bad habit or book addiction

Again I find myself buying books beyond my capacity to read them all.


survival of poetry

A poet’s elegy for another poet is somehow a translation of that poet or at least of a tradition, and involves some kind of transfer of powers, perhaps aggressively asserted by the survivor. In any case, the underlying question is not that of personal survival, but of the survival of poetry. If all real poetry is, as I believe, writing in the light of death, elegy is the genre which performs most consciously in that light.

—Rosanna Warren, “Sappho: Translation as Elegy,” Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry (Norton, 2008)



The inferior poet whose work went viral is not to blame. That lame mass audience should be fully faulted.


at one remove

A professor so steeped in secondary sources, one could imagine a student leaving a poem on his desk and him not recognizing what it was.


not a word to waste

X’s bio, a poet in her thirties, begins with: “X is the author of over twenty books of poetry.”


book as home

The blurb as real estate ad: Charming yet spacious, ready to move in, well-appointed, recently renovated, with water views.


self is style

Ironic that the author of “The Death of the Author” was himself so much ‘the author’ of his own works.

[re Roland Barthes]



Language is luggage; prepare to travel.


back of the tapestry

Every artist works, like the Gobelins weavers, on the wrong side of the tapestry, and if now and then he comes around to the right side, and catches what seems a happy glow of colour, or a firm sweep of design, he must instantly retreat again, if encouraged yet still uncertain...

—Edith Wharton, Delphi Complete Works of Edith Wharton (Delphi Classics, 4th edition, 2011)


dialect or pidgin

Poetry on some level is a dialect or a pidgin: It must be engaged almost daily and learned in order to be understood.


center of the earth

Many a great poem has accreted around the core of a single image.


three cubed

A poem is a triadic event, coinciding at a point where the poet, a world, and language meet. If any one of the three is absent from the text, the poem will be by definition insignificant.


contentious matter

Somewhere someplace there will always be someone nattering about poetry mattering (or not).


little to unlearn

[Basil Bunting’s] reading (meaning here his perusal of books) was not uncommonly wide, it was even more uncommonly exact and readily recalled. Always intense and personal his response to any writing was determined by the pleasure and interest it afford him. The absence of this factor makes the academic study of literature a hollow sham, its presence a test of character and truthfulness. Bunting’s taste was formed early: he had a lot to discover but little to unlearn. His revaluation of the canon was more radical than Pound’s and less erratic.

—Kenneth Cox, “Basil Bunting,” The Art of Language: Selected Essays by Kenneth Cox (Flood Editions, 2016), edited and introduced by Jenny Penberthy.


table setting

He’d properly set the table with the form, however no meal was served.


burn bar

A critic whose eye was like a burn bar going into a safe.


book as wallet

Like opening your wallet to find it filled with ones and fives, the book didn’t seem to carry any poems of higher denomination.


on their radar

A poem becomes a political poem when the established powers recognize it as a threat.

[Case in point: Mahmoud Darwish.]


reading the signs

I am awfully pleased with it, awfully awfully pleased with it. I don’t believe you do me more than justice but you do me a whole lot of justice…all literature is to me me, that isn’t as bad as it sounds. Some one complained that I always stopped while I was driving to read the sign posts even when I knew the road and all I could explain was that I am fond of reading…

—Gertrude Stein, letter to Edmund Wilson in response to his piece on her in Vanity Fair, Oct. 3, 1923. Quoted by Daniel Aaron in Commonplace Book, 1934-2012 (Pressed Wafer, 2015).


nature abhors a vacuum

Fortunately, the advent of the world wide web was able to absorb the increased output spurred by the creative writing MFA explosion.



Language as medium of communication is a given, but poetry reveals language as a force of nature.


O and over again

A critic whose oxygen was the Os spoken by poets.


is worth all

The poem doesn’t try to sell itself. Its improbable existence in this world gives it worth.


woman nomination night

Coming of age as a poet in the late 1950s and well into the '60s, I was not unconscious of the disdain with which aspiring women poets—and people of color—were treated. Gradually I came to realize how arduous the road to acceptance as a woman artist would be. Attitudes changed at a glacial pace. I have cited elsewhere, more than once, an event that took place in 1967. At a dinner hosted by the Poetry Society of America, Robert Lowell rose to praise Marianne Moore as the nation's best woman poet. Blessedly, Langston Hughes leapt up to assert that she was the best Negro woman poet in the country. What astonishes me is how few women today, hearing this story, appreciate the irony in it. Was she black? they ask.

—Maxine Kumin, “Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness” (The Georgia Review, Winter 2012)


watery diarrhea

After hearing that Christian Bök had been instilling ‘poetry’ within the DNA of E. coli bacteria, I decided I’d better check the symptom list...

Symptoms can include:

   •abdominal cramping
   •sudden, severe watery diarrhea that may change to bloody stools
   •loss of appetite/nausea
   •vomiting (uncommon)

Oh...I too dislike it.


off hand

His best ‘writings’ were those things he’d said in conversation and that others had remembered and recorded.


listen up, people

Another online litmag with one of those masthead manifestos written by an editor too young to understand how much his exhortations sound like echoes.


line cutter

The first line came late.


spin off poem

A small poem spun off from a still forming, larger one.


first sight

Seeing a poem in publication pales before that moment of reading it as a largely completed draft.


good form

Fortunately we don’t need to know how bad the age is. There is something we can always be doing without reference to how good or how bad the age is. There is at least so much good in the world that it admits of form and the making of form. And not only admits of it, but calls for it. We people are thrust forward out of suggestions of form in the rolling clouds of nature. In us nature reaches its height of form and through us exceeds itself. When in doubt there is always form for us to go on with. Anyone who has achieved the least form to be sure of it, is lost to the larger excruciations. I think it must stroke faith the right way. The artist, the poet, might be expected to be the most aware of such assurance. But it is really everybody’s sanity to feel it and live by it. Fortunately, too, no forms are more engrossing, gratifying, comforting, staying than those lesser ones we throw off, like vortex rings of smoke, all our individual enterprise and needing nobody’s co-operation; a basket, a letter, a garden, a room, an idea, a picture, a poem. For those we haven’t to get a team together before we can play.

—Robert Frost, “The Letter to The Amherst Student*,” Selected Prose of Robert Frost (Collier Books, 1968), edited by Hyde Cox and Edward Connery Lathem. *Written in 1935.


flipping through pages

A scholar whose studies could only be described as desultory.


critic as scout

Critics run ahead of us to call out warnings and to mark stopping places.


noir poetics

First case the joint with a good close reading.


red line

The genius and the hack don’t need an editor. For the rest of us that office often does good work.


work in stone

The mason stirs:
Pens are too light.
Take a chisel to write.

—Basil Bunting, “Briggflatts,” The Poems of Basil Bunting (Faber & Faber, 2016), edited by Don Share.


lined out

We must consider the fact that any poet could strike out a line of genius.


papering over

Certain poets try to paper over their deficiencies by publishing too much.


oh goody

The covers of the leading magazines for writers have captions like: “More than 100 Opportunities for Grants, Awards & Publication” and “101 Contests with Upcoming Deadlines.”


as leaves

That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.

—John Keats, letter to John Taylor (February 27, 1818)

That if publication comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.


empty passages

Opening a wormeaten book, I couldn’t help but marvel at the ribbons of silence they had carved into the text.


lay bare

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.

—James Baldwin, "The Creative Process" in The National Cultural Center's Creative America (1962), reprinted in The Price of the Ticket (1985)


good lines

Admiring the fit and finish of the poem.



The lines like toppled statuary, fallen, broken off heads and limbs, spilled, beautiful fragments.


spirit level

The one word that is the spirit level of the line.


the living and the dead

Had he reached a tipping point where he could recall more dead poets than living ones?



from one to another

You only have so many notes, and what makes a style is how you get from one note to another.
—Dizzy Gillespie*

You only have so many words, and what makes a style is how you get from one word to another.

*Quoted in J. D. McClatchy’s Sweet Theft: A poet’s commonplace book (Counterpoint Press, 2016)


wind aware

Use the page like a sail reaching.


kinds of sight

The observer discovers, the seer creates. Mistrust the latter.


hole cloth

A poem whole was impossible. Most passages came apart during reading. Even in the middle of a line he could lose his way and fall into fragment.


symbol rule

Any image that recurs within one’s oeuvre will eventually function as symbol.


as an artist

As an artist, you should not wish to create what you don’t feel you have to create.

People who read only the Classics are sure to remain up-to-date.

There is a poet in every competent person; this comes out when they write, read, speak or listen.

Art originated in a longing for the superfluous.

The spirit of a language is revealed most clearly through its untranslatable words.

Philosophers arrive at conclusions, poets must allow theirs to develop.

The old saw “It’s always hard to begin” only applies to skills. In art nothing is harder than to end, which means at the same time to perfect.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Aphorisms (Ariadne Press, 1994), translated by David Scrase and Wolfgang Mieder.


weight of white

The thin line of letters trekking across the page felt an avalanche of white building over them.


job description

That former art once referred to as editing is now known by the term ‘content management’.


method and manner

The writer’s formula for composition was praised as style by the reader.


create trap

The notion that you must make things which you have no real impulse to realize.


sounds across time

But if one followed Marsh’s image [Reginald Marsh's Wooden Horses], nobility seemed to exist in art today “only in degenerate forms or in a much diminished state,” because that was now the nature of the real. For the poet too “a variation between the sound of words in one age and the sound of words in another” was itself “an instance of the pressure of reality.” Locke and Hobbes had denounced the seventeenth century for its connotative use of language, that had resulted in an era of urbane, witty poetic diction, with Pope and Swift as its chief proponents.

—Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium (Simon & Schuster, 2016)


measure for measure

Most poems fail based on a simple mixed measurement ratio: the material (subject, idea, story, substance) weighs less than its length in lines.