elements of politics and culture in my poetry because I feel that my political beliefs and experiences with other cultures (as well as my own) make up a great deal of who I am. It would seem that including these elements would help to develop a unique style or voice in your poetry.

  3. I think that I would add something about being a well rounded person. I think that poets should know and be familiar with a little bit of everything, especially things that are very different from what they are familiar with. Poetry is such a strong artform that being well rounded person may actually give poets more to write about.

  4. As Kim mentioned earlier, I would probably add a knowledge of the various forms and techniques of poetry. I would also add positive religious experience, as not every religious experience is negative (I speak from experience). Also, I would suggest reading poets past and poets present:

    the forms of poetry past
    ideas for poetry yet to come

    how to speak to God candidly
    as one friend to another,
    an argument that turns into a heart to heart...

    poets past and poets present
    after all you are a poet of the future

    fear in a handful of Eliot's dust,
    Love in a handful of stars in the sky...

    and many more things besides.

  5. curiosity, questions, words

    What gives one word worth over another?

    opinions disagreements personalities. a desire to state these things:

    All you can know about persons as animals

    How to cook
    and how to scrounge for or borrow ingredients
    A meal constructed only of spices, a dry heap on a porcelain plate?

    How to hide and how to reveal
    Make a deal with Satan? Perhaps because poetry must question beliefs. . .like belief in Satan
    a detachment from the concreteness of good and evil?

    keep a secret/make things secret

  6. I would add the fact that poetry talks about the world around us and one's emotions. Both the good and the bad things of life help formulate the freedom of what poetry really is. Also, adding to what Kim said, I would add more of a variety of forms of poetry.

  7. I would have to add that a poet should be an open minded person, HONEST, and courageous, be willing to hold nothing back, to have the abitly to express real raw emotions without having insecurities to people that may hear or read their poetry, because honesty is important it is ofen theraptic for many poets as well as the reader they can capture the poets emotions and relate their life with their own.

  8. Personally, I would add lines discussing the different types of relationships people go through in a lifetime. Whether is between parents, friends, a lover, siblings, relatives and stranger, each relationship is unique and literally drives our everyday experience. I would also mention the innocence of a child, the confused state of adolescence, and the struggling life of an Adult. If it were my poem i would switch up the form a little more and lastly, and add little more usage of metaphors and imagery.

  9. Sweetness and light, or what Swift thought were the only noble things, are the last things to know about. First you have to know: are you a boy? are you a girl? What happens when you put your hand in the fire? Sweat and excrement, the most ignoble things, are the first you have to learn about. Be anal retentive, in the true Freudian/Piagetian sense.

  10. I don't know if the title to the list is exactly true. Knowledge isn't the true essence of poetry, for one. It's about the heart, passion, and observations. Also, that's a very interesting list. And I don'e know if every element is essential. Though, I, myself, am very educated on all the subjects, so maybe the list is true.

  11. I think that this poem is still accurate in its explanation of feelings and patterns of thought that one, as a poet, can follow. Snyders poem reflects a lot of the processes every poet may go through both consciously and subconsciously. If I were to add anything to this work it would be:
    One must live like a child,
    to feel and express like a child
    and to run around and play like a child
    while the sun warms your back.
    To be a child you must look at the world
    through the goggles of purity.

  12. I don't think that the poetry writing process is as complicated as Snyder presents. What defines a poet? What qualifies one to determine whether or not another is an artist? His list is pretty extensive and probably excludes a lot. I wouldn't add anything to his list, I would however remove almost everything. I think that all one needs to write poetry is knowledge of their own experiences and how they reacted to each event, the emotion felt in reaction to a person or to an experience in particular creates poetry, not the etymology of horticulture. Perhaps he's right though, obviously i am no master of the poetry.

  13. I don't think a least like the one Snyder presents can become outdated throughout time. It focuses more on abstract thoughts and ideals rather than absolutes. The only thing that has really changed is how people perceive what he means through his words. The world hasn't changed so much through the years as for us not to understand the dread of long dull workdays and the games associated with children. The jobs and the games may have changed, but the meaning is still there. The problem that comes along with differing perceptions is the idea that his ideas can be misinterpreted and therefore misunderstood. The only thing I would add to the list is not to be brave in the face of such misinterpretations of your work, but to willingly embrace such ideas as new and different, allowing one to be more open to other opinions and possibly encouraging greater creativity and uncomfortable but exciting ideas.

  14. I think that we need to know ourselves, past our egos. We need to mercilessly explore our minds and bodies and by doing that we can makes discoveries of our surroundings that otherwise we could not make. It isn't until we can trust ourselves that true relationships with other people, places, or things can exist.

  15. I think that grasping a sense of one's self is the first thing one must do before writing poetry. also, a poet, i feel should be able to write poetic art; that is, be able to paint a portrait of whatever topic he/she writes about in such a way that it feels like the reader is looking at a piece of visual art.


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