Poetry carries its history within it, and it is oral in origin. Its transmission was oral. Its transmission today is still in part oral, because we become acquainted with poetry through nursery rhymes, which we hear before we can read.
Other quotes by James Fenton
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.
In the writing of poetry we never know anything for sure. We will never know if we have 'trained' or 'practised' enough. We will never be able to say that we have reached grade eight, or that we have left the grades behind and are now embarked on an advanced training.
When we study Shakespeare on the page, for academic purposes, we may require all kinds of help. Generally, we read him in modern spelling and with modern punctuation, and with notes. But any poetry that is performed - from song lyric to tragic speech - must make its point, as it were, without reference back.
If you're writing a song, you have to write something that can be understood serially. When you're reading a poem that's written for the page, your eye can skip up and down. You can see the thing whole. But you're not going to see the thing whole in the song. You're going to hear it in series, and you can't skip back.