second to last

He sent his manuscript with twenty bucks only to find out he was runner-up for The Last Unpublished Poet on Earth Prize.


then and now

The poem transcends its occasion and becomes a new event.


life force

The book of poems was so good you believed at any moment it would animate, turn into a kind of bird, and fly from your hands.


reality check

The conceptual poet strays at his own risk into the real world.

[Thinking of Kenneth Goldsmith]


line tension

The first letter steps out slowly onto the tightrope of the ruled-line paper.


fair fare

The poem was language on a stick. For your delectation or as confection, but nothing more than that.


slips through the cracks

Even the poets who try to evade completely the real world that collides with and pushes us—that, despite ourselves, humiliates and uplifts us—cannot avoid the way that the thin melody of popular song slips in through the cracks in their poems.

—Jorge Carrera Andrade, Micrograms (Wave Books, 2011)*, translated by Alejandro De Acosta and Joshua Beckman.

*Originally published in Tokyo in 1940


poet of a certain age

He no longer made an effort to complete poems that were without an emotional impulse behind them.


end anywhere

He didn’t write discrete poems. Each poem ended in some random moment of dailiness: a bathroom break, a pot left on the stove, a Jehovah’s Witness at the door, the trash wheeled out to the street, falling asleep in a chair, etc.



too easy

Another comfort-zone poem.


precise song

George Oppen wrote, in his great poem “Route,” “If having come so far we shall have / Song // Let it be small enough.” I take this less to mean that our human capacity for song is (or should be) diminished than that it should, in a time of crisis and violence, be particular. Almost anything is beautiful if particular enough—something Oppen, in his relentless quest for precision and specificity, well knew.

—G. C. Waldrep, Poems and Their Making: A Conversation (Etruscan Press, 2015), moderated by Philip Brady.


pieces of their mind

In post-modern poetry disjecta membra is substituted for subject matter.


singular admirer

The joy in knowing well one poem in the poet’s oeuvre that others seemed to overlook.


no outlet

You knew at the turn, the line was going to be a dead-end. Still, you had to drive to the very end, get out and look around.


polished away

When craft is pressed to an extreme that gleam that was the thing’s original light becomes a sheen


measure of the man

He wanted to show me his wine rack, but I was more interested in seeing his bookcase.


god-given line

Graciously the gods give us the first line for nothing, but it is up to us to furnish a second that harmonizes with it and not be unworthy of its supernatural elder brother. All the resources of experience and of intelligence are hardly enough to make it comparable to the verse which came to us as a gift.

—Paul Valéry, Au sujet d’Adonis (1920), translation by Louise Varèse.


stuck there

Laughs leave the body, lighter than air; choked sobs stick inside the throat forever.


perfect prospect

A poem that has many ways to go wrong.


vulture visit

After a poem is left for dead, it’s still possible to pick through the corpse for some bones and morsels.


laboring oar

In Homer’s lines we can still hear the oar-strokes upon open seas


muse of fire

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
   The brightest heaven of invention...

—William Shakespeare, Henry V, "Prologue"

[I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC yesterday.]



those who come after

Let us praise the après-garde, those who come after with brooms & dustpans, sweeping up the debris left behind when others blasted forward, salvaging this scrap & that bit, making simple things from their leavings.


out past the breakers

An epic poem is oceanic, each line another wave.

[Thinking of Olson. Nod to Homer, of course.]


one and done

He blamed his good memory for not rereading more good books…but is it because there are so many unread books still ahead of him, or could it even be envy?


an inch from stopping

What’s annoying about literary criticism is that it judges something that cannot change.

Nothing is more entertaining than the fate awaiting human beings who are determined to hide, to flee from others. Neither Valéry nor Rimbaud nor Lawrence would have managed to become so universally well-known so quickly had they desired such fame. Imitate them, you young people in quest of great glory. And if no one seeks you out, don’t weep because you’ve succeeded where geniuses have failed. I’ll not say another word.

A writer is always merely the ghostwriter of the child who’s already seen everything.

You always write only an inch away from stopping to speak.

A poet has no memory. But is one.

It’s not in order to be read that you write. It’s in order to be experienced, a little.

We should read a poem only in Braille. With our fingertips.

The poet is the one who accepts to be the attentive slave of what goes on beyond him.

In poetry, the poem is the least thing.

Words that open like oysters.

—Georges Perros, Paper Collage (Seagull Books, 2015), translated from the French by John Taylor.


three variants

There are three kinds of aphorists: The aphorist pure, who composes his/her brief utterances for effect. The aphorist embedded, whose aperçus arise here and there within prose or poetry. The aphorist accidental, who often uncorks a good one in casual speech recounted by others.


can't go there

When the urge to experiment is the urge to evade experience.


straw nail

Think of the poetic line as that straw they say in a hurricane can be driven into a telephone pole.


not impossible

In a note to himself while working on The Maximus Poems, Charles Olson wrote: "It's all right to be difficult, but you can't be impossible."

[Yesterday on a short birthday trip I went to Gloucester MA for the first time and the first thing I did was to find the house where Charles Olson once lived and wrote his poems.]


safe harbor

Tired of pobiz, I turn to Thomas Merton.

[Thomas Merton lectures].


attica, attica...

Sometimes you work on a poem for so long you feel you’re staring out of a cage.


just sing

Let there be singing…singing will always aid one’s poetry.



A novel in verse is merely a novelty.


game playing

It may not help a poet to be good at word games.


tomb poem

The poem was a mausoleum of dead poets’ influences.


other kind of hero

Hölderlin’s heroism is splendid because it is free from pride and devoid of confidence in victory. All he is aware of is his mission, the summons from the invisible world; he believes in his calling, but has no assurance of success. He is forever vulnerable…It is the feeling that he is foredoomed to destruction, that a menacing shadow dogs his footsteps, which makes his persistence in his chosen course so courageous. The reader must not think that Hölderlin’s faith in poesy as the profoundest meaning of life implies a like belief in his own poetic gifts. As regards these latter he remained humble-minded…Yet for all this personal modesty, for all this sensitiveness, he had a will of steel to animate his devotion to poesy, to fortify him for self-immolation. “My dear friend,” he writes to one of his intimates, “when will people come to see that in our case the greatest force is the most modest in its manifestations, and that the divine message (when it issues from us) is always uttered with humility and sadness?” His heroism was not that of the warrior, not the heroism of triumphant force; it was the heroism of the martyr who is ready, nay, glad, to suffer for the unseen, to perish on behalf of an ideal.

—Stefan Zweig, “Hölderlin,” The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (Pushkin Press, 2012) translated by Eden and Cedar Paul.


satellite attention

Forever my mind will orbit this poem, ever unable to penetrate its atmosphere.


the quick and the dead

A clever poet is never a poet.


it's all out there

Most ambitious poems show their flaws before they demonstrate their merits.


step into space

Poet, your first line should feel like a skydiver’s step out of an airplane.


trusted structure

The first line like a sturdy lintel above the house’s doorway.


missing person

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
"You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?"

James Tate (1943-2015)


not seeing out

Too many poems are mirrors when they should be windows.


on time rime

Those expected rhymes that arrived on time.



speak up

The only danger to poetry is the reticence and silence of poets.

—Eavan Boland, "Letter to a Young Woman Poet," American Poetry Review (May/June 1997).


critic v. artist

An art learned only from books or earned by the trials of making.


write without

The root of most bad poetry is the eagerness of poets to write even without something important to write about.



All good sentences naturally resist enjambment.


new world everywhere you turn

To a poet every word is a wonder.


time lapse

Browsing through old anthologies should be enough to humble even the proudest poet. Not only because a few great poems remain…but because so many names have evaporated in time.


intimate and total

…in the best lyrics, that is: in the poems of love and deprivation and mourning—the art of communication seems on the one hand private or intimate; and on the other hand, total. It is private and intimate in the sense that Hardy seems to speak very clearly but only to himself, or only to a single reader, whereas most nineteenth-century poets speak as though to a large public, more or less authoritatively. This is obviously true of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Speaking as to a large public normally involves some falsification of tone, some shifting of the poetic persona. We have the sense with Hardy that the poetry has been little modified by the implicit existence of readers, or by the likelihood publication. Many of Hardy’s early poems went long unpublished; some were saved for the very last volumes in the 1920’s.

—Albert J. Guerard, “The Illusion of Simplicity,” Thomas Hardy (New Directions, 1964)


love over

A love poem must have an undercurrent of loss.


marked not marred

Often I’ll pull down a poetry book from our local library’s shelf only to find its pages marked by a prior reader. But I don’t mind reading through another avid reader’s scratched window.



The poem absolute, above all other human utterances.


one more question

I’m all for some Socratic doubt in a poem, but this poet had a question mark in every other line. Did the poet want the reader to write the poem by giving all the answers?


chugging forward

Powered by anaphora the poem was a locomotive of insistent locutions.