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My good friend Wendy Taylor Carlisle and I spent four soggy but word-happy days at Dodge a couple weeks ago. I gathered sixty-some pages of notes on the four days of poetry. The website states that almost 20,000 people attended! Student Day claimed a registration of 5,000 high school students from all over the country. I spoke with youth poets from Maryland, New Jersey, and Jacksonville, Florida. Several offered to send poems to The Sound – the newsletter I edit – for the January poetry issue. Here are words from master poets Robert Haas, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Lucille Clifton when they spoke to the young writers:

Robert Haas

Just imagine a place where American High School students and American writers could get together and talk about poetry!

The order in which you present information is crucial. Robert Frost wrote: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” A translation might read, “There is something that does not love a wall.” That simple inversion would lose the poetic beauty of the phrase. It can strike the reader –  yes, but in examining what is meant, the order of the words makes it hard to pin that down…

Sometimes it’s good to take down barriers, sometimes it’s good to put them up. [He says later on referring to a Wallace Stevens poem] – That poem hypnotized me because it felt emotionally true.

Why is poetry so powerful? An answer to that might be: Whole worlds we acquire with a word – just buried inside one word!


Naomi reading at Dodge

Naomi reading at Dodge



Naomi Shihab Nye:

 Here’s an idea: hand out business cards with the names of your five favorite poets.

 Whatever the experience, you can always find a poem that’s been to that moment before you.

 Poetry is the cheapest art. You don’t have to be rich to write,  but you will be rich because the language can give you so much. Time slows down when you write a poem: think of this, notice that…take inspiration  from things on the perimeters of your life, ask questions and wonder. Curiosity helps keep poetry alive. Poets aren’t ever bored. There is so much to think about!


Lucille Clifton:

 There are all kinds of ways of being smart. 

 I want to write about what it is to be human, about us recognizing in each other a kind of sameness. This culture is afraid of difference. There are lots of different names for deity, and deity answers [to them all].

 Walt Whitman didn’t have an MFA. I think one has to feel in order to be a fine poet; connect spirit, feeling, and intellect, or just write greeting cards.

Cleverness is often in the way of poetry!

 If someone doesn’t teach you something, go out and learn it. The more you learn, the more you are able to cope with surprises.

 If you leave reason out sometimes you can have important things, but if you leave heart out, your writing doesn’t live.

Poetry wants to speak for those who have not yet found a voice to speak.

The greatest poet writing in my time is Stanley Kunitz.

Our mission as poets is to let the poem become what it wants to be.