pinata poem

Sitting in the workshop hearing the others critique his poem he began to visualize them as blind-folded children flailing at the air, trying to strike the pinata in hopes it would spill some candy and trinkets at their feet.

looking past the crowd

An artist doesn’t mistake audience for achievement.


glistening still

We thought the blood thinned, our weight
lessened, that our substance was reduced
by simple happiness. The oleander is thick
with leaves and flowers because of spilled
water. Let the spirit marry the heart.
When I return naked to the stone porch,
there is no one to see me glistening.
But I look at the almond tree with its husks
cracking open in the heat. I look down
the whole mountain to the sea. Goats bleating
faintly and sometimes bells. I stand there
a long time with the sun and the quiet,
the earth moving slowly as I dry in the light.

—Linda Gregg, from "Glistening"

[My friend the poet Linda Gregg died in the early hours of yesterday.]


too late to alter

If you tried to rewrite this old poem, it would be tantamount to trying to rewrite your life.


more than a game

Dharani, in Japan, means the practice of reciting certain passages from Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit, without translation, which is said to endow the reciter with a range of virtues. “Rhetoric” (kigyo) is regarded as one of the ten evils in Buddhism as noted earlier. Shinkei, then, equated poetry with Buddhism in absolute terms, and did not even allow the suggestion that poetry may be fiction.

It may be said that the effort to find spiritual grace in poetry peaked more or less with Shinkei, a renga poet and therefore Bashō’s predecessor. At any rate, it was this tradition that affected Bashō as he strove to elevate poetry to something more than a game.

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


hidden lines

A poem taking advantage of the camouflage afforded by the paragraph.


painted sign

A half-worn sign on a brick wall is a kind of found poem.


double or nothing

The poet said he was paid zero for his last reading, so he needed to charge me something. I offered to double what he was paid for his last reading. He went silent on the phone…I guess he was considering my offer.


sense of an ending

Sometimes the poem must end on an unsatisfying last line.


solve for x

To think of the poem as an algebraic formula that has both constants (images) and variables (metaphors).


not all but each

If it were possible to define in a phrase the place Cernuda occupies in modern Spanish-language poetry, I would say he is the poet who speaks not for all, but for each one of us who makes up the all. And he wounds us in the core of that part of each of us “which is not called glory, fortune, or ambition” but the truth of ourselves.

—Octavio Paz, On Poets and Others (Arcade Publishing, 1986), translation by Michael Schmidt.



The first line was a feint.


make quick work of

Be suspicious of what you finish easily.


twisting tolstoy

Bad poems are all alike; every good poem is good in its own way.


service first

Stop trying to save poetry and start trying to see how you might serve poetry.


the plunge

I would think of history—and the varieties of language that ride with it—as a vast resource into which one plunges with energy, comparable to sexual energy, demanding and focusing all one’s vitalities. Following this, there is a second phase, which I learned absolutely from Charles Olson: History is important only insofar as it impinges on the present. First, the plunge, the descent into hell, the near-drowning, if you wish; then the return to the surface. Because, if you drown, who cares? And if you don’t plunge, who cares?

— Paul Metcalf, “The Poet and History,” Paul Metcalf, Collected Works, Vol. III, 1987-1997 (Coffee House Press, 1997)


voice advantage

He had the kind of voice that could make pedestrian verses strut.


bottom drops out

Until it’s too late, a reader can’t be certain that a space or a pause in the poem is not an abyss.


one and same

Often narcissist and poet fail to resist synonym.


sum of its form

The fault of certain formalists is to think the poem is the sum of its formal elements.


touch of a lover

Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.

—Plato, The Republic


up to the chin

The poet wades into words unafraid of what the depths hold.


core sample

A poem that was like a core sample of one’s soul.


missed exit

As the poem proceeded you could almost see the poet glancing back at the perfect ending he’d blown by.


new idiom

Like carrying coals to Newcastle. Like bringing poets to Brooklyn.


ringing in your ears

Pantoum the bell tolls…it tolls for you and you again and again…


make a great noise

“Romanticism is the fear of looking truth in the eyes,” [Tolstoi] said last night, speaking of Balmont’s poems. Suler did not agree with him, and read some of them with great feeling, lisping in his agitation.

“That’s not poetry, Lyovushka, it’s charlatanism, nonsense, mere senseless word-spinning. Poetry is artless. When Fet wrote:
     What I will sing, I know not,
     But my song will swell within me,
he expressed the true feeling of the people about poetry. The muhzik, too, knows not what he sings; he just sings oh! and ah! and ai-da-mi! and out comes a true song, straight from the soul, as the bird sings. Your new poets do nothing but invent.


Going through the mail:
“They make a great noise, they write, and when I die—they’ll say a year after: ‘Tolstoi? Wasn’t that the Count who went in for shoe-making, and then something or other happened to him?’”

—quoted from “Lev Tolstoi,” a series of remembrances by Gorky, in Maxime Gorky: On Literature (U. of Washington Press, 1973).


drop trap

Books are just cages that get dropped over writing.


more lighght

The teacher had assigned the technique of ‘erasure’ as a means of creating a new text from an existing one. A lazy student picked Saroyan’s ‘lighght’ as his target text, and ended with ‘ghgh’ as his finished text. Of course he could be awarded nothing less than an A.


drip, drip...

A critic who believed in trickle-down literature.


page count: one

A broadside equal to a whole book.


chance meeting

Always a pleasure to encounter a secret lover of poetry.


limited but unlimited

Another point made by the Institutionalists is that poetry should try to produce its effect by suggestion rather than direct statement or description. Yen Yü said that ‘poetry that does not concern itself with principles nor falls into the trammel of words is the best’, and that great poetry ‘has limited words but unlimited meaning’. It follows that the poet should not heap up too many realistic details but attempt to capture the spirit of things with a few quick strokes of the brush.

—James J. Y. Liu, The Art of Chinese Poetry (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1966)


learning to read

It wasn’t that poem by poem the book got better, rather poem by poem you read them better.


taken aback

After reading her poem in the workshop group, she could hear a scuffing sound as chairs pushed back a little ways from the table.


lesser line

For years you had a line of poetry running through your mind that was, you discovered, misremembered; now the actual line seems off and less well rendered.


critique carry forward

The critique of this poem may not matter; however, that critique may inform the next poem.


didn't see that coming

Tabula rasa, facing the blank page, then ex nihilo, the wonder of the poem that comes from nowhere you saw coming.


world deprived of metaphors

The unhappy consciousness must find a way out of this tension between Hegel’s rational (and reasonable) knowledge and Job’s total refusal to accept it. Poetry, Fondane believed, was perhaps the only option left and his reasoning can be summarized as follows: There was a time when there was no split in the human consciousness between the world in which one lived and acted and this other, parallel world created by the mind in its act of reflection upon the external world. At that time human thinking was a thinking of participation. As the rational, Socratic thinking (i.e., philosophy in the traditional sense) was born and began to evolve, this thinking of participation, existential thinking (not existentialist) began to retreat and diminish. But at the point of intersection of the two, thinking of participation and philosophical reflection, poetry came into being. Poetry is, thus, the refuge of the unhappy consciousness, the refuge offered to a being engaged in the confrontation with an all-pervading and domineering rationality. But poetry cannot be practiced in a world in which the literal dominates; a world in which there is a perfect match between the signified and the signifier, a world deprived of metaphors. Unfortunately, Fondane did not have the opportunity to explore further and develop this so promising idea.

—Michael Finkenthal, Benjamin Fondane: A poet-philosopher caught between the Sunday of History and the Existential Monday (Peter Lang, 2013), 59-60.


book once owned by

Inside the cover of this book I see written the previous owner’s name, “Brett Holt.” Brett, perhaps you are dead, that would be an excuse; or you were forced by circumstance to travel light, to get rid of most of your possessions, that would be a good enough reason, otherwise I don’t know how it was you ever parted with this book.


all or nothing

Even the experts couldn’t excerpt from his work.


first flowering

No flower is so beautiful as a poet holding and reading from a first book.


known unknown

One of those poems many readers knew about but the anthologies had yet to acknowledge.


genre fluid

The work was ‘transgenre’.


in my head

The intensity and thoroughness of his formal training, coupled with years of self-schooling, enabled him to separate the process of painting into stages: a generative, conceptual phase and an executive, process-oriented one. In the first he conceived the complete work almost in its entirety, much as an experienced chess player plans a number of strategies before making a move. In the second he would paint an entire canvas quickly, so that it retained the freshness of a wonderful accident. When asked, “How can you paint a big picture so quickly?” he replied, “because I’ve already painted it in my head…Just putting it on the canvas, that’s nothing."

“Milton Avery: The Late Paintings” by Robert Hobbs, Milton Avery: The Late Paintings (Harry N. Abrams, 2001).


desperate act

Revision often feels like shooting one’s horse.



come knocking

Reading the long poem, I thought to myself, Where is that man on business from Porlock when you need him to come knocking?


against self rule

Resist the tyranny of personal narrative.


this one, this one is it

Editors roll their eyes at those perpetual revisers. The author who sends him/her a dozen drafts of a single poem or story, each one supposedly a great improvement over the prior draft. As the galleys are being typeset, one more revision arrives, so clearly better than all that came before.


e. e. cummings in paris

In a concluding section called “Parisian Epilogue,” Rascoe recounts an evening spent in Paris when he and his wife were introduced by Lewis Galantière to Archibald MacLeish, MacLieish’s wife and to E. E. Cummings. Perhaps fueled by a few cognacs, Cummings went on quite an engaging verbal tear that evening. Then, as the night was wrapping up:

     The illuminated disk in the tower of Gare St. Lazare said one-thirty, and I was a rag from listening; but Cummings wanted to go somewhere and dance.
     “Count me out!” said Galantière, “I have to be at work at nine in the morning. Paris for you fellows is a pleasure resort. For me it’s where I earn my living.”
     “It’s funny I never thought of that,” said Cummings. “Somehow you never seem to associate Paris and a job. Think of having a job in Paris! What a quaint idea! But having a job anywhere would be a quaint idea for me, least of all in Paris. Did I say an idea? Why, it would be a godsend! Do you know where I can get a job, any little job—in Paris, Andalusia, New York, or Hong-Kong? I hereby apply for any job that may be floating around. All I require of the job is that it shall not be eleemosynary. It must pay me enough for a bed, cognac and cheese—and, oh, yes! a ticket fortnightly for the Bal Tabarin and two sous for the vestiaire. Vestiaires must live. Two sous for the vestiaire. That’s all I ask."

—Burton Rascoe, A Bookman’s Daybook (Horace Liveright, Inc., 1929)


fall in

Often when writing longhand the letters stagger into the harsh light of the page.


large container

The margins of the poem are the universe.


conditions favorable to life

Like a habitable planet a good poem should have an atmosphere and weather.


seen, heard, felt, tasted...

The best images were sensed—they couldn’t have been imagined.


destined and undetermined

The first line felt fated and yet could lead anywhere.


at the kitchen table

I have a great affection for the picture of Emily Bronte's loaves rising, but am fonder of Tsvetaeva, one daughter living, one daughter dead, clearing a defiant space on the kitchen table. To be torn apart by births or revolutions or both, and survive at least for a time, is a prerequisite for the fullest genuine genius to flower.

Medbh McGuckian, from Delighting the Heart: A Notebook by Women Writers (Women’s Press, 1989), edited by Susan Sellers


making bad choices

If the plagiarist had real talent she would have stolen a better poem.

[News link.]


no going back

When you have written an important poem it’s hard to write an ordinary poem.


not going there

An aging writer should resist at every turn writing about death.