polar response

Just another poem I could either tear apart or take at face value.


cage sport

Words that will resist the fetters of sense while they forge linkages of sound.


idea of a bird

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life,—large-brained, large-lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song. The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds,—how many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday-lives, and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!

John Burroughs, The Writings of John Burroughs: Birds and poets, with other papers (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1904)


no there there

A poet must learn to shun inspiration toward trivial purposes.


authoritative voice

Poet, be a sergeant major: Bark orders until the reader falls in line.


hello, hello, can anyone hear me

The poet must presume an audience because none is assured.


lays it on

Poetry may be doublespeak and sometimes triple- and quadruple-speak.


poetry as a foreign language

Taking ‘Poetry 101’ in college should fulfill a student’s foreign language requirement.


unseen it hits you

A line break should be like a glass door you don’t see and just walk into.

[Paraphrase of what poet Bruce Cohen said at our workshop group tonight.]


tradition in process

Eliot writes that obtaining the tradition “involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to any one who would continue to be a poet beyond his twentieth-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.” He saw the past “altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.” The canon is steadily undergoing formation, both vertically and—more recently—horizontally. The future will applaud our generation’s widening the stream. We must not, however, as we widen the course of the canon, make its bed shallow. Despite the labor necessary to appreciate them, those dead white guys are great. Sometimes in spite of themselves. Sometimes, I suspect, not even knowing, before they wrote the work, the truth the work reveals.

Too often we ignore the fact that tradition is process. Believing that tradition is created in retrospect, we search tirelessly for the great but unpublished black lesbian poet of the seventeenth century. Perhaps someday someone will find her, and that discovery will force us to make new maps of the literary landscape. What will be changed, however, is not the landscape of the seventeenth century, but that of the generation that discovers her. For tradition, as process, is formed as we go forward. There is no doubling back, no taking that other fork in the road, no rewinding the tape.

Marilyn Nelson Waniek, “Owning the Masters,” The Gettysburg Review (Spring, 1995)



long road to the deep north

The best writing teachers don’t teach shortcuts.


irritable reaching after justification

I’ve noticed that poets whose work is nowhere near as clear and as comprehensible as Keats’ poetry, will often cite his ‘negative capability’ in their own defense.


sounds not chosen

If the poetry of X was music,
So that it came to him of its own,
Without understanding, out of the wall

Or in the ceiling, in sounds not chosen...

—Wallace Stevens, "The Creations of Sound"

Tonight was the Twentieth Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash at the Hartford Public Library. Guest speaker Lisa Goldfarb's talk was entitled Accents, Syllables, and Sounds: How Wallace Stevens Transforms Us into Musical Readers.


audio test

You’ll know if the poem’s refrain bears repeating once you read the poem aloud.


make way for others

Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed. Let the dead poets make way for others. Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us.

—Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double (Grove Press, 1958), translated by Mary Caroline Richards.


take a disliking to

Try to write the kind of poem you’re disinclined to like.


poetry made manifest

Seeing Galway Kinnell read his poems wearing an Irish cable knit sweater at Arrowhead, Melville’s house in the Berkshires, circa 1985.


poets on earth

When they were known only as poets to you, they were your gods, but once you knew them as people they were after all people who wrote poems.


resilient design

Even if in typesetting two or three lines got dropped the integrity of the poem would not be damaged.


numbers game

Sonneteers are numerologists convinced of the magical power of fourteen.


could end anywhere

Once the poem has established itself, any late line can be a last line.


begin in wonder

In the Metaphysics, Aristotle tells us that through wonder (thaumazein) “people both now begin and in the first began to philosophize.” Earlier, in Plato’s Theaetatus we learn that “wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” Both poetry and philosophy intersect in their desire for the essence or source of things.

Mark Irwin, “Poetry and Originality: Have You Been There Before?” The Writer’s Chronicle, Vol. 48, Number 2, Oct./Nov. 2015


literal leeway

Poets will always allow themselves to be less literal than they would otherwise condone as readers of others’ writings.


light verse poet

Smitten by meter; overly fond of form.


you are here

Using place names: like dropping a section of the earth into the poem.


time poet

A poet companionable to our times.


end in sight

Always a bad sign in reading a book when you find yourself flipping ahead to see how many pages to the end.


always hungry

These, then, are Robinson’s kinds of originality, of poetic value—all of them subtle and half hidden, muffled and disturbing, answering little but asking those questions that are unpardonable, unforgettable, and necessary.

It is curious and wonderful that this scholarly, intelligent, childlike, tormented New England stoic, “always hungry for the nameless,” always putting in the reader’s mouth “some word that hurts your tongue,” useless for anything but his art, protected by hardier friends all his life, but enormously courageous and utterly dedicated (he once told Chard Powers Smith at the very end of his life, “I could never have done anything but write poetry”), should have brought off what in its quiet, searching, laborious way is one of the most remarkable accomplishments of modern poetry.

—James Dickey, “Edward Arlington Robinson,” Babel to Byzantium: Poets and Poetry Now (Ecco Press, 1981)


plain wrapper

A publisher who was trying to bring back the boring book cover.

[Thinking of Wave Books]


write through

I must write even when I cannot write.


multiple moons

Certainly a planet with two or three moons would have better poets living on it than our own.


ghost words

The ghost of what was stripped away in revision still haunts your reading of the poem.


leaping junk to junk

How do these seemingly disparate elements weld together? What makes this part or that fit where they do? How does a steel beam fit into its place in David Smith’s sculpture? How do images, and memories they engender, fit into our histories? In his “Conversation about Dante,” Osip Mandelstam notes, “One has to run across the whole width of the river, jammed with mobile Chinese junks sailing in various directions. This is how the meaning of poetic speech is created. Its route cannot be reconstructed by interrogating the boatmen: they will not tell how and why we were leaping from junk to junk.” These mysterious instabilities of making then coalesce into a poem, into this poem.

—James McCorkle, ”The Making of a Poem,” Poems and Their Making: A Conversation (Etruscan Press, 2015), moderated by Philip Brady.


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, the kettle singing on the stove, a Jehovah’s Witness knocking 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.]