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It's a term I've just coined to describe what I'm about to do: Gank a few writing-related quotes from here and there.

Here: From the book Possession by A.S. Byatt, which I read this week and which nearly made me decide that I should never try to write anything because, damn, Byatt's one creative, smart writer*:

"What makes me a Poet, and not a novelist——is to do with the singing of the Language itself. For the difference between poets and novelists is this——that the former write for the life of the language——and the latter write for the betterment of the world." (p. 147) I found that one thought-provoking, and while I agree that poets are all about language and word choices and the like, I'm not sure that I agree with the overly simplistic conclusion. Then again, Byatt is a novelist. Still, I figured it was worth mentioning and, perhaps, discussing.

"You are a Poet and in the end must care only for your own views" (p. 181) True. So, so true.

And I can't share with you the full bit on the subject of reading from later in the book, but on pages 510-512, there is a lovely essay (as it were) on the pleasures of reading. It is worth seeking out, my friends. I won't even try to characterize it here because to do so would be a grave disservice.

There: From Jane Austen, for those of you having trouble moving ahead with your writing projects: "I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am." From a letter to her sister, Cassandra, in October, 1813.

For those who value craft, whether in art or writing: "I hope George was pleased with my designs. Perhaps they would have suited him as well had they been less elaborately finished; but an artist cannot do anything slovenly." Emphasis mine. From a letter to her sister, Cassandra, in November 1798.

Once upon a time, I kept a little journal full of quotes I found inspiring. I started it in high school, and kept going until after college, then sort of packed it away. I think I may revive it by adding these bits in there.

*My determination that Byatt was terribly intelligent was tarnished by her assertion that adults who read and enjoy the Harry Potter books must be fairly stupid (my inference) and lacking in imagination (a fair characterization of what she wrote). I cannot but help thinking that she has not actually read the HP books, and that she lacks a bit of imagination herself if she finds them to be as limited as she claims. Still, her accomplishment in Possession is jaw-droppingly wunderbar.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 16th, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks for these very thought-provoking quotes, Kelly. I'm still trying to get past the thing about poets writing for the life of the language, and novelists for the betterment of the world. I'm with you. It's overly simplistic. Also demeaning to poets. It seems wrong to weigh one art form against another. Each expresses essential truths via different means. Any novelist who thinks he/she writes "for the betterment of the world," is too full of himself. In my humble opinion, every writer writes to be heard and understood. One really cannot control whether the world will benefit or not.
I'm also guessing that Byatt hasn't read the HP books. She's jealous.
Sep. 16th, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
Jealous she may be, but there's no denying her spectacular writing talent. The thing is, most poets DO write for the life of the language (if they're any good, that is). But so do great novelists, I believe. They make sure to use proper tenses and to go for the juicier words, instead of the simple thrift-store variety.

And I agree with you -- I think that while it's possible that writers can change the world (including poets), the good ones write to express a thought or convey an image or story, and not because they feel they are somehow in a superior position to the world. I don't think that's how she meant it, however, and I must say that I pulled it out of the middle of a passage in the novel -- it was not intended by the author to be a stand-alone assertion. Still, it's interesting to think about.

I hope you get a chance to check out the bit on reading, which was magnificent. It could truly be boosted straight out of the book (almost) as an essay on the topic, just as there's a passage from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen that is frequently pulled out and called her "defense of the novel."
Sep. 16th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC)
Will definitely check out the other passage on reading you recommended. Perhaps I did misinterpret since the passage was out of context. I'm thinking now that someone whose talent is that spectacular is bound to have blind spots. Yet somehow I sense her condescension toward the HP books, so she is taking a superior attitude. What does she say to those readers who love both her work and HP? Again, the issue of being too judgmental. It's the old literary vs. popular fiction debate. Both are valid forms, which serve different purposes and appeal to different tastes. One is not better than the other, just different.
Sep. 16th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
Yeah -- I'm in that camp. Love-love-love HP, can't say fully how truly wonderful Possession is (and how intellectual it is). But Byatt is a novelist, and only wrote poems for Possession because she needed them (there's an interesting essay about how she came to write the novel on her website).

I suppose I'm easy -- I like good, well-crafted commercial stuff as well as high literature (and if I had to pick one, it might be the former). Kinda like I enjoy junk food, home cooking and gourmet stuff -- different, but all good in its own right.
Sep. 17th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
Shelley, Thomas, The paradox
On the world-changing ability of poetry, Shelley claimed that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," in typical superior Percy Bysshe fashion. However, though pompous, I think that he hits on the essential paradox of poets and artists in that they are the ones who passionately pursue their craft, yet remain unacknowledged in a world that is too often dismissive of their voices. We can only hope that Shelley is right, that in some way their passion filters through into the collective unconscious of humanity, and that the lovers of verse can find ways to make smooth these paths of enlightenment. I think Dylan Thomas hits on it best in one of my favorite Thomas poems:

In My Craft or Sullen Art by Dylan Thomas

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Sep. 17th, 2007 11:58 am (UTC)
Re: Shelley, Thomas, The paradox
Lovely. And how much do I love the line "for the common wages of their most secret heart"? If you guessed very, very much, you were right.
Sep. 16th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
Great quotations
Thanks so much! I agree with you that I couldn't adhere to the one about poets writing for language, and novelists for the world, but as you said, it does make you think. It sounds like a line that would be great to throw into a class to get discussions rolling.

But my favorite quote was Austen, "not at all in a humour for writing." It's nice to have company!

And I do like your quoteskimming!
Sep. 16th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Great quotations
Me too -- I like the word, and I like the act. I believe I'll try to do it weekly from now on, just because it's so much fun!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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