line, angle, speed and 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.

—RenĂ© 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.


affective force

Only emotion will enliven the lines.


boing and begin again

Your eyes leapt up to the first line at the instant the poem was finished, certain it must be reread.


alpha & omega

The urpoem in the last poem.


noun as adjective

Using a noun as an adjective to good effect. [Thinking Dylan Thomas]


neutral surface

Paper as support, its own materiality is usually ignored. So the sense of a neutral surface that can accommodate any mark seems an ideal way of communicating freedom. At the same time printed material has the capacity to repeat itself endlessly and linked to distribution or manifestos—even freedom however idiosyncratic and inscrutable. And this tension is what surfaces and transforms the amnesia of the paper into a tension between the drawn and the printed. The mark and the letter.

Ellen Gallagher, interview by Jessica Morgan (Institute of Contemporary Art in association with D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2001)


can-do words

The poem was a language hack.


more room

Stanza means ‘room’, but strive to make each one a great hall or a basilica.


running ahead

Poetry is the forerunner to a future language.


dream ladder

Poet, let your lines be a Jacob’s ladder lowered down the page.


shapely figure

Just the shape of a poem on the page has an attractiveness prose cannot match.


one and the world

What I find extremely interesting is that only those poets who are aware of the “solitary mind” and remain faithful to their personal fate (which makes their return to the solitary mind inevitable) while keeping a place within the “banquet,” only those poets produce works at which we stare in wonder. Yet if they cut themselves off from the world of the “banquet” and withdraw into the solitary mind alone, their works mysteriously lose power.

Between the will which seeks to participate in the world of the “banquet” (the world of the collective spiritual body) and the will which seeks to devote itself purely to the self (the world of the solitary mind) there is tension. As long as this tension is present the works which the poets produce give off their highest luster.

—Ooka Makoto, The Colors of Poetry: Essays in Classical Japanese Poetry (Katydid Books, 1991), translated by Thomas V. Lento.


ear candy

A plain villanelle: one without that line tart or sweet to the ear on first hearing.


word is

Unlike in prose, the poem will never turn its back on what the word is in terms of sight and sound.


bubble blurbs

Blurbs are like bubbles, little effusive bursts that the author hopes will buoy the book.


make of the fragments

John Ashbery ends his poem “Street Musicians” with these lines:

      Our question of a place of origin hangs
      Like smoke: how we picnicked in pine forests,
      In coves with the water always seeping up, and left
      Our trash, sperm and excrement everywhere, smeared
      On the landscape, to make of us what we could.

We make of the fragments of self a form that holds, briefly—that’s the poem—then we watch it shatter again—which is, I suppose, that space that the poem fooled us into believing we’d left behind us, for a time, world of fragmented selves, hard truths, glinting ambiguities to be negotiated, navigated through as we make our disoriented way forward, or what we have to believe is forward. Like being mapless in tough territory, and knowing, somewhere inside, we’d choose this life, and this one only, if in fact we could choose.

—Carl Phillips, "Beautiful Dreamer," The Art of Daring (Graywolf Press, 2014)


head case

If you memorize enough poems madness is sure to ensue.


not ready yet

Every time you tried to print out the poem the paper jammed in the printer, until you were forced to revise it before trying again.


world love

A political poem is a love poem to the world.


evenly lit

An outtake from The New York Times obit of the poet Mark Strand:

To critics who complained that his poems, with their emphasis on death, despair and dissolution, were too dark, he replied, “I find them evenly lit.”