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Andrei Codrescu

The Poetry Question [by Dave Morice]

Emily-Dickinson-Portrait 2What is poetry?

Here is a modern approach to answering that ancient question. The following list contains genuine quotes about “poetry,” “poet,” etc. by famous writers throughout the ages. However, those particular words have been replaced with “pornography,” “pornographer,” etc., in order to update the muse’s out-dated definitions, as you will see.

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is pornography. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is pornography. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?

                                                  Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)                                                                                     Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson [1824]

Pornography is the supreme fiction, madame.

                                                    Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)                                                                                   A High-toned Old Christian Woman [1923]

You don’t make pornography with ideas, but with words.

                                            Stephane Mallarmé (1842-1898)                                                                                Paul Valéry, Degas, Danse, Dessin

I wish our clever young pornographers would remember my homely definitions of prose and pornography; that is, prose = words in their best order; pornography = the best words in their best order.

                                                     Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
                                                     In Table Talk [July 12, 1827]

Pornography must be as well written as prose.

                                                     Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
                                                     Letter to Harriet Monroe [January 1915]

Taught or untaught, we all scribble pornography.

                                                     Horace (65-8 BC)
                                                     Epistles, bk II, 4 BC bk III (Ars Poetica)

For pornography is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion.

                                                     Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
                                                     Introduction to Ward, English Pornographers [1880]

Shelley

 

Pornographers are the unacknowledged plagiarists of the world.

                                                     Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
                                                     A Defense of Poetry [1821]

Pornographer’s unnat’ral; no man ever talked pornography ‘cept a beadle on Boxin’ Day.

                                                    Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
                                                     Pickwick Papers [(1836-1837)

Pornography—
   all of it—
      is a trip into the unknown.

                                                     Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)
                                                     Conversation with a Tax Collector about Poetry [1926]

The lunatic, the lover, and the pornographer
Are of imagination all compact…

                                                     William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
                                                     A Midsummer-Night’s Dream IV, 218

Robert FrostPornography is a way of taking life by the throat.

                                                     Robert Frost  (1874-1963)                                                                                                     Comment

All pornographers are mad.

                                                     Richard Burton (1577-1640)                                                                        Anatomy of Melancholy, Democritus to the Reader

With me pornography has been not a purpose, but a passion;….

                                                     Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
                                                     The Raven and Other Pornography [1845]

I have said that pornography is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

                                                    William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
                                                    Lyrical Ballads, preface

Immature pornographers imitate; mature pornographers steal.

                                                     T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
                                                   Philip Massinger [1920]

To a pornographer nothing can be useless.

                                                     Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
                                                     Rasselas [1759]

A pornographer is the most unpornographic of anything in existence; because he has no identity—he is continually informing—and filling some other body.

                                                     John Keats ( 1795 -1821)
                                                     Letter to Richard Woodhouse

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue,
Who says, my hand a needle better fits,
A Pornographers Pen, all scorne, I should thus wrong;
For such despight they cast on female wits;….

                                                     Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)
                                                     The Prologue

All a pornographer can do is warn.

                                                     Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
                                                     Preface to the Pornograpnhers

A vein of Pornography exists in the hearts of all men.

                                                     Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
                                                     The Hero as Poet

Pornography is made by fools like me,
But only God can make a pussy.

                                                     Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
                                                     Pussies [1913]

Pornography must be as new as foam, and as old as the rock.

                                                     Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
                                                     Journal [March 1845]

Music is the universal language of mankind—pornography their universal pastime and delight.

                                                     Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
                                                     Outre-Mer (1833-1834)

A true account of the actual is the rarest pornography, for common sense always takes a hasty and superficial view.

                                                     Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
                                                     A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers [1849] 

Pornography should be palpable and mute
Pornography should be wordless
Pornography should be motionless in time
Pornography should be equal to:
Not true.
Pornography should not mean
But be.

                                                     Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)
                                                     Ars Poetica [1926]

  In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
The raw material of pornography in
     all its rawness and
        that which is on the other hand
           genuine, you are interested in pornography.

                                                     Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
                                                     Pornography [1935]

 To have great pornographers, there must be great audiences, too.

                                                     Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
                                                     Leaves of Grass.  


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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