8.29.2016

break in the action

The longer you’ve written poems, the less you fear those periods when nothing is forthcoming.

8.28.2016

threaded line

The line as a single thread by which one could see and feel a whole cloth.

8.27.2016

terrifying in aspect

The Gauls are terrifying in aspect and their voices are deep and altogether harsh; when they meet together they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another; and they like to talk in superlatives, to the end that they may extol themselves and depreciate all other men. They are also boasters and threateners and are fond of pompous language, and yet they have sharp wits and are not without cleverness at learning.

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book V, Loeb Classical Library, 1939.

The Poets are terrifying in aspect and their voices are deep and altogether harsh; when they meet together they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another; and they like to talk in superlatives, to the end that they may extol themselves and depreciate all other writers. They are also boasters and theatrical and are fond of pompous language, and yet they have sharp wits and are not without cleverness at learning.

8.26.2016

bad habit or book addiction

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

8.25.2016

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)

8.24.2016

j'accuse

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

8.22.2016

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.

8.21.2016

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.”

8.19.2016

book as home

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

8.18.2016

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]

8.17.2016

portmanteau

Language is luggage; prepare to travel.

8.15.2016

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)

8.14.2016

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.

8.13.2016

center of the earth

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

8.11.2016

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.

8.10.2016

contentious matter

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

8.09.2016

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.

8.08.2016

table setting

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

8.07.2016

burn bar

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

8.04.2016

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.

8.03.2016

on their radar

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

[Case in point: Mahmoud Darwish.]

8.01.2016

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).

7.31.2016

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.

7.29.2016

revelation

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

7.28.2016

O and over again

A critic whose oxygen was the Os spoken by poets.

7.27.2016

is worth all

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

7.26.2016

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)

7.25.2016

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
   •gas
   •loss of appetite/nausea
   •vomiting (uncommon)
   •fatigue
   •fever

Oh...I too dislike it.

7.24.2016

off hand

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

7.23.2016

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.

7.22.2016

line cutter

The first line came late.

7.18.2016

spin off poem

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

7.17.2016

first sight

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

7.16.2016

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.

7.15.2016

flipping through pages

A scholar whose studies could only be described as desultory.

7.14.2016

critic as scout

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

7.13.2016

noir poetics

First case the joint with a good close reading.

7.12.2016

red line

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

7.11.2016

work in stone

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

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

7.09.2016

lined out

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

7.07.2016

papering over

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

7.05.2016

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.”

7.03.2016

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.

7.02.2016

empty passages

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

7.01.2016

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)

6.30.2016

good lines

Admiring the fit and finish of the poem.

6.29.2016

breakage

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

6.28.2016

spirit level

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

6.27.2016

the living and the dead

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

6.26.2016

6.24.2016

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)

6.22.2016

wind aware

Use the page like a sail reaching.

6.21.2016

kinds of sight

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

6.20.2016

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.

6.19.2016

symbol rule

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

6.18.2016

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.

6.14.2016

weight of white

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

6.13.2016

job description

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

6.12.2016

method and manner

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