the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend


After a poem enters my Hundred, it remains as a rhythmical template that, on occasion, leaps forward to guide me when composing. This sounds alarming to my beginning poetry students, some of whom don’t want to read poetry books to avoid “being influenced” or “losing their style.” In response, I tell them the Chinese proverb: “He who knows a hundred poems sounds like a hundred poems; he who knows a thousand poems sounds like himself.”

The poem we know by heart doesn’t to force us to travel where we don’t want to go. Instead, as we struggle to make headway on a snowy day, we can look down and see boot prints. Stepping inside them speeds our journey.

[Beth Ann Fennelly, from "My Hundred"--American Poetry Review, Vol. 37 No. 5; title quotation by Robertson Davies, in Tempest-Tost]

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