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How to be a poet

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For the most part, I want my blog posts to be my own words – my own thoughts and ideas. But every now and then, as happens, you come across something written by someone else, and in the overwhelming, satiated silence that follows you think, What else is there to say? Wendell Berry’s poem ‘How to be a Poet’ is one such piece of writing. So I’m going to make an exception and have his poem – his own brilliant words – be the predominant feature in this month’s blog post.

I will add only two things. Firstly, I have thought at length about this poem. I have read it, re-read it, and read it again. I hope you will, too. It’s worth doing. Secondly, if I could share one other thought about how to be a poet (yes, in all my vast wisdom), I would say, Learn how to wrestle. To write poetry, for me, means to wrestle with words, to wrestle with the truth, to wrestle with laziness, to wrestle with failure, and to wrestle with the fear that everyone will think what you’re writing is laughable and pathetic. Those are my two cents. Here are Wendell’s:

How to be a Poet
By Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

i.
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
ii.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
iii.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

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