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Bryan Walpert

Session 1

Against ideas: The pleasures of discovery in poetry Maybe you have a great idea for a poem. Or maybe you can’t come up with a single idea for a poem. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. In fact, it can be better if you don’t have a single idea. The poet Paul Valéry famously tells a story about Edgar Degas: The painter, who wrote poems from time to time, complained to Stéphan Mallarmé, “I can’t manage to say what I want, and yet I’m full of ideas.” Mallarmé’s response is a simple but instructive one: “My dear Degas,” Mallarmé said, “one does not make poetry with ideas, but with words.” Want to write a poem? Come to this workshop where’s we’ll put Mallarmé to the test. Bring a pen and paper or a computer or tablet—but it’s okay to leave your ideas at home.

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