we have a runner

In the end, all you want is your poem to be running through their heads.


snatched up

She had struggled with the poem over several years, only to have it taken in a week by the first journal she sent it to.


freer speech

The poet is never strictly speaking.


one not many

Most poets don’t realize it’s the poem not the book that matters.


human things

For our ancestors, a house, a fountain, even clothing, a coat, was much more intimate. Each thing, almost, was a vessel in which what was human found and defined itself.

Now, from America, empty, indifferent things sweep in—pretend things, life-traps…A house, in the American sense, an American apple, a grapevine, bears no relation to the hope and contemplation which our ancestors informed and beheld them.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Witold Hulewicz, Nov. 13, 1925, quoted in A Year With Rilke (Harper Collins, 2009), translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.


rough edge

The right margin of line endings competing with the deckle edge of the page.


middle game

There are poets who can start strong. There are poet who finish with a flourish. But as in chess, it’s the middle game, when complications multiple almost endlessly, where poems are made or lost.


bared teeth

The strong consonants gave teeth, bite to the poem.


wood splitter

A poem that could drive a wedge into the side of the thickest anthology.


they live on

Dante’s great poem (Commedia) gives a more complete picture of individual men than had been ever before achieved by any single known writer, poet, or historian. On our way through the three realms, several hundred individuals appear before our eyes, men of all times, past and present, young and old, of all classes and professions, of every imaginable social and moral standing. Some of them famous in history; others were so in Dante’s life, but now are known only to very few. Others have never been famous. All these men and women are so strikingly real, so concrete, there is such a correspondence between mind and body and behavior, such an intimate relation between their character and their fate, that the unmistakable peculiarity of each individual emerges with incomparable and often terrifying and poignant vigor. Some are given a whole canto, others only a few lines. But almost all of these individual profiles are unforgettable. They live in our imagination. We do not know and are not able to verify, except in a few cases, if Dante’s portraits correspond to reality. But the realism of a poet is not that of a photographer; it is the identity of his own vision with its expression. We here are concerned with the energy of his vision and the power of his voice. No one before him had probed so deeply into the identity of individual character and individual fate.

—Erich Auerbach, “The Three Traits of Dante’s Poetry,” Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach (Princeton U. Press, 2014), edited by James I. Porter, translated by Jane O. Newman.



much ado

When at last read, the poem seemed an afterthought to the long-winded and over-explanatory introduction which preceded it.


image of note

Really, must I grieve it all again
a second time, and why tonight
of all the nights, and just
as I’m about to raise, with the
blissful others, my

glass to the silvery, liquid
chandelier above us?

—Laura Kasischke, “Champagne


hostile environment

Many species of words died out during his Darwinian revisions.


poem is maw

People fear poetry because it engulfs all other forms of language. Poetry is the ever voracious text.


known unknown

To twist Stevens’ assertion: The poet must resist celebrity almost successfully.


metaphor multiplies

The thread of a poem turns out to be a rhizome.


line limit

If the prose poem goes too far it’s because poetry is so held back by the tether of the line.


seizes the whole machine

I know I have a poem if I am moved in the first draft. By moved I mean choking in spots. If I don’t have this feeling I throw it away. I have, in the past, wasted months on work that began with an idea, an idea alone. Now I know, for myself at least, to let go at that point. If the first draft isn’t nerved by an emotion I didn’t know I felt, it isn’t going to be governed by any ideas I didn’t already understand before I wrote the poem. I always think of Frost saying, “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” He adds, of course, “no tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” There can be something like tears blazing all over notions; ideas are vastly and deeply part of the body. A good idea seizes the whole machine. A new idea makes you physically afraid, your body changes. Hope is lodged in your skin, in your cellwork. I cannot even begin to understand the division commonly drawn (and honestly experienced by many people) between thought and emotion.

—Jorie Graham, “Pleasure,’ Singular Voices: American Poetry Today (Avon Book, 1985)


cultural essence

Some say fewer people are reading poetry these days. I think of us who do as the perfect distillate in a culture that requires much evaporation.


investment grade

To know a good poem is to own a lifetime annuity.


secondary source

They often quoted his ars poetica but could hardly recall his poems. [Thinking of Archibald MacLeish]


list resisted

After about 5 items into a list it’s no longer a poetic device, it’s a poet’s tic.


moment of performance

I used to be an opera singer and have, therefore, experienced what it means to have to do your very best at one specific moment. That’s what performers have to do; one of the pleasures of being a poet is that poets don’t. A couple of my poems about performance are included in this book (“The Later Mother,” about a daughter and her dying mother, is the other and might be labelled with the phrase, “in the performance of her duties.”), but I have many more—about tightrope walkers, a man who walks through fire, an orchestra conductor, etc. Performance, I believe, is a metaphor for those moments we all face when we make crucial decisions quickly, using all the abilities we possess, perhaps even summoning some we didn’t know, until that moment of necessity, we had. In that moment our capacities are heightened, as in each successful poem our perceptions are heightened so that we can recognize and delight in something which previously had been just beyond our grasp.

—Cynthia Macdonald, Poetspeak: in their work, about their work (Bradbury Press, 1983), a selection by Paul Janeczko.


these words

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

Revelation 21:5, King James Version


venn diagram

The universal set of poetry now encompasses any kind of text. Therefore each reader is required to draw the circle of his/her own subset.


conversion experience

The day the minister mistook the collected Dickinson for his Bible.


it's all in there

The poem as a cabinet of curiosities.


hush money

Poets who never made much money until they offered not to write so much for money.


new word

All the other letters should stagger backwards or scatter with each new word dropped into the poem.


what have you done

James Joyce is supposed to have said that certain of Verlaine’s poems, among them the short best-loved ones, were the greatest poems ever written. The haunting sensitivity and disarming simplicity of Il pleut dans mon coeur, La lune blanche, Chason d’automne, Colloque sentimental, Le ceil est par-dessus le toit, etc., are to me unequaled.

I have before me two photos of Verlaine at the Café Francois 1er. From one I have done several drawings and paintings. In that photo Verlaine is leaning back with his head against the edge of the top of the bench on which he is sitting. He is staring upward into space, dreaming. No one else is visible in the café. He looks relaxed, not wanting for anything. Whatever was going to happen has happened.

Qu’a-tu fait ô toi que voilà
Pleurant sans cesse
Dis, qu’as-tu fait, toi que voilà,
De ta jeunesse?

Robert De Niro, “Corot, Verlaine and Greta Garbo, or The Melancholy Syndrome,” Tracks, a journal of artists’ writings, Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall 1975, edited by Herbert George.

* "What have you done, you, weeping there
            Your endless tears?
Tell me, what have you done, you there,
            With youth’s best years?"

—Paul Verlaine, “Above the roof the sky is fair…” translated by Norman R. Shapiro, One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine (U. of Chicago Press, 1999).


on the sideline

Trust that critic who has no claim on being an artist.


passing strange

The attraction of the poem was that it could not be immediately recognized as such.


speed writing

Often we recognize poetry by its language speed.


tight titles

Too many titles are tight-lipped, offering but a word or two.


worth breath

Say something worth breath.

—Yusef Komunyakaa, from “Safe Subjects,” Copacetic (Wesleyan U. Press, 1984)

I love the raw lyricism of the blues. Its mystery and conciseness. I admire and cherish how the blues singer attempts to avoid abstraction; he makes me remember that balance and rhythm keep our lives almost whole. The essence of mood is also important here. Mood becomes a directive; it becomes the bridge that connects us to who we are philosophically and poetically. Emotional texture is drawn from the aesthetics of insinuation and nuance. But to do this well the poet must have a sense of history

—Yusef Komunyakaa, from “Forces that Move the Spirit: Duende and Blues,” commentary accompanying the poem “Safe Subjects,” in What Will Suffice: Contemporary Poets on the Art of Poetry (Gibbs-Smith, 1999), edited by Christopher Buckley and Christopher Merrill.


poems from the prehistoric

Now when I watch old footage of poets using typewriters I feel like I’m seeing poems made with stone tools.


no hardcopy

To think of a digital Dickinson, her poems locked away in some old hard drive.


singularly ignored

Your poetry has avoided influence but I’m afraid it has escaped interest as well.


made out of mist

A poem accomplished however implausible in its conception.


one line elegy

The mailbox shines calmly: what is written cannot be taken back.

Tomas Tranströmer, “Late May,” translated by Robert Bly


enemy me

P.S.: You have said that being a very good craftsman is a problem for you as a poet. How is this so?

Wright: Because my chief enemy in poetry is glibness. My family background is partly Irish, and this mean many things, but linguistically it means that it is too easy to talk sometimes. I keep thinking of Horace's idea which Byron so accurately expressed in a letter to Murray: "Easy writing is damned hard reading." I suffer from glibness. I speak and write too easily. Stanley Kunitz has been a master of mine, and he tells me that he suffers from the same problem. His books are very short, as mine are, and he has struggled and struggled to strip them down. There are poets, I have no doubt, who achieve some kind of natural gift, the difficulty that one needs. Because whatever else poetry is, it is a struggle, and the enemy, the deadly enemy of poetry, is glibness. And that is why I have struggled to strip my poems down.

—James Wright, in a 1972 interview with Peter Stitt, James Wright: A Profile (Logbridge-Rhodes, Inc., 1988) edited by Frank Graziano and Peter Stitt.


image inside

The psyche has an internal projector of remembered images.


fled sentencing

It was one of those sentences happened upon in prose that you recognize immediately as a line of fugitive poetry.


page turned

An anthology of poems that had fallen out of the anthologies.


witnesses for the defense

There was no framed diploma on the wall of his office. But sometimes he would run a finger bumping along the spines of the books in his personal library. He thought these authors, though most long dead, must vouch for him.


four elements

In the first place his poem must be deeply conceived, and be unvaryingly self-consistent. Then he must take pains to temper all with variety (varietas), for there is no worse mistake than to glut your hearer before you are done with him. What then are the dishes which would create distaste rather than pleasure? The third poetic quality is found in but few writers, and is what I would term vividness (efficacia);….By vividness I mean a certain potency and force in thought and language which compels one to be a willing listener. The fourth is winsomeness (suavitas), which tempers the ardency of this last quality, of itself inclined to be harsh. Insight and foresight (prudentia), variety, vividness, and winsomeness, these, then, are the supreme poetic qualities.

—Giulio Cesare Scaligero (1484-1558), “The Four Attributes of the Poet,” Select Translations from Scaliger's Poetics (H. Holt, 1905), translated Frederick Morgan Padelford


nothing comes from nothing

The efficacy of any revision depends solely on having a solid core to work with.


singular thing

The sonnet is a stand-alone poem. It should never be impressed as a stanza in sequence.


important poem

A poem that was a monument in the collective consciousness.


ring wrong

His rhymes were unexpected, but in that bad way of being right by sound but off in tone or out of sorts with the diction.


desire finds its object

Soliloquies. Arias. Father-son dramatic agon. Symphonies—whatever we crave to experience over and over as we discover what art can be. Love buries these ghost-forms within us. Forms are the language of desire before desire has found its object.

—Frank Birdart, “Thinking Through Form,” Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms (U. of Michigan Press, 1996), edited by David Lehman.


me me how about me

Too many poets are of and only for the self.


well-matched forces

Written in a way that alternates seamlessly between control and flow.



foothold on the heights

It was not just a book, it was a step on to Parnassus.


ready for I

...I'm just really beginning to let myself say "I" because I feel that now I can do it without the kind of crudity with which some people who have just begun to write poetry write about their feelings.

I always feel that what…people should be doing, if they really want to be poets, is writing objectively. Writing about a chair, a tree outside their window. So much more of themselves really would get into the poem, than when they just say “I.” The “I-ness” doesn’t come across, because it’s too crude…For instance, the objective earlier poems of William Carlos Williams (who, in the ripeness of old age has been saying “I” in quite a different way) say so much more than what they superficially appear to be saying. They’re quite objective little descriptions of this and that, and yet, especially when one adds them together, they say a great deal about the man. In a much deeper more impressive way than if he if he’d spent the same years describing his emotions.

—Denise Levertov, in an interview with David Ossman, The Sullen Art (Corinth Books, 1963), interviews with modern American poets.


fail better

When a poem fails and you don’t know why, it’s worth saving the pieces and starting over.


line, angle, speed & 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.