high standard

I ask only to write a poem like Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat.”


single-use product

One of those ‘exercise poems’ that should be marked ‘Please dispose of properly after use’.


stilted speech

Syllabics often make the language sound unnatural, for good or for bad.


manners or mischief

A poetry of manners, a poetry of mischief.


radar screen

It is an accuracy of vision, an account of now, an account of memory or a vision, an account of a dream, of a fiction totally imagined, described, accurately and exactly to our best ability beyond misstatement, beyond misshaping any shape of our idea. In our practice as poets, to be inaccurate becomes a real Lie. All our attention is on the page. We cannot account for the hours spent—we have only the page. A radar screen watcher works a high vigilance profession. Our attention is so intense that it is a vigilance, too.

—Laura Jensen, “Lessons in Form,” Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry (Wayne Stat U. Press, 1990), edited by James McCorkle


sum of its parts

A great first line and a fine ending, with all the chutes & ladders lines in between.


poem place

A good poem dwells in the mouth while making a home in the mind.


read to be or not to be

You have to read a lot of poetry in order to know what kind of poet you want to be...and what kind you don’t.


obscure worlds

As print litmags, always obscure, fade into archives, the online litmags blot out cyberspace.


missteps are steps

A poem that flaunted its flaws, knowing they were necessary to the whole.


eye poet

   In Miss Moore’s time…the poet found it indispensable to work directly with the printed page, which is where, and only where, his cats and trees exist.…We may say that this became possible when poets began to use typewriters. And we may note that Miss Moore has been in her lifetime: a librarian; an editor; and a teacher of typewriting: locating fragments already printed; picking and choosing; making, letter by letter, neat pages.
   Her poems are not for voice; she senses this herself reading them badly; in response to a question, she once said that she wrote them for people to look at….Moore’s cats, her fish, her pangolins and ostriches exist on the page in tension between the mechanisms of print and the presence of a person behind those mechanisms.

—Hugh Kenner, “The Experience of the Eye: Marianne Moore’s Tradition,” Modern American Poetry: Essays in Criticism (David McKay Co., 1970), edited by Jerome Mazzaro.


for whom the taco bell tolls

I don’t have enough time ahead of me on earth to read TBQ.


undo influence

Certain poets let their keen interests—be it Zen, Marxism, bird-watching, etc.—infuse their verse, and the poems suffer the influence.


eyes open and aware

Turn a line of poetry as you would turn a corner in a part of the town you don’t know.


fiction enough

By and large, poets believe the world is fiction enough. (Maybe Wallace Stevens said that already.)


stamp collecting

All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
Ernest Rutherford

All poetry is either lyric or stamp collecting.


short and sweet

It’s easier to judge longer poems. Short poems are more difficult to rank for merit.


unwieldy lines

Though written in level and even lines, unwieldy was what he was going for.


authoritative line

[One point from a list of 14 principles of composition, which he prefaces by saying, "I honestly do not know how consistent I am in using principles of composition. Certainly the compromise between eye and ear is not always the same kind of compromise. Every poem makes its own peculiar demands. Still, I will try to list a few principles by which I generally work."]

11. Don’t explain away a line which has an authority of its own, even if the line may puzzle the intellect—i.e., don’t write for people more interested in understanding a poem than experiencing it. This is not the same as being willfully difficult or obscure, which is merely tiresome.

—Peter Klappert, in “O’Connor The Bad Traveler,” Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Longman, 1977), edited by Alberta T. Turner


why is your face familiar

The character actor and the major poet were both trying to get recognized in the local bar. The character actor won.


back to basics

Stayed home, sewed his own clothes, wrote poems.


staid style

That staid style that shows too much conscious control over the material.



To say this poem stands for me.


worth glory

All art is religious in a sense that no artist would work unless he believed that there was something in life worth glorifying. This is what art is about.

—Henry Moore, Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations (U. of California, 2002), Alan Wilkinson, editor.


resource management

A poet prone to waste a lot of white space.


holding on

Books for some of us are handholds over the abyss.


tooth and nail

An artist and a writer lived together harmoniously while their books and artwork battled for every inch of wall space.


bio overblown

One of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bios trying too hard to impress.


poetry got small

Like the character Norma Desmond from the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, she was the kind of poet you could imagine responding to an interviewer who'd suggested her reputation had faded, with the line: “I am big. It’s poetry that got small.”


this is the world

Jean Cocteau said mystery exists only in precise things—people in their situations, situations in people. Because I believe the visionary life has nothing to do with a necessarily transcendent existence, I like most of the poetry I read. I believe most poets know this is the world; and when you try to lead a special life or write a special poetry, you are dancing with an imaginary partner at a meaningless dance to which you have invited yourself and no one else.

—Frank Stanford, “With the Approach of the Oak the Axeman Quakes,” Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Longman, 1977), edited by Alberta T. Turner


thousands of lines of me

Its critical rhetoric couched in politics and theory, language poetry was perhaps the most self-indulgent of all poetry movements.


product placement

There were so many brand names popping up in her poetry, I was certain she’d struck some product placement deals before publication.


carrying poetry

Many of us carry a few touchstone poems. Perhaps some of us live by a handful of poems.


perfect thing

Only a very short poem can be perfect. Perfect but small.


the poetic vertical

Every real poem, then, contains the element of time-stopped, time which does not obey the meter, time which we shall call vertical to distinguish it from ordinary time which sweeps past horizontally along with the wind and the waters of the stream. Whence this paradox, which we must state quite clearly: whereas prosodic time is horizontal, poetic time is vertical.

—Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetic Moment and the Metaphysical Moment,” The Right to Dream (The Dallas Institute Publications, 1988), translated by J. A. Underwood, 172.


poems first

Read the poems before you read the bio.


surfs the edge

She was a critic who could keep up.

[Thinking of Marjorie Perloff]


words before markers

Put words before reading cues (punctuation).


altar and rituals

The altar of the writing desk, and the rituals of sitting there.


obscure grasping

The poetry that comes into being as a result of the working of the creative intuition upon poetic knowledge therefore reveals both an “obscure grasping of the real” and “an obscure grasping of the soul of the poet.” Maritain calls the former the “direct” sign of a poetic act and the latter a “reverse” sign of the same act. Both signs are inextricably involved in the making of a poem.

For if at the source of the poetic act there is the experience which I have tried to describe, in which the obscure grasping of the real, resounding in the creative subjectivity, is at the same time an obscure grasping of the soul of the poet, it will be necessary that the work be made a manifestation of both at once. This work is an object, and must always maintain its consistency and its proper value as an object, and at the same time it is a sign, at once a “direct” sign of the secrets perceived in things, of their avowal, of some irrecusable verity of their nature or history, transpierced by the creative intuition, and a “reverse” sign of the substance of the poet in the art of spiritual communication and revealing itself to itself. [Jacques and Ra├»ssa Maritain, The Situation of Poetry(Philosophical Library, 1955), p 84]

Samuel Hazo, The World within the Word: Maritain and the Poet (Franciscan U. Press, 2018)

JF: I wanted to like the book more than I did. So much muzzy metaphysics in Maritain’s poetics. Ample amounts of Maritain are quoted, full of abstract words and concepts, presented as though self-evident, but Maritain offers almost no textual evidence to buttress his assertions. Hazo provides many quotes from other authors to try to underpin Maritain’s bold but unfounded ideas. I give Hazo credit for linking Keats and Hopkins to some of Maritain’s ideas. However, the two poets, and their notions of ‘poetics’, prove to be more relevant to the creative process than any of Maritain’s grand notions.   


slack science

Critical writing using the language of science without its necessary rigor.


two poles

There are poets who come from the word, and poets who come from the world. Most poets are suspended in that strange and uneasy magnetism between those two poles.


spark, spur, start

To find something in the inchoate to get the poem started.


goes with the territory

I hardly know a poet who is not a logophile.


guiding spirits of lit

Certain writers (e.g., Dante, Shakespeare, Dickinson,...) are no longer historical literary figures, having transcended the bonds of time, they’ve become guiding spirits of literature.


ray of light

One day [Gerard Manley] Hopkins was walking down a garden pathway when he suddenly stopped, and looking down toward a spot on the ground, began to turn round on his heel. After he had been doing this for some time an alarmed gardener, thinking him slightly queer, asked him what he was doing; to which Hopkins replied that he was trying to get the “inscape” of one single piece of gravel which was caught in the sun’s ray, and which he was trying to see from all angles.

Quoted from Donald Nicholl, Recent Thought in Focus (Sheed and Ward 1952), p. 70.


exposed and open

In order to understand art, one must be exposed to art in as many of its manifestations as possible, and then one must be open to those varied experiences, in order to develop a true and abiding feeling for art.


a poem contends

As soon as it's made, a poem contends with formless that would erase it, that would cause it to fade into the din of background noise.


annotations mon ami

From the margin notes in the used book he was reading he recognized a kindred reader.


no longer one of us

One of those people you knew who had given up on being a poet, and who now seemed more ordinary to you.


ideal poem

I write or try to write as if convinced that, prior to my attempt, there existed a true text, a sort of Platonic script, which I had been elected to transcribe or record.

—Donald Justice, "Notes of an Outsider," Platonic Scripts (U. of Michigan Press, 1984)


books instead of toilet paper

They closed the libraries during the pandemic. Lucky for him he was a prepper when it came to hoarding books.


lyric poets and others

There are only lyric poets and poets who write other texts we call poems.


plagiarist's defense

Legal doctrine: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ignorance of the literature is no excuse.


write this way

Too many writing guides pointing to the same kind of good writing.


life's work

A critic who conducted us through one poem with insight and due respect.


the image

In the image, imbalance suggests movement, a movement toward balance and stability.
The image is the unlocked door between the adjoining rooms of imagination and memory.
The poem is not a system for the reproduction of images, but one for the making of images.
The image allows us to experience time as if it were a landscape.
Through the image, memory forestalls the ephemeral.

—Eric Pankey, from “The Image,” Vestiges: Notes, Responses & Essays, 1988-2018 (Parlor Press, 2019)


first poem

Remember the excitement, even thrall, of composing your first real poem, however rudimentary: the images, the turns of phrase, the surprises of diction, pattern and word sounds, etc. In a sense every poem written since is a grasping after that first experience.


paper bandages

Some poems are bandages for the wounds of the soul, the lacerations of the spirit.


text takes a backseat

Even the broadside seems to have sacrificed the simple virtues of text to visual impact.