satellite attention

Forever my mind will orbit this poem, ever unable to penetrate its atmosphere.


the quick and the dead

A clever poet is never a poet.


it's all out there

Most ambitious poems show their flaws before they demonstrate their merits.


step into space

Poet, your first line should feel like a skydiver’s step out of an airplane.


trusted structure

The first line like a sturdy lintel above the house’s doorway.


missing person

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
"You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?"

James Tate (1943-2015)


not seeing out

Too many poems are mirrors when they should be windows.


on time rime

Those expected rhymes that arrived on time.



speak up

The only danger to poetry is the reticence and silence of poets.

—Eavan Boland, "Letter to a Young Woman Poet," American Poetry Review (May/June 1997).


critic v. artist

An art learned only from books or earned by the trials of making.


write without

The root of most bad poetry is the eagerness of poets to write even without something important to write about.



All good sentences naturally resist enjambment.


new world everywhere you turn

To a poet every word is a wonder.


time lapse

Browsing through old anthologies should be enough to humble even the proudest poet. Not only because a few great poems remain…but because so many names have evaporated in time.


intimate and total

…in the best lyrics, that is: in the poems of love and deprivation and mourning—the art of communication seems on the one hand private or intimate; and on the other hand, total. It is private and intimate in the sense that Hardy seems to speak very clearly but only to himself, or only to a single reader, whereas most nineteenth-century poets speak as though to a large public, more or less authoritatively. This is obviously true of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Speaking as to a large public normally involves some falsification of tone, some shifting of the poetic persona. We have the sense with Hardy that the poetry has been little modified by the implicit existence of readers, or by the likelihood publication. Many of Hardy’s early poems went long unpublished; some were saved for the very last volumes in the 1920’s.

—Albert J. Guerard, “The Illusion of Simplicity,” Thomas Hardy (New Directions, 1964)


love over

A love poem must have an undercurrent of loss.


marked not marred

Often I’ll pull down a poetry book from our local library’s shelf only to find its pages marked by a prior reader. But I don’t mind reading through another avid reader’s scratched window.



The poem absolute, above all other human utterances.


one more question

I’m all for some Socratic doubt in a poem, but this poet had a question mark in every other line. Did the poet want the reader to write the poem by giving all the answers?


chugging forward

Powered by anaphora the poem was a locomotive of insistent locutions.


shapely fountain

Yeats said that he wrote in form because if he didn’t he wouldn’t know when to stop. Like Samuel Beckett I prefer the word ‘shape’ to ‘form.’ At Trinity [College Dublin] during a course on Aristotle’s Poetics our Greek professor W. B. Stanford told us to come back the following week with our own definition of poetry. Mine was: ‘If prose is a river, then poetry’s a fountain.’ I still feel that’s pretty good because it suggests that ‘form’ (or ‘shape’) is releasing rather than constraining. The fountain is shapely and at the same time free-flowing.

—Michael Longley, “A Jovial Hullabaloo,” One Wide Expanse (The Poet's Chair: Writings from the Ireland Chair of Poetry, University College Dublin Press, 2015)


escape artist

The confessional poem is a ‘Houdini box’ from which the self emerges gasping. To gasps of the audience…and then to their rising applause, for having transcended such distress.


matter of interest

Poetry, as other object matter, is after all for the interested people.

—Louis Zukofsky, preface to A Test of Poetry (1948)

[Poetry after all, one might add, is for interesting people.]


dorothy and emily

Dialogue from the film, The Wizard of Oz (1939)...

   Oz: I am Oz—the Great and Powerful. Who are you? Who are you?!

   Dorothy: If you please, I am Dorothy—the small and meek.


   Poetry: I am Poetry—the Great and Powerful. Who are you? Who are you?!

   Dickinson: If you please, I am Emily—the small and meek.

[You know how this story ends.]


knows the difference

I’m fine so long as the poet knows he’s writing prose in poetry lines.


not poetry itself

We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

—Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958), lectures delivered at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, Winter 1955-56.

We have to remember that what we observe is not poetry itself, but poetry exposed to our method of questioning.


mark making

Stone, paper, pixels, air, mind…poems will try to fix upon anything


small conundrum

A poem so simple it must be misunderstood.



The poetic line: a dragline in the universe.


hot prospect

Some critics are like baseball scouts looking for the kid with the sinking fastball. Only instead of sitting along the left field line in an almost empty minor league stadium, they scour the pages of nearly unread literary magazines.


audible line

Meant to be uttered, a line that resisted ink.


own the moment

Each week to find that moment that opens, widens out into a poem.


against the sunset

In the “Evening Walk,” composed partly at school, partly in college vacations, he notices how the boughs and leaves of the oak darken and come out when seen against the sunset. “I recollect distinctly,” [Wordsworth] says nearly fifty years afterwards, “the very spot where this first struck me. It was on the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside, and gave me extreme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetical history; for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances, which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them; and I made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency. I could not have been at the time above fourteen years of age.”
It would be hardly too much to say that there is not a single image in his whole works which he had not observed with his own eyes. And perhaps no poet since Homer has introduced into poetry, directly from nature, more facts and images which had not before been noted in books.

—J. C. Shairp, Studies in Poetry and Philosophy (Hurd and Houghton, 1872).


unfit to print

This poem is shredder ready.


not enough there there

The content is suspect when you realize you couldn’t write the poem any better than you did.


ink over utterance

A spoken word artist who wasn’t up to his tattoos.


pancaked structure

There were some good phrases in the poem, but they seemed like distressed cries coming from a collapsed building


freedom in form

There is such a complete freedom now-a-days in respect to technique that I am rather inclined to disregard form so long as I am free and can express myself freely. I don't know of anything, respecting form, that makes much difference. The essential thing in form is to be free in whatever form is used. A free form does not assure freedom. As a form, it is just one more form. So that it comes to this, I suppose, that I believe in freedom regardless of form.

—Wallace Stevens, "A Note on Poetry," Opus Posthumous (Knopf, 1957).


poem above me

The poem should stand above the poet’s force of personality.


sentence sense

With a sixth sense for sentence structure, a poet who could dispense with punctuation.


mistake proof

Blunders, once recognized, become the poem’s building blocks.


library of unfinished books

Many books started, some finished—some deserving of being set aside, others casualties of restlessness or lack of attention.


for the stars

Dorn launched Duncan's May 7 [1969] reading with a generous introduction and Duncan in turn treated the audience to a performance of his Passages poems. Graduate student Don Byrd remembered the event well: "...There were perhaps 300 people at the reading; it went on for nearly three hours. Somewhere in the midst of the apocalyptic passages, he stopped and said, 'Some times people ask me why, if I believe this, I bother to write poetry. I write poetry for the fucking stars.'"

Robert Duncan, quoted in Lisa Jarnot's Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (Univ. of California Press, 2012).


new word, new world

Consider this neologism: “dianamic.” Not dynamic; not dialectic…but to fuse the two words into a new one. Think of dianamic when considering the poems of Wallace Stevens, with his ongoing struggle between imagination (the life of the mind) and reality (a being in the physical world). Dianamic is not the division between two elements, two ideologies, two aesthetics; it's the forces and the flux acting between the two.


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.