Bad blurb: This book is the perfect bedside companion.


undisturbed philistine

[Printed on the complimentary bookmark from Blackwell’s, 50, 51 Broad Street, Oxford]
The famous Bookshop where generations of undergraduates and graduates, poets and philistines alike, have browsed to their hearts’ content undisturbed.
—The Sunday Times [no date given]

n.b.: I first read ‘philosophers’ for ‘philistines’ in the quote above. Attracting ‘poets and philosophers alike’ would be a better bit of advertising for the bookshop. What good is a browsed book that cannot disturb a philistine?


critic types

A thug critic, a theory critic, a thiswayandorthat critic.


cut through

It was no caesura, it was a scissor’s cut through the line.


play no favorites

No word held higher than another.


preferred experience

It was a poem I’d rather have read to me, than have had to read myself.


classically defined

‘Classical qualities, classical form’ are easy words to say. What exactly do they mean? They imply an idea of excellence; they imply also clearness, sobriety, the art of composition; they mean, finally, that reason, rather than imagination and sensibility, presides over the execution of the work, and that the writer dominates his material.

Jules Lemaître, “Guy De Maupassant,” Literary Impressions (Kennikat Press, 1971)


laid out in there

Old anthology with a charnel house for a contents page.


no rain

Block: Why will the letters not rain over the desert blankness of the page?


pressed poetry

Oppression makes poets. In the land of perfect liberty songs are not pressed out of the heart.

—Elia Peattie (8/14/96: 8)

[Emerson: Poems are expedients to get bread. (paraphrase)]


preferred if not perfect

As a critic he knew not to expect perfect, but he knew what to prefer.


against whiplash

Perhaps a prose poet gets tired of being jerked around by linebreaks.


wag and shrug

The poet shrugs as the grammarian wags a finger.


poetry speaking

Certain words when you come upon them in a poem signal this is poetic writing.


like a burr

An aphorism
should be
like a burr:
and leave
a little soreness

Irving Layton, "Aphs," The Whole Bloody Bird: Obs, Aphs & Pomes (1969)


out of order

One who put art ahead of life, and then was dead.


turn at the cliff's edge

A good line of poetry creates an uneasy expectation if not a cliffhanger.


well said newly seen

An aphorism shouldn’t be (as Pope put it) ‘what oft was thought, but ne’er so well express'd’; for however ‘well expressed’, it will not move us unless the words convey a novel way of seeing an important aspect of the world or our existence.


nonce upon a time

Poems that are half-told tales, interrupted narratives, improbable parables, or stories that lose their way.


was flying

Bruno, I've spent my life looking for that door to finally open in my music. Just anything, a crack...I remember in New York, one night...A red dress. Yes, red, and it looked great on her. So, one night we were with Miles and Hal...we'd been going over the same stuff for an hour I think, just us, so happy...Miles played something so beautiful it almost knocks me off my chair, and then I was off, I closed my eyes, and I was flying, Bruno, I swear to you I was flying...I could hear myself as if it was from very far away but inside myself...

—Julio Cortázar, “The Pursuer” The Jazz Fiction Anthology (Indiana U. Press, 2009), edited by Sascha Feinstein and David Rife, translation by Sandra Kingery.


in bits and pieces

An anecdotal poetics: The way he talked about poetry via remarks and vignettes.

[Thinking of Jack Gilbert]


known unknown

The poet always knows more about the poem than you do.


postcard poets

Browsing an old postcard site using the search word ‘poet’ I found that Russia had by far the greatest number of poet postcards. A little window into how certain cultures value poetry.


be quoted or die

Literary fame is measured by being oft-quoted.


more renown

One of those poets who thought by publishing so much, renown would follow.


avoided drawing

A poet who alluded when it was time to illustrate.


ruling passion

Since the age of fifteen poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any tasks or formed any relationship that seem inconsistent with poetic principles; which has sometimes won me the reputation of an eccentric. Prose has been my livelihood, but I have used it as a means of sharpening my sense of the altogether different nature of poetry, and the themes that I chose are always linked in my mind with outstanding poetic problems.

—Robert Graves, The White Goddess (Faber & Faber, 1948)


meter was his métier

He could scan a line of poetry with his eyes closed.


part way

He was a writer who didn’t finish things.



One of those old white poets who grew a Whitmanic beard in the last years of his life.

[Thinking of John Berryman, Hayden Carruth, Donald Hall, etc.]


after the storm

That line fell across the page like a downed tree,
and it took out some powerlines with it.


against which

Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I could express has its meaning.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), translated by P. Winch, p 16.


poem that lives

A poem lives by its memorable lines and the reader’s feel for the worth of its whole.



If a good poet is using prose it's being used toward some purpose or for some effect. Poetry is the ur-genre: It takes and uses whatever resources the language offers. And when the language is lacking resources, poetry may well create a few more elements no one knew were there.


of leaves and fascicles

Nineteenth century America produced just two preeminent poets, Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).

Walt self-published his books and was a great self-promoter, to the point of publishing reviews in newspapers of his own books. Walt had the goods and knew he had them: Walt’s poetry was expansive and innovative, pressing particularly on the boundary of poetry and prose, and putting equal pressure on the mores of his times. His poetry (Leaves of Grass) was published in several editions. He sunk his teeth into the times, and at the time of his death, the literary world had grudgingly caught up to Walt. His Leaves inexhaustible.

Emily was not known in her lifetime. Note that her dates fit within Whitman’s. Though she wrote many poems, she published only a handful of them. Her style was eccentric and her thinking was bold. If her poems were published in the state they were written, most readers of her day would be appalled or nonplused by them. Emily took pains to preserve her poems; tied up in tidy fascicles stored in a bureau drawer. Then she asked her sister Lavinia to destroy them upon her death. That didn’t happen and Emily's poems, surviving well-meaning but intrusive editing, eventually were recognized.

In time we’ll know who were the most important poets of twentieth century America. There are contenders but will it be as few as two?


and many others

How does it feel to be “And Many Others”?: Anthologies that list (on the back cover or in ads) only some of the contributors.


unappreciated crap

Poetry, The New Yorker, APR, The Paris Review, et al, they’re all publishing crap. But not my crap.


fail better

There are failed poems that should be published in the state in which they were abandoned. Many a tidy and finished poem shouldn’t stand to be published shoulder to shoulder with a glorious mess.


two ways

[From 1996 interview with Ralph Adamo and John Biguenet published in the New Orleans Review]

Allen Ginsberg and I used argue about aesthetics a lot. Every week he had a new idea. Usually hopelessly wrong. One time we were talking about spontaneous poetry, and he said, “Well, you believe what I believe, which is that an artist is a person who makes things.” He doesn’t submit to voices speaking, I said. You hear voices thinking, you write it down, but I am in charge of the poem. You might let the horse run for a while , but you tell it which direction to go, because if you don’t , the horse will eat all day. I believe in the horse. I believe in listening to the horse, but I’m riding the horse. And Allen said, “You’re afraid to release your poetry from your control. You afraid, let me see,” he said. “Write some poems that way.” So I wrote some poems that way. They’re in my first book. They are the only two poems in the book that I wish weren’t there. If I ever do a selected poems, those two poems certainly won’t be there.

Jack Gilbert, Interviews from the Edge: 50 Years of Conversations about Writing and Resistance (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), edited by Mark Yakich and John Biguenet, p. 205.


toss up

The judge said of the poetry books: All are equally good, and each indistinguishable from the other.


profound sip

A poem should be a tincture of the universe.


alt usage

If it’s poetry you want to write
You must pitch your Strunk & White.


squeal at the turn

You could hear the tires squeal at the turn of a line.


words aren't precious

I began to experiment with Japanese forms, particularly the tanka and the renga, because their psychological structures are alien to me and force me to work without my familiar tools, my little linguistic reflexes and logical assumptions. It’s fun to keep throwing away those familiar responses, which amount to the old way of working, and to try to do something that makes me feel like a beginner again. It’s like finger-painting—I can make lots of fast, trivial messes and crumple the cheap, ephemeral paper. Gone! No important! And every once in a while I really surprise myself, and write something that suddenly throws light on the mystery. In order to do this, I’ve had to make some rules for myself. One: don’t save drafts. I used to cling to all the false starts and apparent dead ends in case some gem might be embedded there. I still believe that the unconscious knows valuable things that I don’t, but most of what it knows is useless stuff. Two: if a line isn’t working, start again from scratch. Words aren’t precious. If I lose a promising trail, so what? Unless I’m willing to lose it, how can I get to the next one, and the next? I think I used to stop far too soon, letting whatever happened to be there on the page command my attention, instead of asking myself what could be there in its place. What is this myopia but a reflection of my self, which likes to fix broken things and which would rather not think painful, self-annihilating thoughts? Thus the third rule: there’s only one question—what is the self? Until it’s answered, keep asking it. Then, who knows?

—Chase Twichell, “To Throw Away,” Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems (Middlebury College Press, 1997), Robert Pack and Jay Parini, editors.


new species

A poem that was unfamiliar as such.


word fortress

Poet, write a stanza that stands as a word fortress.


confident line

Poet, write a line that never looks back.


get what you pay for

Most poetry events are free, so organizers can’t give a money-back guaranty.


mainly blah

The mainstream could throw up a thousand books a year just as good as this one and just as undistinguished.


solitary business

The poets find the refuse of society on their streets and derive their heroic subject from this very refuse....  One year before Baudelaire wrote "Le Vin des chiffonniers," he published a prose description of the figure: "Here we have a man whose job it is to gather the day's refuse in the capital. Everything that the big city has thrown away, everything it has lost, everything it has scorned, everything it has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects. He collates the annals of intemperance, the capharnaum of waste. He sorts things out and selects judiciously; he collects, like a miser guarding a treasure, refuse which will assume the shape of useful and gratifying objects between the jaws of the goddess Industry." This description is one extended metaphor for the poetic method, as Baudelaire practiced it. Ragpicker and poet both are concerned with refuse, and both go about their solitary business while other citizens are sleeping; they even move about the same way.

—Walter Benjamin,  Selected Writings, 4: 1938–1940 (Belnap Press, 1996), p. 48., Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, editors


deep space

Why are we so amazed by how poems are formed when the universe holds similar mysteries.

[South Pole Wall]


more in the prose

Her prose sketch of how the poem was written was more interesting than the poem itself.


one or undone

A line of poetry should have integrity or else it should unravel extravagantly.


not blocked enough

After reading a book with two-thirds too many pages of poetry, I wished that more poets complained of ‘publication block’.



In the precise particular the peculiar hides.


gauged by language

If a poet writes about nothing, his language better really be something.


not the least of it

Most of what you’ve written has never been published; that’s as it should be.


it can fly

Frank Gallo, author of Birding in Connecticut:
“Note the plain face of the female House Finch as compared to boldly patterned face of the female Purple Finch which shows a distinct white eyebrow and wide black eyeline. As with the male, the female House Finch has a longer tail, is buffy below, and has a curved culmen (upper beak) versus the short-forked tail, whiter belly, and straight culmen of the female Purple Finch.”

Sometimes the talk of birders reminds me of the distinctions made by poetry critics. ‘But the thing can fly,’ I want to say.


not yet adult

His juvenilia was more like ‘adolescencia’.


don't be that guy

After the poetry reading he asks the poet to sign his book with an obvious remainder mark.