Stephen Gill on Writing: Poetry is Subjective or Objective


Stephen Gill is starting regular features, changing every week from one to two features to answer questions which have been published before in a book, and elsewhere. The total features would be from 90 to 100, and every feature will have a different picture. He would like to encourage readers to ask new questions which have not been asked before and are related with his writing. To know if the question has been asked before, please go to his  site and click the item Selected Interviews of Stephen Gill. Email to send new questions:

The present view is from the interview by Professor Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal. It appeared in Contemporary Vibes, vol.4, No. 14, Jan-March 09, pages 33-38 and also in his book Discovering Stephen Gill released by AuthorsPress in 2008. Please see Selected Interviews of Stephen Gill in to read all these interviews.   These features will appear in Stephen Gill’s forthcoming book My Literary Conversations.  Professor Dr. Agarwal has authored several books of creative writings and critical studies and his writings have appeared in a number of journals.

QUESTION: Wordsworth defined poetry as spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Whereas T.S.Eliot went against the emotions and exclaimed: "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotions, but an escape from emotions". What is the best way? Should a poet be subjective or objective? Or, should there be a perfect balance between the two? Which path do you prefer in your poetry? Please communicate.

ANSWER:  Poetry is a spiritual and psychic experience.  To give shape to this experience, poets need special knowledge in order to use images, tone, economy of words and other techniques. To weave a rainbow of beauty poets select and adjust words in different combinations.

 Poetry is neither “emotions recollected in tranquility,” nor is it “turning loose of emotions.” Poetry is experience that can happen any time with or without reason. One element that is common in both definitions, and in most others, is the presence of emotions. I will call these emotions airy beings. With their tools poets catch the airy beings in the net of their words. It is like catching fish in a sea. Painters catch them in the net of their colours with the hands of their brushes. Dancers catch them in the net of the movements with their hands, eyes, brows and other body parts. These are different techniques that do the same work.

Poets train themselves to catch airy beings. I call these airy beings the robins of my art in my preface to The Flame.  There I say that these robins are not meant to be caged. They are the birds of freedom. They enjoy their freedom when poets send them to publications or present them in a book for the enjoyment of the reader.

In my poem “Oars”, I call them “naked creatures of waves.” A poet “clothes them with images / stitched with words” (p.36, Songs Before Shrine). Poets are wordsmiths, who have knowledge and education about the tools that are used to clothe these airy beings in a graceful way. This is an art. A person may be born with a propensity to be a poet, but that is not enough.  Propensity or talent is like a raw diamond that has to be chiselled and polished into a beautiful form. In order to acquire the knowledge of chiselling and polishing a poet needs work that I call perspiration. To me poetry is seventy-five percent perspiration and twenty-five percent inspiration or talent. Perspiration needs struggle to know how to use the tools of a poet effectively.


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