long run

Initially a small print run, but never out of print since.


real time

Revision may be retrospective, but composition is always done in real time.


empire poetry

Poetry, I’m afraid, is the apotheosis of lingual colonialism, as it colonizes all forms of literary output. No language poses impediment and whether elevated or common or neutral speech, it takes and remakes without pity or regret.


material failure

There are things we believe or think we believe or want to believe which will not substantiate themselves in the concrete material of the poem.

—George Oppen, letter to John Taggart, The Selected Letters of George Oppen (Duke U. Press, 1990), edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis


pickpockets practice magic tricks too

The publisher tries to explain away his prize-winning author’s plagiarisms as instances of careless ‘intertextuality’.


major rhetoric

The dream of a great poem made solely from superior rhetoric.


not sic transit it sticks

An image must do one thing: it must remain in the reader’s mind.


too close

If you hew to another’s style, you risk parody when you meant homage.


the good fight

The announcement flyer for “Poetry of Resistance” pictured an older poet, sitting in a comfortable chair, bookcases behind him, his dog at his knee: “To the barricades!”


no system

Nietzsche is the one modern philosopher whom the layman has a fair chance of understanding. Perhaps that makes him not a philosopher. Perhaps it makes him a poet. (A non sequitur.) Or is there a connection in this sphere between being understandable and being insane?

Commenting on the unresolved contradictions in Nietzsche’s writing, H.G. Schenk describes what he has left us as ‘the intellectual echo of the recurrent oscillations of his soul, observed with utmost sensitivity’. In introducing Human, All Too Human in R.J. Hollingdale’s translation, Erich Heller remarks that even the most impressive philosophical systems is perched uncomfortably on a throne of rock-bottom stupidity, the self-induced narrow-mindedness which leads man to believe that he, a small part of an immense world, is capable of making absolutely coherent sense of it all. Heller is championing aphorisms, which, through their brevity, achieve ‘a kind’ of finality, one which we know, the world being so immense, isn’t more than a kind of. One effect of eluding narrow-mindedness and resisting schematization, something more commonly observed in poets…

—D. J. Enright, Interplay: a kind of commonplace book (Oxford Univ. Press, 1995)


scribble scrabble

When he wasn’t scribbling, he was scrabbling. Part of the scribble-scrabble rabble.


larger than life

The image may be of something small or minor, but becomes monumental by the unique perspective of the seeing.


getting ahead of myself

Another one of those self-anointed avant-garde.


end stop line

Elegy for the formalist: He gave us his last full measure.


between two poles

Poetry pulled by the aesthetic poles of speech and song.


all art

Little by little, pictures encumbered all the rooms, till only a room or two was left for the purposes of the man who required to eat, sleep, entertain his friends. Little by little the hours in which he was still the man whom he was so well, became rarer. His house was already almost a museum, his flesh and blood little more than the place where a work of art was being accomplished.

—Marcel Proust “Gustave Moreau,” Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, 1896-1919 (Dell Publishing Co., 1964), translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


services rendered pro bono

I’m afraid most poets do most of their professional work 'pro bono'.


not timebound

A poem that even time cannot tame.


answered in advance

The question posed in the poem was clearly a coy set-up for an answer the poet already possessed.


a few more questions to ask

Not so much an interview as it was a debriefing of the poet after she’d published her latest book.


blind curve

Though dangerous when driving, a blind curve is sought after when writing/reading a line of verse.


long view

Borges’ long view of writers and readers:

            We forget that we are all dead men
            conversing with dead men.


In Alberto Manguel’s short book, With Borges, we can continue in this morbid frame of mind:

For Borges, the core of reality lay in books; reading books, writing books, talking about books. In a visceral way, he was conscious of continuing a dialogue begun thousands of years before and which he believed would never end. Books restoring the past. “In time,” he said to me, “every poem becomes an elegy.”

Quoted in Jonathan Greene’s Gists Orts Shards II (Broadstone Books, 2011)



Definition of “necropastoral”: The uneasy feeling a professor-poet gets standing at the edge of a woods abutting the campus.


duly noted

It’s not important what others in the workshop say about your poem, it’s only important what you hear enough to take note of.


more than familiar

The syllable is intimate with silence.


inhabited lines

Left with the feeling that a person lives in those lines.


after dante

In the middle of making my poem,
I found I was lost in a dark wood.


all of what she was

[Lorine Niedecker] wrote to Bob Nero, “I dream of an ease of speech that takes in the universe” (April 20, 1967). At the same time she recalled her beginnings: “Early in life I looked back of our buildings and said, ‘I am what I am because of all this’. “Lake Superior” negotiates the local and the global, the self and the species: we are what we are because of all this. Her point of access is the unselfconscious notations of geology and pre-history. There, through her own painstaking practice, she locates the solace of an immanent infinite.

Jenny Penberthy, “Writing Lake Superior,” Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place (U. of Iowa Press, 2008), edited by Elizabeth Willis.


lyric first

When we think of poetry we first think of the lyric. The lyric being poetry’s quintessence.


seen & unseen

The physical act of sewing, with the seen and unseen thread, feels like composing a line of poetry.


to parts unknown

A missing persona poem.


commonplace book

The wondrous passages I can only dimly recall. For many years I trusted memory too much when reading. Now I write things down.


reading matter

Not long ago I wrote a series of poems in response to the collection, The Dream We Carry, by Olav Hauge, a Norwegian. He opened a door for me that I had not known stood closed. He deals in elementals. “A good poem,” he wrote, “should smell of tea, / or of raw earth and freshly cut wood.”

Art is a conversation with the past. Sometimes it is an argument.

—Frederick Smock, On Poetry: Palm-Of-The-Hand Essays (Broadstone Books, 2017)


looking in all the wrong places

The scholars scour the poet’s archive for personal anecdotes, familial first causes, and everything else quotidian and pedestrian that the poet attempted to transcend when writing.


short shrift

Not a review, but a nod of notice. (The problem with microreviews is if they’re positive they’re indistinguishable from blurbs.)


praise be

When encountering a foreign word or phrase, pause not only to puzzle out the meaning but also to praise the generosity of translators.


speak poet

Charge for the observant poet: See something, say something.


sure surrender

It is not possible to understand without surrender. As long as the slightest inclination to criticism remains in the consciousness it is hopeless to do justice to what is strange.

Beauty is not intrinsic in any form—it comes to make that form.

To critics: Write of the quick, as you do of the dead, with the same detachment.

Every aesthetic expression is dynamic and therefore involves distortion.

Too much craft in art ruins the art in the craft.

One can live for years with nothing on outside but a few hours with nothing in inside; that applies to art also.

Art never improves, only changes.

Margaret Preston, Aphorisms (Art in Australia, LTD, 1929)


say it

A poetics not of seeing, but of a way of saying.

[Thinking of Robert Creeley]


not mine

Leafing through an old notebook, I find many lines that must have been forged in my handwriting.


little twitter

Oh, please tickle me with one of your little twitter poems.


two paths

There’s a difference between poets who answered a calling and poets who pursued a literary career.


certain things

One thing is certain, and I have always known it—the joys of my life have nothing to do with age. They do not change. Flowers, the morning and evening light, music, poetry, silence, the goldfinches darting about...

—May Sarton, quoted in From May Sarton’s Well: Writings of May Sarton (Papier-Mache Press, 1994), selection and photographs by Edith Royce Schade. (p. 46)


book of forms

All the world, things immense and small, things static and moving, are possible models for the poem.


telling talk

The poem was rhetoric heavy.


well-placed pin

Whenever the long poem started to sag, the poet had the good sense to pin it up with a lyric section.


all the right words

The index of that book seemed like a word list for a great poem.


inside the atom

We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.

Niels Bohr, in his first meeting with Werner Heisenberg in early summer 1920, quoted in Theorizing Modernism: Essays in Critical Theory (1993) by Steve Giles, p. 28.


you're a superstar

Simon & Schuster’s book publicity states that Michael Robbins is a “superstar poet.” I did not know that.


what it is

Given that we agree the poem is accessible, would that be the first attribute you’d mark it with?


wait as they whet

One of those pauses during a writing workshop when in the background you could hear steel being sharpened on a grinding wheel.


longer grave

The poet was 5’ 9” tall in his life. I’m told his archive, in the basement of the university library where it’s housed, measures 18 linear feet.


staying grounded

Whatever their skills at language might be, poets should know how to plant and to tend a vegetable or a flower.


when art appears

The most beautiful book would be that which would not be possible to consider as a book.

When art appears, life disappears.

To paint so as not to have to think any more pleases me, to think in order to paint is a piece of nonsense on the high tide of the spirit.

Gallery openings fill me with melancholy, the same goes for weddings and funerals.

Francis Picabia, Yes No: Poems & Sayings (Hanuman Books, 1990), translated by Rémy Hall


revising aristotle

The poem’s drama was in its usage and not in its narrative elements.


twain never met

No other metaphor before.


new game

They invented a new way to play at poetry.


dizzying universe

You have to read haphazardly, open and discover good books by happenstance these days. There are so many poets, so many books (planets), swimming into one’s ken (to steal a phrase from Keats).


went by me

I don’t mind if I miss certain allusions as they sail past me without recognition as long as they ruffle a few brain cells as they pass.


two poets

There are two masters, Antonio Machado and Juan Ramón Jiménez. The first lives on a pure plane of serenity and poetic perfection; a human and celestial poet who has already transcended every sort of struggle, the absolute master of his prodigious inner world. Jiménez is a great poet ravaged by the terrible exaltation of his “I,” lacerated by the reality around him, stung incredibly hard by insignificant things, his ears tuned to the world, which is the true enemy of his marvelous and unique poetic soul.

—Federico Garcia Lorca, “Conversation with Bagaría,” Deep Song and Other Prose (New Directions, 1975), edited and translated by Christopher Maurer.