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James Fenton quotes

Great poetry does not have to be technically intricate.

At four lines, with the quatrain, we reach the basic stanza form familiar from a whole range of English poetic practice. This is the length of the ballad stanza, the verse of a hymn, and innumerable other kinds of verse.

The 1960s was a period when writers in the West began to be aware of the extraordinary eloquence and popular attraction of the Russian poets such as Yevtushenko and Voznesensky - oppositional figures who could draw crowds. The Russian poets recited from memory as a matter of course.

Composers need words, but they do not necessarily need poetry. The Russian composer, Aleksandr Mossolov, who chose texts from newspaper small ads, had a good point to make. With revolutionary music, any text can be set to work.

The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint.

At somewhere around 10 syllables, the English poetic line is at its most relaxed and manageable.

I don't see that a single line can constitute a stanza, although it can constitute a whole poem.

I prefer writing in the mornings, so to that extent I have a routine. I do reading and other things in the afternoon.

Imitation, if it is not forgery, is a fine thing. It stems from a generous impulse, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be done.

In rap, as in most popular lyrics, a very low standard is set for rhyme; but this was not always the case with popular music.

Nobody really knows whether they are a poet. I knew I was interested from the age of 15.

One does not become a guru by accident.

One problem we face comes from the lack of any agreed sense of how we should be working to train ourselves to write poetry.

Poetry carries its history within it, and it is oral in origin. Its transmission was oral.

The Mormon mission to Africa, as to other dark-skinned parts of the world, was for a long time hobbled by the racism of the movement's scripture.

A cabaret song has got to be written - for the middle voice, ideally - because you've got to hear the wit of the words. And a cabaret song gives the singer room to act, more even than an opera singer.

A glance at the history of European poetry is enough to inform us that rhyme itself is not indispensable. Latin poetry in the classical age had no use for it, and the kind of Latin poetry that does rhyme - as for instance the medieval 'Carmina Burana' - tends to be somewhat crude stuff in comparison with the classical verse that doesn't.

A poem with grandly conceived and executed stanzas, such as one of Keats's odes, should be like an enfilade of rooms in a palace: one proceeds, with eager anticipation, from room to room.

A really interesting and happy time was when I first went to Florence as a student and studied Italian. I was living in a pensione on an allowance of £40 a month, which was princely. I did a lot of work and enjoyed myself immensely.

An aria in an opera - Handel's 'Ombra mai fu,' for example - gets along with an incredibly small number of words and ideas and a large amount of variation and repetition. That's the beauty of it. It's not taxing to the listener's intelligence because if you haven't heard it the first time round, it'll come around again.