elevated speech

She spoke in such full and well-composed sentences that a conversation with her seemed like reading a good book.


got it second hand

The way he criticized the poem seemed like received opinion; no original work had been done on the piece.



Most academics don’t recognize university presses as a form of vanity publication.


found incomplete

There are three idealists: God, mothers and poets! They don’t seek the ideal in complicated things—they find it in the incomplete.

Peter Altenberg, “Aphorisms” Telegrams from the Soul (Archipelago Books, 2005)


no language cage

We know a great poem strains to the point of bursting the bounds of its language, but even as it does so it defies any other language to try to capture it in translation.


hard thing

Those of you who are real artists know well enough all the special advice I can give you, and in how few words it may be said—follow nature, study antiquity, make your own art, and do not steal it, grudge no expense of trouble, patience, or courage, in the striving to accomplish the hard thing you have set yourselves to do.

—William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art (1883)


close encounters

In poetry there is almost no distinction between the real and the paranormal.


box of drafts

Do you have a book of poems?, he asked. No, I said, but I have good sized boxful of them.


usual suspects

Like police captains with few leads, translators seem to put out the call to round up the usual suspects, rather than search for a less trafficked in poetry.


sentiment for thanksgiving

The People Are a Temple

And souls are candles, each lighting the other.

—Gennady Aygi (1934-2008)

[Translation from the Russian by Peter France.]


fanning themselves

It was warm in the café, and the poets waiting for their turn to read were fanning themselves with their thin volumes.


poet world

Poet in the world, poet for the world, poet of the world, poet with the world, poet and the world, poet against the world, an uneasy navigation.


taken by surprise


Lyric embodies the desire to mean perfectly.

It takes language by surprise. (For this to be possible, there must be a general situation or condition of language which is not lyric.)

—Jan Zwicky, Lyric Philosophy (U. of Toronto Press, 1992)

[New edition of Lyric Philosophy]


everlastingly provisional

The word ‘poetry’ will always be subject to a working definition.


strongly worded

Diction is the muscle fiber of a poetic line.


source and target

After he’d read his poems, someone in the audience asked from what language the poems had been translated.



no narrative plan

Even narrative poets have an aversion to plot.


vicarious mastery

In practice there may be in the making of literature a great deal of one or another kind of technique, whether apparently superficial and formalistic or apparently substantial or ideological, and this technique may be deliberate or habitual or traditional. On the other hand, there may be apparently very little technique. It is never possible, in the given case, to say even roughly how much or what kinds or combinations of kinds of technique were employed until after long intimacy and absorption of the work has, by vicarious mastery, made the question artificial; for the we use the work as use other actual experience.

—R. P. Blackmur, “Notes on Four Categories in Criticism,” The Lion and the Honeycomb: Essays in Solicitude and Critique (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1955.


my excellent adventure

With a post-election pall cast over the land, I've decided to set out on an 'excellent poetry adventure'. I'm not sure I'll make it to Canada, but I'll be close when I hit Seattle...See my itinerary:

Danowski Poetry Library – Emory University (Atlanta GA)

Library of Congress – Poetry Collection (Washington DC)

Kelly Writers House – Univ. of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia PA)

Berg Collection - New York Public Library

Poets House (New York City)

Side trip to Berl’s Poetry Bookshop in Brooklyn.

Beinecke Library – Yale University (New Haven, CT)

Hay Library – Brown U. – Harris Collections (Providence RI)
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays: Composed of approximately 250,000 volumes of American and Canadian poetry, plays, and vocal music dating from 1609 to the present day. [Special Collections Artists Books: The Hay has a very impressive collection of artists books, mainly focused on American poetry and art.]

Harris Broadsides Collection: A comprehensive collection of American poetry published in broadside format from colonial times to the present. You can search the broadsides collection digital images: http://library.brown.edu/cds/catalog/catalog.php?verb=search&task=setup&colid=58&type=basic

Woodbury Poetry Room – Harvard University (Cambridge MA)

Side trip to the Grolier Bookshop.

Charles Olson Special Collection – U of Connecticut (Storrs CT)

The Poetry Collection - University at Buffalo

Just Buffalo.

Elliston Poetry Room – U. of Cincinnati

Bingham Poetry Room – U. of Louisville

Poetry Foundation Library (Chicago IL)

Woodland Pattern (Milwaukee WI)

Gaus Collection & Little Magazines – University of Wisconsin (Madison WI)

Side trip to Innisfree Poetry Bookstore (Boulder CO)

University of Arizona Poetry Center (Tucson AZ)

Beyond Baroque (Venice CA)

Poetry Center San Francisco State U.

Side trip to City Lights Books (San Francisco CA)

Pacific Northwest:
Side trip to Open Books – (Seattle WA)

If you have some stops you think I should make, let me know.


not random

It’s not so much that you need to understand the poem but more a matter of believing that the reading experience is not intended to be random.


silent salient

One’s taste is one’s tacit manifesto.


language thrift

A good poet is never one to waste words.


go big or go home

Poets need delusions of grandeur just to persevere.


fear factor

Every once and a while a poem should scare you. Either because of its subject or because you don’t even recognize the aesthetic.


small craft

“Building Her;” at least in its particulars, describes Booth’s own early experience in woodworking, as well as his lifelong love of small sailing vessels, several of the most graceful of which were designed and built by Mace and Lon Eaton. As the boatbuilder fashions his vessel, so the poem implies, the poet pares away anything that is ornamental in his craft—to get at the essence. “That starkness,” Booth observed, “is for me a way to let objects or emotions, illuminate themselves.”

Jeanne Braham’s Available Light: Philip Booth and the Gift of Place (Bauham Publishing, 2016)


soaked up

It wasn’t long before the avant-garde movement was safely absorbed by academe.


short cut

Reading criticism saves time.


reader response

Because poems have moved you, you know that new poems, and ones yet unwritten, will.


broadcast range

If this book was a radio station it would be classified as ‘easy listening’ or ‘soft rock’.


regulatory department

The masthead of the formalist magazine listed both an editor and a compliance officer.


real seeing

Trees meant many things for Sartre: Being, mystery, the physical world, contingency. They were also a handy focus for phenomenological description. In his autobiography he also quotes something his grandmother once said to him: ‘It’s not just a question of having eyes, you have learn how to use them. Do you know what Flaubert did to the young Maupassant? He sat him down in front of a tree and gave him two hours to describe it.’ This is correct: Flaubert apparently did advise Maupassant to consider things ‘long and attentively’, saying:

There is a part of everything that remains unexplored, for we have fallen into the habit of remembering, whenever we use our eyes, what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the slightest thing contains a little that is unknown. We must find it. To describe a blazing fire or a tree in a plain, we must remain before that fire or that tree until they no longer resemble for us any other tree or any other fire.

Quoted in At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell (p. 103)


you are here

The poet who is nomad, living everywhere and nowhere, the poet who leaves home and never comes back, and the poet who stays.


order error

He put out a collected poems when a corrected poems would have been more appropriate.


lack of stickiness

Measuring the quality of a book by the number of times the mind wanders away while reading.


sirens in the distance

Ambulance chaser of in extremis moments.


not harriers

Critics who are like vultures picking over the same canon carcasses.


public and private

These two poles of outward and inward transformation are the Romantic extremes: Shelley's claim that the poets are unacknowledged legislators, Keats's cry, "oh for a life of pure sensation". Keats saw that Shelley's wish to vivify the language of noble reason, so that it would incite men to make a just world, could lead only to the surrender of hidden poetic gardens to public planners; Keats wrote poems like arbors, in which readers were invited to spend a lifetime eating imaginary nectarines from imaginary dishes.

—Stephen Spender, "Inside the Cage: Reflections on conditioned and unconditioned imagination," The Making Of A Poem (Norton, 1962)


worth the effort

The urge toward revision will tell you whether it’s a poem worth worrying over.


rival ally

Each line was both complement and competitor to the other.


larger than life

An image that magnifies reality.


coats in the closet

Poems that hang like old coats in the closets of these unopened books.


book mark

Mark my grave with a book cairn.


to suggest is the dream

To name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment of a poem, which derives from the pleasure of step-by-step discovery; to suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this mystery that constitutes the symbol: to evoke an object little by little, so as to bring to light a state of the soul or, inversely, to choose an object and bring out of it a state of the soul through a series of unravelings.

—Stéphane Mallarmé, quoted by Jules Huret, in “Enquête sur l'Evolution littéraire,” Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology (U. of California Press, 1995), translated by Henri Dorra.



not so simple

The desire I have to astonish is offset by an attraction to the simple.


inhabited poetry

Iris Murdoch conceived of an ‘inhabited philosophy’. Likewise, I’m in favor of an inhabited poetry. Poetry as a place to explore human concerns and not wholly a space where language reigns.


write for the ear

I have spent my life in clearing out of poetry every phrase written for the eye, and bringing all back to the syntax that is for the ear alone.
"Write for the ear," I thought, "so that you may be instantly understood, as when actor or folk-singer stands before an audience."

—W. B. Yeats, “An Introduction for My Plays” (1937, but not published until 1961 in Essays & Introductions).

[n.b.: I went to a presentation by Deanie Rowan Blank on W.B. Yeats today at the Hartford Public Library, and this quote came up. So I ran down the source and posted it.]


name game

Pushkin without the push, Wordsworth without the word, Larkin without the lark, Ashbery without the ash,...


narrowed to error

Constraints are both opportunities for escape and discovery and pinch points where many forced errors occur.


dappled things

The only kind of poetry that is poor is poetry of one kind.


enemy of the poetic

Count me as an enemy of the overly poetic and the overtly poetic.


public property

What else are poetry and thinking than someone making his own life into public property, into a life which everyone else can live and enjoy as their own too, making his essence into directly beholdable objects of not only himself, but also of others?

—Ludwig Feurbach, Abelard and Heloise, or: The Writer and the Human (Gegensatz Press, 2012), translated with introduction by Eric v. d. Luft, with a foreword by Angela Moreira.


target exposed

The plagiarist’s target was an unknown, but after the theft was noticed for the first time.


stealing from the poor

The plagiarist is most damned by stealing from the unknown and underappreciated. The plagiarist hasn’t the guts to rip off one of the renowned, because the exposure would be swift and pitiless.


lifted lines

By deceit the plagiarist shows respect for the text.


mask donned

Poetic language often falsifies poetic content.



He had settled comfortably into believing himself one of the avant-garde.


equal letters

A correspondence between equals is of most interest.


improve the blank page

Young Poets

Write as you will
In whatever style you like
Too much blood has run under the bridge
To go on believing
That only one road is right.

In poetry everything is permitted.

With only this condition of course,
You have to improve the blank page.

—Nicanor Parra, Poems and Antipoems (New Directions, 1966), trans. by Miller Williams.