Quotables: Philip Levine

Curious what this “Quotables” thing is all about? Check out the first post here.

Photo courtesy of www.poets.org

Photo courtesy of http://www.poets.org

“You don’t need permission to write about life on Mars. You can do whatever the hell your imagination is gifted with.” —Philip Levine

In 2012, I attended the Dodge Poetry Festival. While I saw a bunch of incredibly talented writers speak, this particular quote from Philip Levine has stayed with me to this day. Perhaps it’s because I shared this quote with my first composition class. Perhaps it is because I included this quote in a prior blog post. However, I think the main reason this quote has stayed in the forefront of my mind for the past few years is because it hits the core of a construct I have struggled with nearly all my life—the need for permission.

As kids, we all need permission to do certain things, like go to a friend’s house or eat a cookie. It wasn’t until around 2009 or 2010 (while in my MFA program), however, that I realized I was holding back when writing. There were delicate subjects I wasn’t writing about. There were certain things I wasn’t allowing myself to feel. And all this because I felt I didn’t have permission. I had a wealth of emotion, but I told myself, “Who am I to feel it?”

Many people and events have helped break down the crud to get my “dam of creativity” flowing, but permission remains a funny thing. I feel free to write, but what about to live a life with a flexible work schedule? What about feeling anger?

What I love about Levine’s quote is that it’s sort of a “catch-all” permission slip to do “whatever the hell” you want. Indeed, it’s a permission slip to do, perhaps, what you must.

And those last words. To do what “your imagination is gifted with.” Yes! The feelings, daydreams, talents—all that we feel is a waste, not practical, or what others won’t accept or may dismiss as silly—is actually a gift. Share it!

What do you feel you need permission for? What would you do if you used this quote as your permission slip? Do you have any moments that acted as a sort of “permission slip” for you to do something you wanted?

 

What I Learned at the Dodge Festival

courtesy of newsworks.org

Exactly two weeks ago, I attended the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ. For those of you who may not be familiar with the festival, it is a four-day extravaganza for lovers of poetry complete with readings and panels led by some of today’s most outstanding poets.  For the past two festivals (it is held biannually), it has been held in the NJPAC center (and surrounding buildings) in Newark.

A few days after the festival, my friend, Lynne, posted a lovely article about what she took away from all of the panels and readings she attended.  This inspired me to write a similar post.  There were so many events I wish I could have triplicated (two of me would not have been enough!) myself.  But the events I did attend were stunning. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Jane Hirshfield from her poem “Vinegar and Oil:”  “Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,/ right solitude oils it.”
  • Taylor Mali from his poem “Undivided Attention:”  “Let me teach like the first snow, falling.”
  • Dan Bellm, speaking of reading poetry aloud: “[The poem is] not done, in a way, before it’s spoken, given away.”
  • Thomas Lux, speaking of those who write hard to understand poems on purpose: “[Writing obscure poems on purpose] is a kind of pre-suicide, a kind of not wanting to be.”
  • Phil Levine on permission to write about any subject you want: “You don’t need permission to write about life on Mars. You can do whatever the hell your imagination is gifted with.”
  • Eavan Boland: “The art of self-expression is not hard…There is no art without self expression.”
  • Dorianne Laux: “This form, this genre, was made for working people.”

Lots of little gems here!  I hope you find some inspiration among them.

What about you? Are there any quotes from authors you admire that have stuck with you?