In about the mid-90s I read part of a book of literary criticism by a poet (so focused mainly on poetry and poetic theory) where he said that poets lack a personality and often collect trinkets to give them one, also that the collecting of such objects often has to do with finding things that evoke a feeling or thought that fuels their art. By trinkets I mean actual trinkets, playing cards, fancy combs - whatever. The poet of course had some examples in his book of such trinkets but I don't remember the exact trinkets he discussed.

By lack of personality they meant that the poet as a person without personality is able to fit into all sorts of situations and feelings that others cannot because hampered by this very existence of personality, but feeling the lack they are also driven to continually try to fill it, by gathering said trinkets. The trinkets also thus work as a spark for the poet's creativity.

From my very hazy memories of the poet and the book I believe the book was probably somewhere from the 80s, and was from a poet that seemed like someone probably from the late 60s - 70s generation of poets. He gave me a Gary Snyder type of feel, but definitely wasn't Snyder. He was a poet that was unknown to me - I am pretty well read up until the early 60s. In response to a request from the comments I will note that he wasn't Ginsberg either.

Any ideas who this could be? What book? Relevant quotes?

On Edit - to reply to question in comments: I used to have a habit of grabbing multiple books at the same time around the area I was interested in and sitting there and reading, this was poetics basically.

Obviously my memory of these details might not be totally correct, as it was a long time ago, but it was a book by a poet, not an anthology, it might have been partially collected critical essays or writings on poetry but the major part of the book was an argument for a theory of poetics the poet had. The book was relatively thin given the subject matter, although I guess most people would call it a medium sized book.

The poet's picture was on the back dust-cover, I remember that he had male pattern baldness, black and white photo, looked to be in 40s despite being bald, had glasses. His hair in the back was long. So like an aging hippie.


1 Answer 1



I'm willing to bet that at some time in the mid-90s, you stumbled across a couple of essays (or excerpts therefrom) by that old possum, Thomas Stearns Eliot.


This seems like a conflation and misremembering of two very well known passages from the essays of T S Eliot.

In perhaps his most celebrated essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", Eliot argues that in their works, poets extinguish rather than express their personality:

the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.

pp. 52–53

Eliot goes on to argue that a poet is a catalyst who reworks subjective experience into objective art. Just as oxygen and sulphur dioxide react in the presence of platinum to form sulphuric acid, the raw materials of emotion and sense perception are transformed through the poet's craft into a new poem. Eliot says that the most successful poets are the most detached both from the affective or sensory raw materials, and from the artwork that results from those raw materials:

the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.

p. 54

This perhaps is what you recollect as the claim that "poets lack a personality".

In another very famous essay, "Hamlet and his Problems", Eliot says that poets express emotions in art by means of an "objective correlative":

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

p. 100

This insistence that the poet can and must evoke emotion only through "a skilful accumulation of imagined sense impressions", particularly when combined with "a set of objects" as one of the possible triggers of those impressions, is perhaps what you recollect as poets' "collecting of such objects ... that evoke a feeling or thought that fuels their art".

"Tradition and the Individual Talent" was first published in 1919 in a literary magazine called The Egoist, of which Eliot was at that time the editor. It was reprinted in 1920 in a collection of essays called The Sacred Wood. "Hamlet and his Problems" first appeared in this collection. So it is possible that you were thumbing through The Sacred Wood and came across these two passages—it would not at all be surprising for a well-read copy of that volume to fall open at the relevant pages, since they are among Eliot's best-known formulations. Alternatively, you might have been looking through an anthology that included excerpts of Eliot's criticism; both these passages would almost certainly be included in any such collection.

Of course, you could also have been reading a parody of Eliot's work. As the essays in question show, Eliot's criticism has aged very poorly, particularly his analysis of Hamlet. Some humorist seeking to subject Eliot's arguments to a reductio ad absurdum might indeed claim that "poets lack a personality and often collect trinkets to give them one". If so, I salute that person's wit, but sadly, I don't know who [ts]?hey? might be.


Eliot, T. S. The Sacred Wood: Essays in Poetry and Criticism. London: Methuen, 1920, 2nd ed. 1928. Retrieved from the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149159/mode/2up) September 20, 2023.

  • Nope it wasn't Elliot, it was some poet I was unfamiliar with and personally when I read some examples of his poetry in the book I didn't care of it. I would say he was from the 60s-70s generation, gave off a very Gary Snyder type feel. There was also a picture on the back of the book, old hippie looking guy.
    – user254694
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 11:25
  • This was very in relation to the idea of collecting trinkets - like say going through a phase where one has a passion for collecting playing cards to give to one self the personality of that guy with the cards, but that this trinket collection then functioned as a sort of token for sparking creativity.
    – user254694
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 11:27
  • so old hippie with male pattern baldness. his hair in back was longer. When I say Gary Snyder feel I mean also in the type of poetry he did. So, no, the answer is not Allan Ginsberg either. He looked sort of like Ginsberg, but face was thinner.
    – user254694
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 11:31
  • It was not a parody, it was a real poet. Lack of personality here is sort of the reduction, they meant that the poet as a person without personality is able to fit into all sorts of situations and feelings that others cannot because hampered by this very existence of personality, but feeling the lack they are also driven to continually try to fill it.
    – user254694
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 11:36
  • 2
    @user254694 Okay, great, could you edit your question to add this info? The bit about the way in which collecting objects (e.g., cards) gives one a personality, and that in turn sparks creativity, seems like an important link missing in the question, where the connection between the collection and the creativity is not as clear. The description of the looks, and the fact that it's not Eliot or Snyder or Ginsberg is also worth including. The 60s–70s date is important to include too. Thanks!
    – verbose
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:20

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