Poetry Friday: “How To Be a Poet” by Wendell Berry

Poetry Friday is hosted by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes @ Today’s Little Ditty

We had a noisy crowd at lunch recess today, held indoors because allergy season has arrived.  My kids were spread all over the classroom, playing games, creating “art” on the whiteboard, and just hanging out.  In a corner, behind the easel and barricaded with cushions, sat A.  She seemed to be writing intently and with contentment, so I let her be.  When the bell rang and it was time to go, however, I couldn’t resist asking her about what she’d been working on that had required such a degree of privacy.  “Poetry,” she said, “so I needed to a quiet place to listen to my thoughts.”

A., is on to something, I think, that all poets know….

How To Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

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.
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.
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.

10 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “How To Be a Poet” by Wendell Berry

  1. ❤ Wendell Berry ❤
    I would not have been a poet
    except that I have been in love
    alive in this mortal world,
    or an essayist except that I
    have been bewildered and afraid,
    or a storyteller had I not heard
    stories passing to me through the air,
    or a writer at all except
    I have been wakeful at night
    and words have come to me
    out of their deep caves
    needing to be remembered.
    -Wendell Berry

  2. Thanks for posting this, Tara – I especially like the advice to “live a three-dimensional life,” since Berry believes in being fully engaged with the real world, getting out, being intellectually curious, making your frame of reference large, not just sitting and staring at a blank page and hoping to be a poet. I hope your students enjoy more of his work.

  3. This line, “make a poem that does not disturb
    the silence from which it came.” Poetry is made in silence. Sometimes, however, I never know what a poem is until I read it aloud.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this today, Tara. It’s one of my favorites, and I needed to read it again. I’ve been trying to find more quiet time in my day so I can “accept what comes from silence.” So wise.

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