“There’s been no poet, no great poet in the history of poetry who hasn’t also been a great reader of poetry. This is sometimes distressing to my students when I tell them this. Now, I do say, ‘It’s possible. You might be the first. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the odds are very much against you.’ All great poets have been great readers and the way to learn your craft in poetry is by reading other poetry and by letting it guide you.
“A great model for this is the way that Dante calls on Virgil at the beginning of The Inferno, The Divine Comedy, to help guide him through the underworld. And, in a way, that’s also a recognition that Dante needs Virgil and that the Inferno needs the Aeneid and that the epic needs a model and that for Dante to write this great poem he needs someone to come before him and he turns to Virgil’s text, especially book six where Aeneas goes down into the underworld. And for me, that’s a model of the poet’s relationship to previous poetry, to another poetry as calling out for guidance.” –Edward Hirsch, Interview in Big Think (2010)
Edward Hirsch is the current president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Watch his full interview for Big Think here.