Poetry Advice from Robert Penn Warren

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Poets laying in writing supplies.

The poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren mentored a couple of generations of writers, including poet Tim Murphy, to whom he gave this advice:

“Boy, the first line of a poem has to grab you by the throat and say Poetry the same way this Jack Daniel’s grabs your throat and says Whiskey.”

A bit of Warren, from “Evening Hawk:”

Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.

Which in turn echoes a line of Wallace Steven’s long, but magical, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”

The last leaf that is going to fall has fallen.
The robins are là-bas, the squirrels, in tree — caves,
Huddle together in the knowledge of squirrels.

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