When it comes to a person’s opinions, we’re generally less interested (or should be) in the opinions than in the quality of the thinking that led to them. Poetry is the opposite; for readers, the end result is everything. Only scholars and other poets care how many drafts Yeats went through to arrive at “The Second Coming.” And it almost certainly didn’t matter to Yeats how great a struggle the poem involved, once the poem was done.
Once again Bill Knott demonstrates that he is in the real avant-garde: that is, those artists who are taking as much control as possible of the means of production and distribution of their work.
Cruise ships and Mayan villages,
radio towers, ruins, the alert
lifted faces of iguanas,
and children white as beach sand,
satellite radio salsa, whistles
of crows, the throaty boat motors,
beach chairs cradling all that lovely
human flesh in the spaces between
a churning sea and the swimming
palm tree shadows—all of it
kissed by the serpent sun
that like the rest is mortally
beautiful: moving, moving, moving…
“Better to dream that I am dead than to die of the many dreams that invent me.”
The epic exalts or condemns; the novel analyzes and criticizes. The epic heroes are one-piece, solid characters; novelistic characters are ambiguous. […] I think the poetic genius is synthetic. A poet creates syntheses while the novel analyzes.
We’ve talked about premeditation and revision: how does inspiration relate to them?
Inspiration and premeditation are two phases in the same process. Premeditation needs inspiration and vice-versa. It’s like a river: the water can only flow between the two banks that contain it. Without premeditation, inspiration just scatters. But the role of premeditation—even in a reflexive genre like the essay—is limited. As you write, the text becomes autonomous, changes, and somehow forces you to follow it. The text always separates itself from the author.
Then why revise?
Insecurity. No doubt about it. Also a senseless desire for perfection. I said that all texts have their own life, independent of the author. The poem doesn’t express the poet. It expresses poetry. That’s why it is legitimate to revise and correct a poem. Yes, and at the same time respect the poet who wrote it. I mean the poet, not the man we were then. I was that poet, but I was also someone else…. The poet is at the service of his poems.
But just how much revising do you do? Do you ever feel a work is complete, or is it abandoned?
I revise incessantly. Some critics say too much, and they may be right. But if there’s a danger in revising, there is much more danger in not revising. I believe in inspiration, but I also believe that we’ve got to help inspiration, restrain it, and even contradict it.
The creative process: