I try to make a rough music, a dance of the mind, a calculus of the emotions, a driving beat of praise out of the pain and mystery that surround me and become me. My poems are meant to make your mind get up and shout.
(Judith Johnson Sherwin (b. 1936), U.S. poet. As quoted in Contemporary Poets, 3rd ed., by James Vinson (1980).)
Poetry, whose material is language, is perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it.... Of all things of thought, poetry is the closest to thought, and a poem is less a thing than any other work of art ...
(Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), U.S. philosopher. The Human Condition, ch. 23 (1958).)
Poetry is, above all, an approach to the truth of feeling.... A fine poem will seize your imagination intellectuallythat is, when you reach it, you will reach it intellectually too but the way is through emotion, through what we call feeling.
(Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), U.S. poet. The Life of Poetry, ch. 1 (1949).)
Some poems are for holidays only. They are polished and sweet, but it is the sweetness of sugar, and not such as toil gives to sour bread. The breath with which the poet utters his verse must be that by which he lives.
(Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 1, p. 365, Houghton Mifflin (1906).)
The poem has a social effect of some kind whether or not the poet wills it to have. It has kinetic force, it sets in motion ... [ellipsis in source] elements in the reader that would otherwise be stagnant.
(Denise Levertov (b. 1923), U.S. poet. As quoted in Against Forgetting, sect. 5, by Carolyn Forche (1993).
Written in 1965, during the Vietnam War; Levertov was active in the movement opposing American involvement in that war.)