sweet disorder in the dress

Poetry will forever be too motley for dress of definition.


song elevates

At its best song elevates equally the music and the words.


no rush

He was never accused of rushing to publish.


recognizes no borders

Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko (Quoted July 2, 1967)


ready reader

A reader of poetry must develop some tolerance for incoherence.


ars longa

Always there are writers who won’t survive their discovery phase.


crux of the matter

There must be a crux: A place in the poem where some act or scene is shown to have consequence or significance we could characterize as poetic.


brought from the world

The best poetry is found not in language but in the world; so that the poem by means of language becomes what was brought back, with consonant effect, from the world.


not ever pure

Guillén was aware that, whatever else, purely poetic poetry would be quite boring. And something more serious: it was linguistically impossible since language is by nature impure. A “pure poetry” would be one in which language had ceased to be language.

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



end and beginning

As I closed the book I sensed that a face turned from me to drift toward another reader.


line breeder

The lines seemed to breed one after another as though endless in their lineage.


words lifted on high

To be quoted is the apotheosis of anything said or written.


blake beginning to end blake

Blake began and ended in Blake.

—Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman Speaks (Library of America, 2019), edited by Brenda Wineapple

[Late in Walt Whitman’s life he had the good fortune to meet Horace Traubel. Traubel became devoted to Whitman and over a period of some years faithfully recorded Walt Whitman’s musings on a wide variety of subjects. Eventually 9 volumes of Whitman as recorded by Traubel were published, the last two volumes not published until 1966. Brenda Wineapple has distilled and organized this vast body of material into a single volume, grouping Whitman’s thoughts under headings like Reading, Leaves of Grass, Sex, History, Lincoln, My Philosophy, etc. The above remark by Whitman comes from the section “Writers.”]


mucked hand

What poker players can teach poets is that many more hands should be folded rather than played.


played close to the verse

Know that this poem will die with its secrets.


that poem again

The poem the poet was remembered by versus the poem the poet wished to be remembered by.

[Of the former, I'm thinking of Randall Jarrell and "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner".]


awaken the words

Miss Stein is bringing back life to our language by what appears, at first, to be an anarchic process. First she breaks down the predestined groups of words, their sleepy family habits; then she rebrightens them, examines their texture, and builds them into new and vital shapes.

—Edith Sitwell, Poetry and Criticism (Hogarth Essays No.11, Hogarth Press, 1925)


life stuff

Caution: Don’t try I-do-this-I-do-that poetry unless your life is like Frank O’Hara’s.


seen from a window

Sometimes finding the words is a matter of turning away from the page and looking out the window. Sometimes it requires leaving the building and going for a walk.



Each word was a well of associations.


for the ages

He said he wrote for the ages and it was true he did do a lot of readings in elder-care facilities.


world wins

It’s a given that the poem as written will never match the world as experienced.


found dance

For many days no movement came to me. And then one day came the thought: These columns which seem so straight and still are not really straight, each one curving gently from the base to the height, and each one is in flowing movement, never resting, and the movement of each is in harmony with the others. And as I thought this my arms rose slowly toward the Temple and I leaned forward—and then I knew I had found my dance, and it was a Prayer.
“The Parthenon”
I have noticed that when I introduce any innovation into my art, the music critics insult me in the same terms which they employ ten years later to honor my imitators.
"Fragments and Thoughts"

—Isadora Duncan, The Art of the Dance (Theatre Arts Books, 1969)

[This is a lovely book, nicely illustrated with drawings and photos. And I enjoyed reading Duncan’s thoughts on dance and art more generally. I was particularly interested in her emphasis on dance as natural expression (versus ballet being against nature and harming the body). However, there are a few racist notions in this book, I’m afraid.]


figure off-center

Poet, stand apart…and take your place in the world.


relative value

This one stanza was equal to a thousand other poems.


realistic demand curve

The good thing about print-on-demand is that the poet can’t imagine an audience that doesn’t exist.


prevailing wind

A poet who was a weathervane of the zeitgeist.


proper order

To write a perfect poem you would first have to invent its perfect reader.


poetry camp

Grandmother, when can I go to poetry camp?

What in the hell is poetry camp?

Where a bunch of teenage girls go into the woods to write poetry.

I know what teenage girls do in the woods and it’s not poetry.

—Marilyn Chin, from “Poetry Camp,” A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (Norton, 2018)


prolonged second

An instant lasting centuries: To write a haiku with a long half-life.


poem made known

If it gets lodged in your throat, if you choke-up speaking it aloud, it’s a poem.


eyes open

Poet, even during sleep, don’t close your eyes.


after and late

A poet so prone to the elegiac one wondered had he ever lived.


sieve for a poem

Zazen and poetry are both studies of the mind. I find the internal pressure exerted by emotion and by a koan to be similar in surprising and unpredictable ways. Zen is a wonderful sieve through which to pour a poem. It strains out whatever's inessential.

—Chase Twichell, interview Tricycle magazine, Fall 2003.


it was

Poetry of a very high order.



acute hearing

A poet hears what the universe whispers.


promise of more

It had the vague outlines of a sublime poem.

poetic setting

It didn’t matter how good the poetry was, because I was listening to poetry sitting in the shade of a tree tousled by the breeze.


chance encounter

Poetic determinism: Is that a red flag?

[graffiti encountered today in a hallway at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe]


images over ideas

In writing to [L.W.] Payne about “Domination of Black,” [Wallace Stevens] said, “I am sorry that a poem of this sort has to contain any ideas at all, because its sole purpose is to fill the mind with images… A mind that examines such a poem for its prose content gets absolutely nothing from it.”

Wallace Stevens, quoted from Letters of Wallace Stevens, in a A Thought to be Rehearsed: Aphorism in Wallace Stevens’s Poetry (UMI Research Press, 1983) by Beverly Coyle, p. 45.


spiritual practice

When he was asked his religion, he answered that he practiced Poetry.


beyond all that

Very little of what is in a grammar book or a style guide makes any difference to a poet.


time mired

One of those formalists mired in time.


thing itself

When writing a ‘thing poem’ the prop is the prompt.


known unknown

Save me from the celebrity poet: Give me the ignored poet, uneasy with attention, that’s who I want to read.


knew only the new

A great critic smitten with what’s au courant while lacking a sense for what is universal in poetry.


puzzles me most

Though scarcely a confessional poet I write about my life. Impossible not to, really, since it’s what puzzles me most. The lyric voice permits me to acknowledge that, when I write about frames, I may also be writing about my life and, conversely, though I write about what looks like my life I might as well write about any object that is both discrete and amenable, cordial and solitary. Much as any person is. Much as a frame tends to be.

Of the letters of the alphabet, only one works as a perfect frame. It is the O of the gold frame of Michelangelo’s ‘Doni Tondo’, of the mouth of Beckett’s Not I, the o of omphalos and origin, of globe and moon, of look and book, of for and good. Of open and store. Of close and lose. Of hole and whole. Of do and don’t. Of hold and go. Of no and not. Of alone and know and so and old and, yes, love.

—Vona Groarke, Four Sides Full (The Gallery Press, 2016)


x'ed libris

Dear Librarian, whenever you must unburden your shelves of some books, let me offer that I prefer to find the word WITHDRAWN stamped on the inside cover, rather than the harsher DISCARDED.


fast start

He wrote all his best poems before he was twenty.


first 4-8

By the first 4 to 8 lines the reader will be either all-in or will be looking for that exit line that lets him/her out.


pack only the essentials

A haiku travels light, through centuries.


write differently

The fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness. This does not mean to distinguish writing from being alive: it means to correct the fantasy that creative work is an ongoing record of the triumph of volition, that the writer is someone who has the good luck to be able to do what he or she wishes to do: to confidently and regularly imprint his being on a sheet of paper. But writing in not decanting of personality. And most writers spend much of their time in various kinds of torment: wanting to write, being unable to write; wanting to write differently, being unable to write differently.

—Louise Glück, Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994, p. 3)


your one life

The audacious courage by which one lives a life wholly as an artist.


ex nihilo

Why is it necessary that a fragment suggests a whole?


only the poem

Poet, never talk of publishing, speak only of poems.


after witt

Every line in the poem needn’t be equally understood; some lines you just have to pass over in silence and without question.


from everything

I took wild honey from the plants,
I took salt from the waters, I took light from the sky.
Listen, my brothers, I took poetry from everything.

—Jorge de Lima, opening lines of “The Distribution of Poetry, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Ecco, 2010), edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris.


decorative library

The hotel lobby had many bookshelves but the books were turned so that the spines were facing in, facing the wall, as though their titles and authors mattered not, and their purpose was merely decorative like any wall covering.