--T.S. Eliot, “The Sacred Wood.”
This is one of the quotes that opens Steal Like An Artist, and I go back to it occassionally to remember that Eliot had it all laid out almost 100 years ago. It’s actually quite different than the “good artists copy, great artists steal” quote that is usually (mis)attributed to Picasso. What Eliot is talking about is transformation — not just taking things out of context, but re-contextualizing them. (Godard put it, “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”) Actually, as Eliot points out, it does matter where you take things from — a good poet borrows from poems “remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” So: steal from the past, steal from another language or culture, or steal from someone who’s writing about another subject.