I am currently re-reading Lofty Dogmas, a collection of essays on poetry edited by Maxine Kumin, Annie Finch, and Deborah Brown. For anyone interested in poetry, this is a great book to have on your shelf. It has some of the most important essays/letters written by some of the most influential poets, including John Keats, Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Rainer Maria Rilke, and some more contemporary poets such as Robert Hass, Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Bernstein, and on and on.
A lot of these essays I’ve already read a few times, but there is one I came across this time that I wasn’t familiar with and enjoyed thoroughly. The essay/lecture comes from Pablo Neruda, and it’s titled “Towards the Splendid City.” It is the speech/lecture he gave after winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971.
He raises some great points in it about the craft of writing poetry and the poet’s relation to society. First, he brings up the point that writers need a balance of solitude and interaction with community/society to produce good work. “I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enters as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind and to the secret manifestations of nature.”
There are a lot of ideas just in that one sentence, including Neruda’s belief that poetry is an action that requires time, space, and solitude, but it is also an art form that requires connection to community and nature.
Neruda also stresses in the lecture/essay the importance of reaching out to the community. I think this is an especially important point. Those skilled in poetry should consider creating workshops, reading series, and other events to share poetry with others and to give people a chance to share their work with others. These experiences are rich and fulfilling for those involved, and often leave the community feeling inspired and more likely to keep writing.
Neruda makes some other good points in the lecture/essay and stresses that a poet should not be a “little god.” He goes on to say, “He is not picked out of mystical destiny in preference to those who follow other crafts of professions.” He adds that the best poets are those who “prepare our daily bread.”
Neruda ends the lecture/essay by commenting on his own work, saying, “I was the most forlorn of poets and my poetry was provincial, oppressed, and rainy. But always I had put my trust in man. I never lost hope.”
If you are interested in reading the full essay/lecture, you can do so by clicking here.