made out of mist

A poem accomplished however implausible in its conception.


one line elegy

The mailbox shines calmly: what is written cannot be taken back.

Tomas Tranströmer, “Late May,” translated by Robert Bly


enemy me

P.S.: You have said that being a very good craftsman is a problem for you as a poet. How is this so?

Wright: Because my chief enemy in poetry is glibness. My family background is partly Irish, and this mean many things, but linguistically it means that it is too easy to talk sometimes. I keep thinking of Horace's idea which Byron so accurately expressed in a letter to Murray: "Easy writing is damned hard reading." I suffer from glibness. I speak and write too easily. Stanley Kunitz has been a master of mine, and he tells me that he suffers from the same problem. His books are very short, as mine are, and he has struggled and struggled to strip them down. There are poets, I have no doubt, who achieve some kind of natural gift, the difficulty that one needs. Because whatever else poetry is, it is a struggle, and the enemy, the deadly enemy of poetry, is glibness. And that is why I have struggled to strip my poems down.

—James Wright, in a 1972 interview with Peter Stitt, James Wright: A Profile (Logbridge-Rhodes, Inc., 1988) edited by Frank Graziano and Peter Stitt.


image inside

The psyche has an internal projector of remembered images.


fled sentencing

It was one of those sentences happened upon in prose that you recognize immediately as a line of fugitive poetry.


page turned

An anthology of poems that had fallen out of the anthologies.


witnesses for the defense

There was no framed diploma on the wall of his office. But sometimes he would run a finger bumping along the spines of the books in his personal library. He thought these authors, though most long dead, must vouch for him.


four elements

In the first place his poem must be deeply conceived, and be unvaryingly self-consistent. Then he must take pains to temper all with variety (varietas), for there is no worse mistake than to glut your hearer before you are done with him. What then are the dishes which would create distaste rather than pleasure? The third poetic quality is found in but few writers, and is what I would term vividness (efficacia);….By vividness I mean a certain potency and force in thought and language which compels one to be a willing listener. The fourth is winsomeness (suavitas), which tempers the ardency of this last quality, of itself inclined to be harsh. Insight and foresight (prudentia), variety, vividness, and winsomeness, these, then, are the supreme poetic qualities.

—Giulio Cesare Scaligero (1484-1558), “The Four Attributes of the Poet,” Select Translations from Scaliger's Poetics (H. Holt, 1905), translated Frederick Morgan Padelford


nothing comes from nothing

The efficacy of any revision depends solely on having a solid core to work with.


singular thing

The sonnet is a stand-alone poem. It should never be impressed as a stanza in sequence.


important poem

A poem that was a monument in the collective consciousness.


ring wrong

His rhymes were unexpected, but in that bad way of being right by sound but off in tone or out of sorts with the diction.


desire finds its object

Soliloquies. Arias. Father-son dramatic agon. Symphonies—whatever we crave to experience over and over as we discover what art can be. Love buries these ghost-forms within us. Forms are the language of desire before desire has found its object.

—Frank Birdart, “Thinking Through Form,” Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms (U. of Michigan Press, 1996), edited by David Lehman.


me me how about me

Too many poets are of and only for the self.


well-matched forces

Written in a way that alternates seamlessly between control and flow.



foothold on the heights

It was not just a book, it was a step on to Parnassus.


ready for I

...I'm just really beginning to let myself say "I" because I feel that now I can do it without the kind of crudity with which some people who have just begun to write poetry write about their feelings.

I always feel that what…people should be doing, if they really want to be poets, is writing objectively. Writing about a chair, a tree outside their window. So much more of themselves really would get into the poem, than when they just say “I.” The “I-ness” doesn’t come across, because it’s too crude…For instance, the objective earlier poems of William Carlos Williams (who, in the ripeness of old age has been saying “I” in quite a different way) say so much more than what they superficially appear to be saying. They’re quite objective little descriptions of this and that, and yet, especially when one adds them together, they say a great deal about the man. In a much deeper more impressive way than if he if he’d spent the same years describing his emotions.

—Denise Levertov, in an interview with David Ossman, The Sullen Art (Corinth Books, 1963), interviews with modern American poets.


fail better

When a poem fails and you don’t know why, it’s worth saving the pieces and starting over.


line, angle, speed & show factor

You could watch his line 'drift' as he headed into the turn.


never mine

The poem you admire because you wish you’d written it. The poem you admire because you know you never could’ve written it.


so shall you be judged

This poem will be on your permanent record.


mischievous poetry

Give praise with children
           chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
Living wild on the streets through generations
           of children.

—Anne Porter, from “A List of Praises,” An Altogether Different Language: Poems 1934-1994 (Zoland Books, 1994)


not on the surface

Dredge the psyche for your deep images.


good book

Closing a good book…clasping one’s hands as though to pray.


neither here nor there

Do your poems begin in the world or do they begin in the word?


exponentially experiential

A poem should gather force from experience and release that force through language.


long flight

Reading the talk poet’s book all the way through was similar to getting stuck in an airplane seat next to an idle chatterer on a three-hour flight.


sublimity of the spectacle

…imagine the stars, undiminished in number, without losing any of their astronomical significance and divine immutability, marshalled in geometrical patterns; say in a Latin cross, with the words In hoc signo vinces in a scroll around them. The beauty of the illumination would be perhaps increased, and its import, practical, religious, cosmic, would surely be a little plainer; but where would be the sublimity of the spectacle? [And he answers.] Irretrievably lost.

—George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty (Scribners, 1896).


happy painstaking

When I read the poem I thought what good fortune to have been the medieval scribe appointed to copy out this poem in a fine script.


room full of ghosts

The necessary arrogance of youth: “I look at those names in the anthology, and it just makes me sad. It's like a room full of ghosts."

From Oliver Stone’s film Any Given Sunday...
The young quarterback, Willie Beaman, after glancing at photos of past football greats, says: “I look at those pictures on the wall, and it just makes me sad. It’s like a room full of ghosts.”


discursively grounded

Digressions that however far-reaching never lose touch of the stem theme.



Digressions that seemed to go on branching off effortlessly and endlessly.


big one that didn't get away

Even to be a minor poet one must pull off one major poem.


income gap

My plan was to make a living by writing poetry. But I had a back-up plan of buying a lottery ticket each week.


won't change the world

Qualcuno mi ha detto
che certo le mie poesie
non cambieranno il mondo.

Io rispondo che certo si
le mie poesie
non cambieranno il mondo.


Someone told me
of course my poems
won’t change the world.

I say yes of course
my poems
won’t change the world.

[Translation by Gini Alhadeff.]

– Patrizia Cavalli, My Poems Won’t Change the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), edited by Gini Alhadeff



top heavy

A title that tips the poem’s hand.


pomp of the procession

The poem as a triumphal march of words.



Six fragments in search of a poem. [after Pirandello]


eyes to nerves

Images that flash upon the eyes but fail to infiltrate the nervous system.


asyntactic time and emotion

It makes sense that this change of syntax would lure such feelings out of hiding. The conjunctions I was avoiding signal the operations of the rational mind; they communicate judgment, discernment, a comprehension of the relationships among things. They are words we use after the fact, when we have figured something out. In forging relationships between things (because of this, that; after that, this), they imply a kind of narrative, a sequence of events in time; the absence of such conjunctions allows for utterances in which time seems to be arrested and in which multiple—even contradictory—experiences can exist simultaneously, without explanation or resolution. What is free to come rushing into a sentence, then, is not understanding but bewilderment, astonishment, anxiety, grief and love.

—Chris Forhan, “Without Although, Without Because: Syntax and Buried Memory,” The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry (U. of Michigan Press, 2013), Eleanor Wilner and Maurice Manning, editors.


deflategate: please squeeze harder

Reading through various poetry books one wishes that more poets preferred their books with less air in them.


flight granted

Imagination exists only by the grace of experience.



Not just sprinkled on; images ingrained in the lines.


love solved

There is little that a good love poem cannot solve.


a door and a window

My sense of the poem is rather classic. I think of a beginning, a middle and an end. I don't believe in open form. A poem may be open, but then it doesn't have form. Merely to stop a poem is not to end it. I don't want to suggest that I believe in neat little resolutions. To put a logical cap on a poem is to suffocate its original impulse. Just as the truly great piece of architecture moves beyond itself into its environment, into the landscape and the sky, so the kind of poetic closure that interests me bleeds out of its ending into the whole universe of feeling and thought. I like an ending that's both a door and a window.

—Stanley Kunitz, "The Art of Poetry No. 29," an interview by Chris Busa, The Paris Review (Spring 1982, No. 83)


fitted lines

Like in a New England stone wall, the rough edges of words will be what makes them fit together.


words without import

Wordplay and other forms of pseudo-poetry.



In a poem the aphorism is best when it comes sotto voce.


didn't see that coming

The best images are those you thought beneath notice.


experimental me

One suspects he spends more energy asserting his experimental stance than actually writing anything one would recognize as being outside the pattern and practice of contemporary poetry.


everything a door

Everything is a door
all one needs is the light push of thought
Something's about to happen
               said one of us


Everything is a door
              everything a bridge
now we are walking on the other bank
down there look runs the river of centuries
the river of signs
There look runs the river of stars
embracing splitting joining again
they speak to each other in a language of fire
their struggles and loves
are creations and destructions of entire worlds

—Octavio Paz, "Clear Nights" from Salamander, in The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987 (New Directions, 1987) edited by Eliot Weinberger.


covered bridges

Poetry and covered bridges and other anachronistic but beautiful things.


official sanction

A poet who spoke of publication as though a kind of imprimatur.


brick by brick

Each stanza a brick in the architecture of the poem.


uncorralable lines

A poetry no critic could contain by prose alone.


it hovers forever there

Time seen through the image is time lost from view. Being and time are quite different. The image shimmers eternal, when it has outstripped being and time.

—René Char, “Leaves of Hypnos,” Furor and Mystery & Other Writings (Black Widow Press, 2010), translated by May Ann Caws and Nancy Cline.


critical respect

At least acknowledge its accomplishment on its own terms, before denigrating what it is based on your aesthetics.


uneven ends

The ragged right edge of the poem is reminder of our art’s imperfection.