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Words of Wisdom

I’m usually the first one in the office—sometimes by only 10 minutes or so, sometimes by a full hour. It’s the best time of day for catching up on emails, preparing for a meeting, getting ahead of a deadline. And, of course, for a little poetry.

Lately I’ve been working my way through Donald Hall’s Essays After Eighty. (Look, I know that essays aren’t poetry, but Hall is a former poet laureate, so it still counts, okay?)

Anyway, in “Thank You Thank You,” he writes about how it’s all right to be pleased when an audience loves you, but that you shouldn’t let it go to your head, saying that “it is best to believe the praiser and dismiss the praise.” Good advice. Hall goes on:

Poets have no notion of their own durability or distinction. When poets announce that their poems are immortal, they are depressed or lying or being psychotic. Interviewing T. S. Eliot, I saved my cheekiest question for last. “Do you know you’re any good?” His revised and printed response was formal, but in person he was abrupt: “Heavens no! Do you? Nobody intelligent knows if he’s any good.”

These days, that’s a downright countercultural response.



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