8.21.2014

chance audience

Not to write for a requisite audience; but to welcome an audience by chance.

8.19.2014

low coverage area

A high ratio of white space to printed text. [Scientific definition of a poem.]

8.18.2014

remaining words

Don't be afraid to forget some words. Nor worry if they don't come to you. There are too many words for the purposes of a poet.

8.17.2014

mythic figure

The common reader and other mythological creatures.

8.16.2014

timing and spacing

The English language is like a broad river on whose bank a few patient anglers are sitting, while, higher up, the stream is being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck. The English language has, in fact, so contracted to our own littleness that it is no longer possible to make a good book out of words alone. A writer must concentrate on his vocabulary but must also depend on the order, the timing and spacing of his words, and try to arrange them in a form which is seemingly artless, yet perfectly proportioned. He must let a hiatus suggest that which language will no longer accomplish. Words today are like the shells and rope of seaweed which a child brings home glistening from the beach and which in an hour have lost their lustre.

—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (Persea Press, 1981; first published in Curwen Press in 1944)

8.14.2014

under the influence

That fine line between riffing off, and ripping off.

8.11.2014

the stacks

They say it’s the age of the end of the book. Yet, at major libraries, you have to show your bona fides, then fill out a form and wait for someone to retrieve that book you wanted from the stacks.

8.10.2014

didactic art

All good art is didactic. In that good art moves us or it makes us think, and thus it shapes our lives. Bad art is art without influence over its intended audience.

8.09.2014

poets' opinions

Poets can’t be trusted when it comes to their opinions of their contemporaries. Their lack of distance causes deafness to rival voices or results in a chummy humming in tune.

8.06.2014

city of words

Poetry is a city of words, a complex heterogeneity that functions both as its parts and as a whole. It’s full of systems—metaphoric, symbolic, sonic—analogous to the sewage, electrical, and transportation systems that animate a city. You look at a jagged skyline, and see the ragged right margin; you read through the quick shifts of much contemporary poetry, and think of a busy intersection in which your view is cut off by a bus one moment, then opened up the next, and then filled with a crowd crossing the street the next.

—Cole Swenson, "Poetry City," Identity Theory, (Oct. 26, 2004, identitytheory.com)

8.05.2014

nor song nor poem

The poem will never be as simple as the song. The song will never be as nuanced as the poem.

8.04.2014

writer's retreat

She got a small grant that allowed her to live for a year and to write. At the end of it, she felt a low-wage job may have been a better move for her writing.

8.03.2014

imaginative limit

Imagination at its height forgets (or ignores) reality, and in that moment it fails utterly.

8.02.2014

parasite found

A poet is one who’d rather find a tick on his body than a typo in his published poem.

7.31.2014

no beginning and no end

A poet who fell in love with her process at the peril of all else.

7.30.2014

nothing is safe

A poet is one for whom the whole world is metaphor fodder.

7.29.2014

created an equivalent

I simply function when I take a picture. I do not photograph with preconceived notions about life. I put down what I have to say when I must. That is my role, according to my own way of feeling it. Perhaps it is beyond feeling.

What is of greatest importance is to hold a moment, to record something so completely that those who see it will relive an equivalent* of what has been expressed.

[…]

I want solely to make an image of what I have seen, not of what it means to me. It is only after I have created an equivalent of what moved me that I can begin to think about its significance.

Shapes, as such, do not interest me unless they happen to be an outer equivalent of something already taking form within me. To many, shapes matter in their own right. As I see it, this has nothing to do with photography, but with the merely literary or pictorial.

—Alfred Stieglitz, quoted by Dorothy Norman in Alfred Stieglitz (The History of Photography Series, Aperture, Inc., 1976).

*After 1922 Stieglitz used the term "Equivalents" to describe his photographic series of clouds.

7.28.2014

go at it like that

Like words gouged into stone with fingernails.

7.27.2014

slave labor language

Language easily becomes enslaved by falling into its habitual and customary means of expression. The poet breaks those word chains.

7.26.2014

everything mien

A poet who scoffs at the uncontainability of the cosmos.

7.25.2014

little pieces

A long poem that lives on by its excerpts.

7.24.2014

silent tribute

Cavafy was as reticent and decorous in conversation as he was outspoken in his poetry—some things, he said, needed art to make them beautiful. But it is related that if a beautiful face showed itself in his house, he paid it the silent tribute of lighting another candle.

—Robert Liddell, “Studies in Genius, VII – Cavafy,” Horizon, Vol XVIII, 105, 1948.

7.23.2014

ta-tum-ta-tum...

It takes more than regular meter to give a heartbeat to a poem.

7.22.2014

image machine

Perhaps the ascendance of the camera pushed painting to explore abstraction.

7.21.2014

poetry third

The secret of being a great poet lies in having an abiding interest in the world and in humankind, and not in one’s attention to poetry.

7.20.2014

obsessed or possessed

If only this poem would let me alone so that I might live.

7.18.2014

mind the gap

Recall that audio admonishment inside the London Underground, ‘Mind the gap’: A metaphor’s power is ‘the gap’; and the mind must leap that gap.

7.17.2014

embrace the anarchic

To make life...to create interest and vividness, it is necessary to break form, to distort pattern, to change the nature of our civilization. In order to create it is necessary to destroy; and the agent of destruction in society is the poet. I believe that the poet is necessarily an anarchist, and that he must oppose all organized conceptions of the State, not only those which we inherit from the past, but equally those which are imposed on people in the name of the future.

—Herbert Read, Poetry and Anarchism (Faber and Faber, 1938)

7.16.2014

broken box

A poem is a genre wrecking literary instrument.

7.15.2014

derived value

Perhaps the poem is a derivative product; its value pegged to human experience.

7.14.2014

executable file

It may show up attached as .doc or .pdf, but a poem is really an .exe file.

7.13.2014

ropes that rub

Paradox is apt to strike the poet as metaphor.

7.11.2014

cased the joint

He cased the poem thoroughly like a good critic always does.

7.10.2014

exploded world

Critics talking about ‘supertechnology’ and ‘the mediated eye’ in the seventies and eighties couldn’t know they were living in the Stone Age.

7.09.2014

subtleties of the game

Gradually, in what at first had been purely mechanical repetitions of the championship matches, an artistic, pleasurable understanding began to awaken in me. I learned to understand the subtleties of the game [chess], the tricks and ruses of attack and defense, I grasped the technique of thinking ahead, combination, counter-attack, and soon I could recognize the personal style of every grandmaster as infallibly from his own way of playing a game as you can identify a poet’s verses from only a few lines.

—Stephan Zweig, Chess (Penguin Mini Modern Classics, 2011: Copyright Stephan Zweig 1943; translation copyright by Anthea Bell, 2006)

7.04.2014

twenty-six tones

A whole alphabet of musical notes.

7.01.2014

numbing mumble

Academic speak lacking the least spark of insight.

6.30.2014

catching glories

10. Poetry catches the sheen and sound of glory in the here-and-now—in, between and among words, and between words and phenomena. That is to say, in the words themselves and also at all their borders and interfaces—with each other (when two); with one another (when more than two); and with the non-linguistic universe that is both ‘out there’ and ‘in here’, which is itself by definition not only the source of glory but also ineffable and speechless.

11. “Poetry catches…” This catching includes all senses and contexts of the English verb: (i) unwittingly, as one catches something contagious (e.g. laughing, yawning, a more or, unfortunately, a virus); (ii) whether by chance or conscious effort, as one catches something that is not necessarily obvious (e.g. a hint, a clue, an undertone, an implication, a suggestion, a purport, an intention, a meaning); (iii) deliberately, as one catches something thrown or dropped, before it lands elsewhere (e.g. a ball, a leaf); (iv) equally deliberately, as one catches a creature that one has been searching for or hunting (a lion, a fish, a butterfly); (v) or as one can be caught unawares (in a situation, by a memory), etc.

12. So catching glory or catching glories is not a bad definition of what poetry does. And is.

—Richard Berengarten, “On Poetry and Catching Glories,” Imagems 1 (Shearsman Books, 2013)

6.28.2014

fireworks

Perhaps the model of a good MFA program would be a kind of revolving hub, centered around a workshop set spinning with its aesthetic energy, generating critical friction, throwing off sparks—those MFA graduates who start their own creative fires across the cultural landscape.

6.26.2014

first art

The joy to think that our art originates in the era of the earliest human speech.

6.24.2014

uneasy relations

Translation is a negotiation between fidelity and the lust to know the other.

6.23.2014

to know by echo

Critics: Literary latecomers with all the answers.

6.22.2014

profligate pages

To publish prolifically is an act of disrespect toward the art of poetry.

6.20.2014

infallible test

In poetry, in which every line, every phrase, may pass the ordeal of deliberation and deliberate choice, it is possible, and barely possible, to attain that ultimatum which I have ventured to propose as the infallible test of a blameless style; namely: its untranslatableness in words of the same language without injury to the meaning.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817), ch. 22

6.19.2014

fidget word

The one word that wouldn’t sit still in the poem.

6.18.2014

first forty-eight

In the first 24, in the first 48. Like the hours after a crime, these early words are so important to solving the poem.

6.17.2014

therefore iamb

When people asked if he was a formalist poet, he’d answer: “I amb.”

6.15.2014

more light

So often in a writer’s photo it’s a wan person holed up in a little room, hunched over a typewriter or keyboard, with a shelf of books where a window should be.

6.14.2014

big head

One of those titles that was smarter by half than the poem itself.

6.10.2014

revision resistant

The problem was that the poem couldn’t be improved upon.

6.09.2014

candy words

Nouns and verbs are sustenance. But ah, the confection of certain adjectives.

6.08.2014

in silence and solitude

Poetry and letters
Persist in silence and solitude.

—Tu Fu, "Night in the House by the River," translated by Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese (New Directions, 1956)

6.07.2014

team player

He was happy to be a minor member of a well-known group.

6.04.2014

stray strong

The line that strays is always the strongest one.

6.03.2014

go small

The image was symbolic when it needed to be specific.

6.02.2014

flavor and texture

To speak the poem would give mouthfuls of pleasure as though eating a fine meal.

5.31.2014

back and forth

The poem as the site of reciprocity between the impulse of emotion and the shaping force of language.

5.29.2014

are you ready yet

Some poems would engage you no matter when encountered; other poems must await that moment in your life that has opened you to them.

5.27.2014

unambiguous

And then I had always liked the old miracle and morality plays in which no word has any ambiguity at all. I don’t like ambiguity. I suppose it’s all right if the ambiguous things a work means are interesting and exciting, but often they’re not.

—Kenneth Koch, "A Conversation with Kenneth Koch," Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Number 7, Fall 1972.

5.24.2014

dignified literary death

His aspiration was to be the last person ever crushed by a bookcase having fallen on him.