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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

For Márton, Erwin, and Miklos Christopher Middleton

1.
I ASK MYSELF first what kind of statement about poetry I might make, in a certain situation. Invited statements often have an air of blank formality about them; and so I envisage a situation, in which my three Hungarian friends, a poet, a composer and a novelist, ask me to talk. I have to tell them what I think about poetry. I no longer know whether we are in my tiny house among the hills in Texas, or in the room where Miklos lived in Berlin. The reader must know that the fragmentary conjectures which follow are not programmatic but a part of a possible conversation.

To begin: I feel uncertain and ignorant about poetry, especially when there are scholars around. Remember this if I seem to become assertive. I can read poetry in three European languages, and from one of them I have made translations. In translation, too, I have read many poems from non-European cultures. My own poems have been written amid constant feelings of uncertainty and ignorance. This world is not such a place as to allow one to declare, blithely, that poetry is play, or a luxury, that it happens in the exceedingly fragile and uncomfortable substance of language, and that it voices the interdependence of what is essential and what is actual, of the oneiric and the ordinary domains of human attention. Why, too, are poems so often misinterpreted? Why, again, is so much of it, poetry I mean, pompous ...


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