6.02.2020

high standard

I ask only to write a poem like Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

5.31.2020

single-use product

One of those ‘exercise poems’ that should be marked ‘Please dispose of properly after use’.

5.28.2020

stilted speech

Syllabics often make the language sound unnatural, for good or for bad.

5.27.2020

manners or mischief

A poetry of manners, a poetry of mischief.

5.25.2020

radar screen

It is an accuracy of vision, an account of now, an account of memory or a vision, an account of a dream, of a fiction totally imagined, described, accurately and exactly to our best ability beyond misstatement, beyond misshaping any shape of our idea. In our practice as poets, to be inaccurate becomes a real Lie. All our attention is on the page. We cannot account for the hours spent—we have only the page. A radar screen watcher works a high vigilance profession. Our attention is so intense that it is a vigilance, too.

—Laura Jensen, “Lessons in Form,” Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry (Wayne Stat U. Press, 1990), edited by James McCorkle

5.24.2020

sum of its parts

A great first line and a fine ending, with all the chutes & ladders lines in between.

5.23.2020

poem place

A good poem dwells in the mouth while making a home in the mind.

5.20.2020

read to be or not to be

You have to read a lot of poetry in order to know what kind of poet you want to be...and what kind you don’t.

5.19.2020

obscure worlds

As print litmags, always obscure, fade into archives, the online litmags blot out cyberspace.

5.18.2020

missteps are steps

A poem that flaunted its flaws, knowing they were necessary to the whole.

5.17.2020

eye poet

   In Miss Moore’s time…the poet found it indispensable to work directly with the printed page, which is where, and only where, his cats and trees exist.…We may say that this became possible when poets began to use typewriters. And we may note that Miss Moore has been in her lifetime: a librarian; an editor; and a teacher of typewriting: locating fragments already printed; picking and choosing; making, letter by letter, neat pages.
   Her poems are not for voice; she senses this herself reading them badly; in response to a question, she once said that she wrote them for people to look at….Moore’s cats, her fish, her pangolins and ostriches exist on the page in tension between the mechanisms of print and the presence of a person behind those mechanisms.

—Hugh Kenner, “The Experience of the Eye: Marianne Moore’s Tradition,” Modern American Poetry: Essays in Criticism (David McKay Co., 1970), edited by Jerome Mazzaro.

5.16.2020

for whom the taco bell tolls

I don’t have enough time ahead of me on earth to read TBQ.

5.15.2020

undo influence

Certain poets let their keen interests—be it Zen, Marxism, bird-watching, etc.—infuse their verse, and the poems suffer the influence.

5.14.2020

eyes open and aware

Turn a line of poetry as you would turn a corner in a part of the town you don’t know.

5.12.2020

fiction enough

By and large, poets believe the world is fiction enough. (Maybe Wallace Stevens said that already.)

5.11.2020

stamp collecting

All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
Ernest Rutherford

All poetry is either lyric or stamp collecting.

5.10.2020

short and sweet

It’s easier to judge longer poems. Short poems are more difficult to rank for merit.

5.09.2020

unwieldy lines

Though written in level and even lines, unwieldy was what he was going for.

5.08.2020

authoritative line

[One point from a list of 14 principles of composition, which he prefaces by saying, "I honestly do not know how consistent I am in using principles of composition. Certainly the compromise between eye and ear is not always the same kind of compromise. Every poem makes its own peculiar demands. Still, I will try to list a few principles by which I generally work."]

11. Don’t explain away a line which has an authority of its own, even if the line may puzzle the intellect—i.e., don’t write for people more interested in understanding a poem than experiencing it. This is not the same as being willfully difficult or obscure, which is merely tiresome.

—Peter Klappert, in “O’Connor The Bad Traveler,” Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Longman, 1977), edited by Alberta T. Turner

5.07.2020

why is your face familiar

The character actor and the major poet were both trying to get recognized in the local bar. The character actor won.

5.06.2020

back to basics

Stayed home, sewed his own clothes, wrote poems.

5.04.2020

staid style

That staid style that shows too much conscious control over the material.

5.03.2020

insignia

To say this poem stands for me.

5.02.2020

worth glory

All art is religious in a sense that no artist would work unless he believed that there was something in life worth glorifying. This is what art is about.

—Henry Moore, Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations (U. of California, 2002), Alan Wilkinson, editor.

4.30.2020

resource management

A poet prone to waste a lot of white space.

4.29.2020

holding on

Books for some of us are handholds over the abyss.

4.27.2020

tooth and nail

An artist and a writer lived together harmoniously while their books and artwork battled for every inch of wall space.

4.25.2020

bio overblown

One of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bios trying too hard to impress.

4.24.2020

poetry got small

Like the character Norma Desmond from the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, she was the kind of poet you could imagine responding to an interviewer who'd suggested her reputation had faded, with the line: “I am big. It’s poetry that got small.”

4.22.2020

this is the world

Jean Cocteau said mystery exists only in precise things—people in their situations, situations in people. Because I believe the visionary life has nothing to do with a necessarily transcendent existence, I like most of the poetry I read. I believe most poets know this is the world; and when you try to lead a special life or write a special poetry, you are dancing with an imaginary partner at a meaningless dance to which you have invited yourself and no one else.

—Frank Stanford, “With the Approach of the Oak the Axeman Quakes,” Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Longman, 1977), edited by Alberta T. Turner

4.21.2020

thousands of lines of me

Its critical rhetoric couched in politics and theory, language poetry was perhaps the most self-indulgent of all poetry movements.

4.20.2020

product placement

There were so many brand names popping up in her poetry, I was certain she’d struck some product placement deals before publication.

4.19.2020

carrying poetry

Many of us carry a few touchstone poems. Perhaps some of us live by a handful of poems.

4.18.2020

perfect thing

Only a very short poem can be perfect. Perfect but small.

4.17.2020

the poetic vertical

Every real poem, then, contains the element of time-stopped, time which does not obey the meter, time which we shall call vertical to distinguish it from ordinary time which sweeps past horizontally along with the wind and the waters of the stream. Whence this paradox, which we must state quite clearly: whereas prosodic time is horizontal, poetic time is vertical.

—Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetic Moment and the Metaphysical Moment,” The Right to Dream (The Dallas Institute Publications, 1988), translated by J. A. Underwood, 172.

4.15.2020

poems first

Read the poems before you read the bio.

4.14.2020

surfs the edge

She was a critic who could keep up.

[Thinking of Marjorie Perloff]

4.11.2020

words before markers

Put words before reading cues (punctuation).

4.10.2020

altar and rituals

The altar of the writing desk, and the rituals of sitting there.

4.09.2020

obscure grasping

The poetry that comes into being as a result of the working of the creative intuition upon poetic knowledge therefore reveals both an “obscure grasping of the real” and “an obscure grasping of the soul of the poet.” Maritain calls the former the “direct” sign of a poetic act and the latter a “reverse” sign of the same act. Both signs are inextricably involved in the making of a poem.

For if at the source of the poetic act there is the experience which I have tried to describe, in which the obscure grasping of the real, resounding in the creative subjectivity, is at the same time an obscure grasping of the soul of the poet, it will be necessary that the work be made a manifestation of both at once. This work is an object, and must always maintain its consistency and its proper value as an object, and at the same time it is a sign, at once a “direct” sign of the secrets perceived in things, of their avowal, of some irrecusable verity of their nature or history, transpierced by the creative intuition, and a “reverse” sign of the substance of the poet in the art of spiritual communication and revealing itself to itself. [Jacques and Ra├»ssa Maritain, The Situation of Poetry(Philosophical Library, 1955), p 84]

Samuel Hazo, The World within the Word: Maritain and the Poet (Franciscan U. Press, 2018)

JF: I wanted to like the book more than I did. So much muzzy metaphysics in Maritain’s poetics. Ample amounts of Maritain are quoted, full of abstract words and concepts, presented as though self-evident, but Maritain offers almost no textual evidence to buttress his assertions. Hazo provides many quotes from other authors to try to underpin Maritain’s bold but unfounded ideas. I give Hazo credit for linking Keats and Hopkins to some of Maritain’s ideas. However, the two poets, and their notions of ‘poetics’, prove to be more relevant to the creative process than any of Maritain’s grand notions.   

4.08.2020

slack science

Critical writing using the language of science without its necessary rigor.

4.06.2020

two poles

There are poets who come from the word, and poets who come from the world. Most poets are suspended in that strange and uneasy magnetism between those two poles.

4.04.2020

spark, spur, start

To find something in the inchoate to get the poem started.

4.02.2020

goes with the territory

I hardly know a poet who is not a logophile.

4.01.2020

guiding spirits of lit

Certain writers (e.g., Dante, Shakespeare, Dickinson,...) are no longer historical literary figures, having transcended the bonds of time, they’ve become guiding spirits of literature.

3.31.2020

ray of light

One day [Gerard Manley] Hopkins was walking down a garden pathway when he suddenly stopped, and looking down toward a spot on the ground, began to turn round on his heel. After he had been doing this for some time an alarmed gardener, thinking him slightly queer, asked him what he was doing; to which Hopkins replied that he was trying to get the “inscape” of one single piece of gravel which was caught in the sun’s ray, and which he was trying to see from all angles.

Quoted from Donald Nicholl, Recent Thought in Focus (Sheed and Ward 1952), p. 70.

3.29.2020

exposed and open

In order to understand art, one must be exposed to art in as many of its manifestations as possible, and then one must be open to those varied experiences, in order to develop a true and abiding feeling for art.

3.28.2020

a poem contends

As soon as it's made, a poem contends with formless that would erase it, that would cause it to fade into the din of background noise.

3.25.2020

annotations mon ami

From the margin notes in the used book he was reading he recognized a kindred reader.

3.24.2020

no longer one of us

One of those people you knew who had given up on being a poet, and who now seemed more ordinary to you.

3.23.2020

ideal poem

I write or try to write as if convinced that, prior to my attempt, there existed a true text, a sort of Platonic script, which I had been elected to transcribe or record.

—Donald Justice, "Notes of an Outsider," Platonic Scripts (U. of Michigan Press, 1984)

3.22.2020

books instead of toilet paper

They closed the libraries during the pandemic. Lucky for him he was a prepper when it came to hoarding books.

3.21.2020

lyric poets and others

There are only lyric poets and poets who write other texts we call poems.

3.19.2020

plagiarist's defense

Legal doctrine: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ignorance of the literature is no excuse.

3.18.2020

write this way

Too many writing guides pointing to the same kind of good writing.

3.17.2020

life's work

A critic who conducted us through one poem with insight and due respect.

3.15.2020

the image

In the image, imbalance suggests movement, a movement toward balance and stability.
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The image is the unlocked door between the adjoining rooms of imagination and memory.
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The poem is not a system for the reproduction of images, but one for the making of images.
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The image allows us to experience time as if it were a landscape.
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Through the image, memory forestalls the ephemeral.

—Eric Pankey, from “The Image,” Vestiges: Notes, Responses & Essays, 1988-2018 (Parlor Press, 2019)

3.14.2020

first poem

Remember the excitement, even thrall, of composing your first real poem, however rudimentary: the images, the turns of phrase, the surprises of diction, pattern and word sounds, etc. In a sense every poem written since is a grasping after that first experience.

3.13.2020

paper bandages

Some poems are bandages for the wounds of the soul, the lacerations of the spirit.

3.10.2020

text takes a backseat

Even the broadside seems to have sacrificed the simple virtues of text to visual impact.