3.28.2020

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.

3.25.2020

annotations mon ami

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

3.24.2020

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.

3.23.2020

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)

3.22.2020

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.

3.21.2020

lyric poets and others

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

3.19.2020

plagiarist's defense

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

3.18.2020

write this way

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

3.17.2020

life's work

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

3.15.2020

the image

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

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

3.14.2020

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.

3.13.2020

paper bandages

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

3.10.2020

text takes a backseat

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

3.09.2020

road kill

He was so long on the poetry circuit, all he knew was being a performer.

3.08.2020

skim off the best

The poet skims off the best of life and puts it in his work. That’s why his work is beautiful and his life is bad.

—Leo Tolstoy

[A Writer’s Commonplace Book (Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., 2006), compiled and edited by Rosemary Friedman.]

3.07.2020

read for

Read for comprehension, and for disorientation, dislocation, and dizziness.

3.06.2020

range of years

As a young poet he imagined himself a Rimbaud, but after twenty years at the university he’d become John Crowe Ransom.

3.03.2020

life stories

Many people want to write poetry only if they’re allowed to tell their life stories.

3.02.2020

wordless moment

The image, though composed of words, adds a moment of nonverbal sensing to the poem.

3.01.2020

well-made well-worn

Often the talk of craft, the importance of craft, belies a conservative approach when it comes to art-making.

2.29.2020

metaphor go ahead

Our metaphors go on ahead of us, they know before we do. And thank goodness for that, for if I were dependent on other ways of coming to knowledge I think I'd be a very slow study. I need something to serve as a container for emotion and idea, a vessel that can hold what's too slippery or charged or difficult to touch.

—Mark Doty, “Souls on Ice

2.28.2020

parochial dialect

Many artists utter universals when they speak of process, composition, creation, etc.; when, at most, they should be speaking in a parochial dialect.

2.27.2020

all marked

The dream of a perfect commonplace book wherein each page might be marked or underlined as a place to return to.

2.26.2020

famous flaws

Flaws in a work become attributes over time: We accept and then praise the author/artist for not seeing the missteps.

2.25.2020

stacking up

When a book gets delivered to your home before you have finished the last one ordered.

2.24.2020

somewhere in the margins

Awake, it’s trickier business, this saying
so deliberately what we can only hope means anything.
Especially when we’re at it this late, weighing words
until they somehow seem to matter, until
we look at them again in the next day’s excruciating light
and realize mostly we stayed up all night for not nearly enough.

[…]

          And you wherever you are,
with your own frantic pages of notes to get back to,
another night drunk down to the cold bottom of the cup,
imagining an even better poem somewhere in the margins
of the best you can do right now,
you know how that one goes.

David Clewell, from “This Book Belongs to Susan Someone,” Blessings in Disguise (Viking Penguin, 1991, The National Poetry Series)

[I've been away from St. Louis for 35 years, but David was a poet I was close to in my last few years there.]

2.23.2020

critical making

All artists are critics by means of their making certain things rather than others, and by making those things in certain ways rather than others.

2.22.2020

not less or more

If Woolf is your source text, your erasure poem can't go wrong: Every word in the text was well tested before you came along with your eraser.

2.20.2020

subject extent

Some poets change subject matter poem to poem; others change subject matter only after exhausting a series of poems related to a single subject.

2.19.2020

genre renegade

I’ve never accepted that Joyce’s works are classed prose and not poetry.

2.18.2020

soft start

The beginning was too benign.

2.17.2020

under grandeur, grandeur under

The business of the poet and novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things, and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things.

—Thomas Hardy, from 1885 notebook; quoted in The Life of Thomas Hardy, p. 171

2.16.2020

little done well

Most poems fail because they accomplish very well so little.

2.15.2020

the time it took

He said he’d written the poem only today, which was true, as much as it was true that the poem had been composed over the better part of his life.

2.14.2020

wordly love

A poet too much in love with her vocabulary.

2.10.2020

members only

A poet who desperately wanted to join club Avant-Garde.

2.09.2020

priceless poetry

Poetry stands in resistance to this commercial culture. It is not about acquiring material wealth; instead, it’s about human insight, genuine human connectivity, and promotes mindfulness and awakening. In that way, poetry is priceless.

—Arthur Sze, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Interview with Arthur Sze by Kenji C. Liu, Jan 26, 2020.

2.04.2020

wait it out

He’d become much more willing to wait for a poem to come.

2.03.2020

you say tomato

Any two people can scan the same line and disagree on the stresses.

2.02.2020

red zone

When writing the last 20 lines of a poem, the poet is in the red zone.

[On Super Bowl LIV Sunday]

2.01.2020

solo act

The poetry reading turned into a one-person play.

1.29.2020

waist deep and weilding

The intrepid poet wades into language without fear.

1.28.2020

music before content

A poet's attunement to the activity of his speech organs can trigger corresponding aural (phonic) 'ideas', in which case a poem's sound structure is tied to the poet's phonic imagination, and the sequence of speech organ movements or sequence of phonic imaginings marks the inception of poetic thinking. That's what poets mean when they say that poetry begins with sound. Schiller, for instance, would often hear "a poem's music in [his] soul first, before having a clear idea of its content" (cited in Ernest Dupré and Marcel Nathan, le langage musical: Étude medico-psychologique, 1911)

—L. P. Yakubinsky, On Language and Poetry (Upper West Side Philosophers, 2018), trans. by Michael Eskin.

1.27.2020

mind made

Imagination is not experience. Imagination is experience manqué.

1.25.2020

six shooter

The dread of recognizing the sestina form on a page.

1.24.2020

where to begin

Knowing there was so much of the poet to read, I found it hard to start.

1.23.2020

poem without bounds

To write an inexhaustible poem.

1.22.2020

woven design

A poem as intricately patterned as an oriental rug.

1.20.2020

wrong blocks

After Harry Thurston Peck, editor of The Bookman, had reviewed Robinson's first collection, finding the author's "humor is of a grim sort, and the world is not beautiful to him, but a prison house."

[Robinson responded in the letter to Peck.] "I'm sorry to learn that I have painted myself in such lugubrious colors..." [Going on to say:]

“The world is not a prison house, but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where millions of of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

―Edwin Arlington Robinson, quoted in Edward Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life, by Scott Donaldson.

1.18.2020

three too many

Is there an example of a tripartite metaphor?

1.17.2020

audience held

One feels most like a poet in that bardic moment speaking before enrapt faces.

1.15.2020

library of the mind

He closed his eyes and saw in his mind where all his books were, those shelved and those stacked on their sides. When he opened his eyes, he couldn’t find the one title he was looking for.

1.14.2020

lit is

To write a singular document.

1.12.2020

drives on

The truck-driver poet looked at each exit ramp as a possible ending before he speeded past.

1.11.2020

wind flow

[Episodes of Eccentrics Among Haikai Poets, 1816, compiled by Takenouchi Gengen’ichi] begins its description of Sutejo this way:

    […] From a very young age, she showed signs of a poetic turn of mind. In the winter of her sixth year, she made:

       Yuki no asa ni no ji ni no ji no geta no ata
       Morning snow: figure two figure two wooden clogs marks

    Because of this, one year she received a poem from someone exalted:

       Kayahara no oshi ya suti oku tsuyu no tama
       Too good to be left in a weedy field: this drop of dew.

The original word for what’s given as “a poetic turn of mind” is fūryū, literally “wind flow”—an expression that can’t be translated to anyone’s satisfaction. It refers to a liking for things somewhat unworldly or transcendental or the object of that inclination, such as poetry. Among its synonyms is fūga, which carries a greater dose of “elegance” or “refinement.” Another synonym, fūkyō, suggests “poetic dementia.” Any haikai person must be imbued with fūryū, fūga, or fūkyō.

—Hiroaki Sato, On Haiku (New Directions, 2018)

1.10.2020

one among many

Each of us playing a small part in the poetry’s panoply.

1.09.2020

dog-ear bookmark

The dog-eared page could mark an important passage, a run of words to return to, or it could mean a stopping place, when then where the book was closed, set aside and never opened again.

1.08.2020

with all they have

The worst of the formalist poets are most vehemently opposed to free verse.

1.07.2020

dark passage

You knew going in, this was a poem you’d be lucky to elucidate.

1.05.2020

let there be dancing

When writing finally returned to Greece, in the eighth century B.C., the new Greek writing, its users, and its uses were very different. The writing was no longer an ambiguous syllabary mixed with logograms but an alphabet borrowed from the Phoenician consonantal alphabet and improved by the Greek invention of vowels. In place of lists of sheep, legible only to scribes and read only in palaces, Greek alphabetic writing from the moment of its appearance was a vehicle of poetry and humor, to be read in private homes. For instance, the first preserved example of Greek alphabetic writing, scratched onto an Athenian wine jug of about 740 B.C., is a line of poetry announcing a dancing contest: “Whoever of all dancers performs most nimbly will win this vase as a prize.”

—Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (W. W. Norton & Co., 1999)