midden of broken things

A fragment gathers with others of its kind.


words as medium

Not so much a poet as a text artist.


hard back

Reader, be a breaker of books.


prison argot

The critics of that school feared they’d invented a prison argot.


reading series guideline

The organizer of the reading series posted on his website one guideline under the heading “Requirement to be a scheduled Reader”: 1. Do you attend these readings? If ‘No’, go away. If ‘Yes', tell me about yourself and what you’ve been writing.


sentences comment

34. When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art.

35. These sentences comment on art, but are not art.

—Sol Lewitt, Sentences on Conceptual Art"

[First published in 0-9 (New York), 1969, and Art-Language (England), May 1969]


resist the list

Don’t allow your reading list to be dictated: Hunt it, find it, make it your own.


acrostic composed



situational awareness

A poet recognizes immediately the ‘con’ in lexicon.


beauty blinded

This light, this landscape (Poros, Greece), these days start to threaten me seriously. I close the shutters so I can work. I must protect myself from beauty...You feel your brain emptying and lightening; the long day absorbs it. Today I understood why Homer was blind; if he had had eyes he wouldn't have written anything.

—George Seferis, A Poet’s Journal: Days of 1945-1951 (The Belknap Press, Harvard U. Press, 1974), translated by Athan Anagnostopoulos.


figure of speech fugue

A poem that throbs with its tropes.


poem as bookcase

Loaded with literary allusions, each line of the poem was like a bookshelf.


playing long odds

He was prone to playing the long odds, so he quit his job, borrowed $50K and bet on getting an MFA in Creative Writing.


audience disconnect

After the poet concluded the reading with her most harrowing of poems, the audience smiled and clapped heartily as though to prompt an encore.


false dualities

Beware nevertheless of false dualities: classical and romantic, real and ideal, reason and instinct, mind and matter, male and female—all should be merged into each other (as a Taoists merged their Yin and Yang in the Tao) and should be regarded as two aspects of one idea. […]

Yet ridiculous as may seem the dualities in conflict at a given time, it does not follow that dualism is a worthless process. The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.

—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (Persea Press, 1981; first published in Curwen Press in 1944)


mind pain

As when reading an article on the latest subatomic theory, a good poem should hurt your brain.


quiet but not empty space

Poet, strain the words from silence.


book as handheld device

Your poetry being printed only makes it more portable, not more important.


just passing through

We call them passages because we are unlikely to pass our eyes over them again.


brokedown horses

A bright critic who hitched his wagon (note: dead metaphor) to the wrong authors.


intrinsic solitude

Stranded on this distant land where spaceships don’t pass nor ever will, lost on this speck of sand far from all commercial routes of the universe, I’m condemned to share the intrinsic solitude of its inhabitants, people incapable of communicating with a tool less unwieldy and impenetrable than language. I use it to send coded messages that only other castaways, those they call poets, can understand.

—Ana Maria Shua, translated by Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies (Schaffner Press, 2018), edited by James Lough and Alex Stein.


what happens underground

Model for a poem: rabbit warren.


big data

The day may be coming when canonicity is measured by tallying Google searches.


poem event

Had the ability to make the reading of a poem an event.


take it from the top

With I-beam lines…the poet was building a skyscraper from the sky down.


loving and severe spirit

Among the many senses that modern painters have lost, we must number the sense of architecture. The edifice accompanying the human figure, whether alone or in a group, whether in a scene from life or in an historical drama, was a great concern of the ancients. They applied themselves to it with loving and severe spirit, studying and perfecting the laws of perspective. A landscape enclosed in the arch of a portico or in the square or rectangle of a window acquires a greater metaphysical value, because it is solidified and isolated from the surrounding space. Architecture completes nature. It marks an advance of human intellect in the field of metaphysical discoveries.

—Giorgio De Chirico, “The Sense of Architecture,” Artists on Art (Pantheon Books, 1945)


good listening

Summer evening, lying back on the grass, listening to poetry.

[Listening to Tracy K. Smith at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival]


afraid of having said

You have a right to write about nothing, as I have a right to skip reading what you’ve written.


smell test

The anthology smelled of solicited work.


poems that move people

One’s occasional poems garner the sincerest praise.


standards set

The standards you hold yourself to are too high to write anything. Your standards to write anything are too low.


rescued from formlessness

The poet’s relationship to her poetry has, it seems to me—and I am not speaking only of Emily Dickinson—a twofold nature. Poetic language—the poem on paper—is a concretization of the poetry of the world at large, the self, and the forces within the self; and those forces are rescued from formlessness, clarified, and integrated in the act of writing poems. But there is a more ancient concept of the poet, which is that she is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who—for whatever reasons—are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet’s existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.

—Adrienne Rich, “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson,” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry (Graywolf, 2000), edited by Molly McQuade.


turn of phrase

On the back of April 2017 issue of Poetry, as advert/blurb, there were two lines by Rae Armantrout…   
             Where there’s smoke
             there are mirrors.
An often employed trope of hers, it seemed. Take a common expression and give it a twist...make a wry turn on a well-worn phrase. (Charles Bernstein has done the same.) Often Armantrout makes a poem of a succession of this device. However, when I read the poems inside the issue, I was glad to see she didn’t overuse the device.


declaration not an answer

A manifesto arises, it is not solicited.

[A manifesto lives on impulse. It is not as slow to develop as a project.]


the great explainer

“There are a few words and references in this poem you should know…” Please don't. If I was reading the poem on the page I'd have to experience it without your elucidations. If need be, I'm capable of going back through, using various resources available to me, and working out what may have gotten by me.


frost warning

Frost was the imModernist poet.


not so bad really

She wrote not a review but an excuse for the poetry.


miracle worker

There are no miracles, there is only what you make.

Tamara de Lempicka


more truly and more strange

A poet welcomes language anomalies into his writing


word worker

Poetry not as a hobby but as obsession.


market in action

If you want to gauge the current esteem (and value) of poets, those dead and some older living ones, then peruse the pages of a rare book dealer’s sales catalog. Is the name even there, and what kind of prices are listed for the books and other collectible literary material?


not feeling it

As with the illusive ‘cold fusion’, more energy is imputed to the line break than can actually be measured.


burying the undertaker

A poem was read at the memorial for the critic who’d declared that poetry was dead.


great emotions

The poet makes [humankind] realize how great are the great emotions which they, in a smaller way, have already experienced.

— G. K. Chesterton, The Soul of Wit: G. K. Chesterton on William Shakespeare (Dover Publications, 2012)


outside looking on

A poet on the periphery…where else would s/he be?


what is not said

Reticence is a resource of poetry.


in the thick of things

Often in the presence of other art, or one might say under the pressure of other art, poetry arises.


head on a block

The reader was not tall. The podium was high, wooden and wide. A little head bouncing atop a butcher block was what the audience saw.


shells or gems

Erotic poems, gnomic poems on erotic themes, as we see, rather than love poems. At first glance, we may even wonder if love for anyone in particular appears in these poems: either Cavafy experienced it very little or he has been discretely silent in its regard. On a closer look, however, almost nothing is missing: encounter and parting, desire slaked or unappeased, tenderness or satiety—is this not what remains of every erotic life once it has passed into the crucible of memory? Yet it is evident, too, that clarity of vision, refusal to overestimate, hence wisdom, but not less perhaps the differences in condition and age, and probably the venality of certain experiences, afford the lover a kind of retrospective detachment in the course of the hottest pursuits or the most ardent carnal joys. Doubtless, too, the poem’s slow crystallization, in Cavafy’s case, tends to distance him from the immediate shock, to confirm presence only in the form of memory, at a distance where the voice, so to speak, no longer carries, for in this poetry where “I” and “he” contend for primacy, “you,” the beloved addressed is singularly absent. We are at the antipodes of ardor, of passion, in the realm of the most egocentric concentration and the most avaricious hoarding. Consequently the gesture of the poet and of the lover handling his memories is not so different from that of the collector of precious or fragile objects, shells or gems, or even of the numismatist bending over his handful of pure profiles accompanied by a number and a date, those numbers and dates for which Cavafy’s shows an almost superstitious predilection. Beloved object.

—Marguerite Yourcenar, “A Critical Introduction to Cavafy,” The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984), translated by Richard Howard.


hold your tongue

In a workshop if one person is always the first speak, then he/she sets the trajectory of the discussion. Don’t be first to speak all the time.


all special poets

After its chapbook competition, the press announced the winner. And in the same announcement, it listed a small group of runners-up. [Fine.] Then the press listed a larger group of finalists. Then it listed a similar group of semifinalists! [Wow.] Then the press went on to thank all the other poets who had submitted their chapbooks (and paid their fee) but didn't get mentioned in the long list of poets who were runners-up, finalists, and even semifinalists.


end of it

That poet gets credit for reaching a boundary condition. But that’s it.


cheap talk

"The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

Dashiell Hammett's detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1930)

The cheaper the critic, the gaudier the patter.


found one

He published but one poem in the last year, and it was a found poem.


sweet sounding things

Avoid a poetry that would whisper sweet nothings in your ear.


noticing and noting

Good criticism is a knowledgeable noticing, with a flair for noting.


category error

He aspired to translate music into language.


slight angle to universe

They turn and see a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe…He may be prevailed upon to begin a sentence—an immense complicated shapely sentence, full of parentheses that never get mixed and of reservations that really do reserve, a sentence that moves with logic to its foreseen end, yet to an end that is always more vivid and thrilling than one foresaw. Sometimes the sentence is finished in the street, sometimes the traffic murders it, sometimes it lasts into the flat. It deals with the tricky behavior of the Emperor Alexius Comnenus in 1096, or with olives, their possibilities and price, or with the fortunes of friends, or George Eliot, or with the dialects of the interior of a Asia Minor. It is delivered with equal ease in Greek, English, or French. And despite its intellectual richness and human outlook, despite the matured charity of its judgments, one feels that it too stands at a slight angle to the universe: it is the sentence of a poet…

E. M. Forster’s description of C. P. Cavafy, related in Marguerite Yourcenar’s “A Critical Introduction to Cavafy,” The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984)


extended description

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true poets

I was talking about the troubadour poets. She must have misheard me, because she said, “I too find many poets ‘true but dour'."