Safety First

Two for Philip Levine:

“A writer is a reader who is moved to emulation.” (Saul Bellow)

“There’s never any final certainty about what you do. Your opinion of your own work fluctuates wildly. Under the right circumstances you can pick up something that you’ve written and approve of it; you’ll think it’s good and that nobody could have done exactly the same thing. Under different circumstances, you’ll look at exactly the same poem and say, “My Lord, isn’t that boring.” The most important thing is to be excited about what you are doing and to be working on something that you think will be the greatest thing that ever was. One of the difficulties in writing poetry is to maintain your sense of excitement and discovery about what you write. American literature is full of people who started off excited about poetry and their own contribution to it and their own relationship to poetry and have had, say, a modicum of success and have just gone on writing poetry as a kind of tic, a sort of reflex, when they’ve lost all their original excitement and enthusiasm for what they do. They do it because they have learned to do it, and that’s what they do. You have to find private stratagems to keep up your original enthusiasm, no matter what it takes. As you get older, that’s tougher and tougher to do. You want to try to avoid, if you possibly can, the feeling of doing it simply because you can do it.” (James Dickey)

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