The Literalists of the Imagination

Saturday is the last day of April, which makes this my last National Poetry Month-themed post.  So, here are a couple poems about poetry.  It’s always fascinating to see how many poets write poems that examine, discuss, and sometimes defend the art and impulse of writing poetry.

“Poetry” – Marianne Moore 

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond 

all this fiddle. 

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one 

discovers in 

it after all, a place for the genuine. 

Hands that can grasp, eyes 

that can dilate, hair that can rise 

if it must, these things are important not because a 


high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because 

they are 

useful. When they become so derivative as to become 


the same thing may be said for all of us, that we 

do not admire what 

we cannot understand: the bat 

holding on upside down or in quest of something to 


eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless 

wolf under 

a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse 

that feels a flea, the base- 

ball fan, the statistician– 

nor is it valid 

to discriminate against “business documents and 


school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make 

a distinction 

however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the 

result is not poetry, 

nor till the poets among us can be 

“literalists of 

the imagination”–above 

insolence and triviality and can present 


for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” 

shall we have 

it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, 

the raw material of poetry in 

all its rawness and 

that which is on the other hand 

genuine, you are interested in poetry.


“Anyone Can Write a Poem” – Bradley Paul 

I am arguing with an idiot online. 

He says anybody can write a poem. 

I say some people are afraid to speak.

I say some people are ashamed to speak. 

If they said the pronoun “I” 

they would find themselves floating 

in the black Atlantic 

and a woman would swim by, completely 

dry, in a rose chiffon shirt, 

until the ashamed person says her name

and the woman becomes wet and drowns 

and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp, 

white in the black water. 

He says that he’d still write 

even if someone cut off both his hands. 

As if it were the hands that make a poem, 

I say. I say what if someone cut out 

whatever brain or gut or loin or heart 

that lets you say hey, over here, listen, 

I have something to tell you all, 

I’m different. 

As an example I mention my mother 

who loved that I write poems

and am such a wonderful genius. 

And then I delete the comment 

because my mother wanted no part of this or any 

argument, because “Who am I 

to say whatever?” 

Once on a grade school form 

I entered her job as hairwasher. 

She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad. 

“You should have put receptionist.” 

But she didn’t change it. 

The last word she ever said was No. 

And now here she is in my poem, 

so proud of her idiot son, 

who presumes to speak for a woman 

who wants to tell him to shut up, but can’t.


And now, to wrap up the week and the month, here are a few interesting links worth taking a look at.  A few are related to poetry, a few are about writing in general.

Charles Bernstein’s “Against National Poetry Month As Such”

“Forgetting the Words” from the blog Cross-Ties by xties

“Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me That Writing Your First Novel is Terrifying?” from Occupation: Writer by carrie m

“Book Review of Giveaway: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” from Jess Witkin’s Happiness Project

One final note: I will most likely not have internet access next week, so I can’t promise that I’ll be able to get my scheduled posts up.  On top of that, next wed I’m going to an Arcade Fire concert, and next fri is my birthday.  So even if I get a hold of wifi, I might not get posts up in time.  Just to warn you…

6 thoughts on “The Literalists of the Imagination

  1. Thanks so much for cross-posting Amanda! I really enjoyed your poems about poems. I’ll definitely be back to read again!

    Enjoy the Arcade Fire concert and happy birthday!

  2. Thanks for the trackback, Amanda! Have fun during your wifi hiatus! And happy early birthday!

    Now, again, poetry,
    violent, arcane, common,
    hewn of the commonest living substance
    into archway, portal, frame
    I grasp for you, your bloodstained splinters, your
    ancient and stubborn poise
    –as the earth trembles–
    burning out from the grain

    -Adrienne Rich, from The Fact of a Doorframe

    • Thanks Jess! The wifi hiatus is likely to drive me completely NUTS but maybe I’ll get some writing done with the distractions. Hopefully, maybe…

      And thanks for the great excerpt from Adrienne Rich!

  3. Thanks for posting a link to my blog, but more especially for that splendid line: “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”.

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