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)


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
   •loss of appetite/nausea
   •vomiting (uncommon)

Oh...I too dislike it.


off hand

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


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.


line cutter

The first line came late.


spin off poem

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


first sight

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


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.


flipping through pages

A scholar whose studies could only be described as desultory.


critic as scout

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


noir poetics

First case the joint with a good close reading.


red line

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


work in stone

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

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


lined out

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


papering over

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


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.”


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.


empty passages

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


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)


good lines

Admiring the fit and finish of the poem.



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


spirit level

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


the living and the dead

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



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)


wind aware

Use the page like a sail reaching.


kinds of sight

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


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.


symbol rule

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


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.


weight of white

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


job description

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


method and manner

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


create trap

The notion that you must make things which you have no real impulse to realize.


sounds across time

But if one followed Marsh’s image [Reginald Marsh's Wooden Horses], nobility seemed to exist in art today “only in degenerate forms or in a much diminished state,” because that was now the nature of the real. For the poet too “a variation between the sound of words in one age and the sound of words in another” was itself “an instance of the pressure of reality.” Locke and Hobbes had denounced the seventeenth century for its connotative use of language, that had resulted in an era of urbane, witty poetic diction, with Pope and Swift as its chief proponents.

—Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium (Simon & Schuster, 2016)


measure for measure

Most poems fail based on a simple mixed measurement ratio: the material (subject, idea, story, substance) weighs less than its length in lines.


allowed to float up

Blurble: 'verb' – sound made when you lift a book and turn to the back cover.


smiling while reading

The rare joy of reading a joyful poem.


great leap

A first line that made you believe anything could happen next.


street view

Do the great poems open up new avenues or do they create blind alleys that other poets must run down?


doubly well spoken

Understood first for what it said, then afterwards admired more deeply for the manner of its expression.


the river

An archetype is something like an old watercourse along which the water of life flowed for a time, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it flowed the deeper the channel, and the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return.

—Carl Jung, “The Primordial Images,” Psychological Reflections, ed. Jolande Jacobi (1970).


hands off

He knew when to take his hand away from the painting.

—Pliny the Elder, Natural History

She knew when to take her hand away from the poem.


not random

The middle of the poem was so messed up you believed the poet must have a plan.


but few are chosen

In our minds many poems make themselves known, but our hearts hold and carry forward a very few.


well worn

When perusing another person’s bookcases, I always look for the tattered dust-jackets.


active border crossing

The boundary between poetry and prose, always floating and permeable, has now become vital.


near eye

At first art is archaic, the sensible form being rudely controlled by the artist's hand; it becomes, in the second stage, classical, the form being adequate to the thought, a transparent expression; last, it is decadent, the form being more than the thought, dwarfing it by usurping attention on its own account.

The peculiar temptation of technique is always to elaboration of detail; technique is at first a hope, it becomes a power, it ends in being a caprice; and always as it goes on it loses sight of the general in its rendering, and dwells with a near eye on the specific.

—George E. Woodberry, "A New Defence of Poetry," Heart of Man, and Other Papers (Harcourt, Brace & Howe, 1920)


beauty beat down

A poem that beat me down with its beauty.


abounds around us

The imagist can find any number of poems hidden in plain sight.


pay dirt

The poet is a prospector finding ore in the played-out mine of time-honored themes.


power source

The word that didn’t belong in the poem is now a node of energy driving its very existence.


guard dogs

The lesser poets of the group/school are the ones most protective, even militant, in preserving its domain. Because that domain is the only thing that gives their work value.


one speaking

I’m somewhat anti-Browning. He always spoke in another character, for another character. I do not let anybody else speak a word (in my poetry, it goes without saying). I speak myself and for myself everything that is possible and that which is not. Sometimes I unconsciously recall somebody else’s phrasing and transform it into a line of poetry.

—Anna Akhmatova, “Pseudo-Memoirs,” My Half-Century: Selected Prose (Ardis Publishers, 1992), edited by and translated by Ronald Meyer.


long & short of it

If I had more time I would write a shorter letter.
—Blaise Pascal

If I had more time I would write a shorter poem.


role players

The editor selects, the critic corrects.


never apologize, never explain

A little magazine editor is often asked by a rejected author to explain the reason for his/her rejection. Which always reminds me of the line spoken by the character Capt. Nathan Cutting Brittles (played by John Wayne) in the 1949 western She Wore a Yellow Ribbon: "Never apologize and never explain—it's a sign of weakness."

[She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, screenplay by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings.]


but drowning

He was a poet of the moment. The last time I saw him he was waving.


ignores borders

The translator is a smuggler whose contraband is words.