The genesis of a poem

From The Paris Review: W. H. Auden, The Art of Poetry (interviewed by Michael Newman):

INTERVIEWER

Can you say something about the genesis of a poem? What comes first?

AUDEN

At any given time, I have two things on my mind: a theme that interests me and a problem of verbal form, meter, diction, etc. The theme looks for the right form; the form looks for the right theme. When the two come together, I am able to start writing.

INTERVIEWER

Do you start your poems at the beginning?

AUDEN

Usually, of course, one starts at the beginning and works through to the end. Sometimes, though, one starts with a certain line in mind, perhaps a last line. One starts, I think, with a certain idea of thematic organization, but this usually alters during the process of writing.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any aids for inspiration?

AUDEN

I never write when I’m drunk. Why should one need aids? The Muse is a high-spirited girl who doesn’t like to be brutally or coarsely wooed. And she doesn’t like slavish devotion—then she lies.

 

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