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.


never to late

The last line thrown like a life preserver to the flailing and gasping reader.


nonce only

He had a knack for neologisms that made the existing word-stock seem ample.


time out to look up

Being driven to the dictionary by many words in a difficult poem proved to be a blessing, as it gave one time to mull over or to rest the mind, before beginning again.


language games

Be it Oulipo or the Ouija board, devices will only generate language devices.


spiced dish

In cooking the proper use of spices is important to many dishes, and so it is that poets in English should make use of foreign words and phrases to enliven their pieces.


few maxims

Clearness is the ornament of deep thought.

Obscurity is the kingdom of error.

Few maxims are true in every respect.

It is of no use to possess a lively wit if it is not of right proportion: the perfection of a clock is not to go fast, but to be accurate.

I do not approve the maxim which desires a man to know a little of everything. Superficial knowledge, knowledge without principles, is almost always useless and sometimes harmful knowledge.

The favorites of fortune and fame topple from their pedestals before our eyes without diverting us from ambition.

It is easy to criticize an author; it is difficult to appreciate him.

As there are many soldiers, and few brave ones, so there are many versifiers and almost no poets.

—Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715–1747), Selections from the Characters, Reflexions, and Maxims
Translated by Elizabeth Lee (Archibald Constable & Co., 1903)



break in the action

The longer you’ve written poems, the less you fear those periods when nothing is forthcoming.


threaded line

The line as a single thread by which one could see and feel a whole cloth.


terrifying in aspect

The Gauls are terrifying in aspect and their voices are deep and altogether harsh; when they meet together they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another; and they like to talk in superlatives, to the end that they may extol themselves and depreciate all other men. They are also boasters and threateners and are fond of pompous language, and yet they have sharp wits and are not without cleverness at learning.

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book V, Loeb Classical Library, 1939.

The Poets are terrifying in aspect and their voices are deep and altogether harsh; when they meet together they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another; and they like to talk in superlatives, to the end that they may extol themselves and depreciate all other writers. They are also boasters and theatrical and are fond of pompous language, and yet they have sharp wits and are not without cleverness at learning.


bad habit or book addiction

Again I find myself buying books beyond my capacity to read them all.


survival of poetry

A poet’s elegy for another poet is somehow a translation of that poet or at least of a tradition, and involves some kind of transfer of powers, perhaps aggressively asserted by the survivor. In any case, the underlying question is not that of personal survival, but of the survival of poetry. If all real poetry is, as I believe, writing in the light of death, elegy is the genre which performs most consciously in that light.

—Rosanna Warren, “Sappho: Translation as Elegy,” Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry (Norton, 2008)



The inferior poet whose work went viral is not to blame. That lame mass audience should be fully faulted.


at one remove

A professor so steeped in secondary sources, one could imagine a student leaving a poem on his desk and him not recognizing what it was.


not a word to waste

X’s bio, a poet in her thirties, begins with: “X is the author of over twenty books of poetry.”


book as home

The blurb as real estate ad: Charming yet spacious, ready to move in, well-appointed, recently renovated, with water views.


self is style

Ironic that the author of “The Death of the Author” was himself so much ‘the author’ of his own works.

[re Roland Barthes]



Language is luggage; prepare to travel.


back of the tapestry

Every artist works, like the Gobelins weavers, on the wrong side of the tapestry, and if now and then he comes around to the right side, and catches what seems a happy glow of colour, or a firm sweep of design, he must instantly retreat again, if encouraged yet still uncertain...

—Edith Wharton, "A Backward Glance," Delphi Complete Works of Edith Wharton (Delphi Classics, 4th edition, 2011)


dialect or pidgin

Poetry on some level is a dialect or a pidgin: It must be engaged almost daily and learned in order to be understood.


center of the earth

Many a great poem has accreted around the core of a single image.


three cubed

A poem is a triadic event, coinciding at a point where the poet, a world, and language meet. If any one of the three is absent from the text, the poem will be by definition insignificant.


contentious matter

Somewhere someplace there will always be someone nattering about poetry mattering (or not).


little to unlearn

[Basil Bunting’s] reading (meaning here his perusal of books) was not uncommonly wide, it was even more uncommonly exact and readily recalled. Always intense and personal his response to any writing was determined by the pleasure and interest it afford him. The absence of this factor makes the academic study of literature a hollow sham, its presence a test of character and truthfulness. Bunting’s taste was formed early: he had a lot to discover but little to unlearn. His revaluation of the canon was more radical than Pound’s and less erratic.

—Kenneth Cox, “Basil Bunting,” The Art of Language: Selected Essays by Kenneth Cox (Flood Editions, 2016), edited and introduced by Jenny Penberthy.


table setting

He’d properly set the table with the form, however no meal was served.


burn bar

A critic whose eye was like a burn bar going into a safe.


book as wallet

Like opening your wallet to find it filled with ones and fives, the book didn’t seem to carry any poems of higher denomination.


on their radar

A poem becomes a political poem when the established powers recognize it as a threat.

[Case in point: Mahmoud Darwish.]


reading the signs

I am awfully pleased with it, awfully awfully pleased with it. I don’t believe you do me more than justice but you do me a whole lot of justice…all literature is to me me, that isn’t as bad as it sounds. Some one complained that I always stopped while I was driving to read the sign posts even when I knew the road and all I could explain was that I am fond of reading…

—Gertrude Stein, letter to Edmund Wilson in response to his piece on her in Vanity Fair, Oct. 3, 1923. Quoted by Daniel Aaron in Commonplace Book, 1934-2012 (Pressed Wafer, 2015).


nature abhors a vacuum

Fortunately, the advent of the world wide web was able to absorb the increased output spurred by the creative writing MFA explosion.



Language as medium of communication is a given, but poetry reveals language as a force of nature.


O and over again

A critic whose oxygen was the Os spoken by poets.


is worth all

The poem doesn’t try to sell itself. Its improbable existence in this world gives it worth.


woman nomination night

Coming of age as a poet in the late 1950s and well into the '60s, I was not unconscious of the disdain with which aspiring women poets—and people of color—were treated. Gradually I came to realize how arduous the road to acceptance as a woman artist would be. Attitudes changed at a glacial pace. I have cited elsewhere, more than once, an event that took place in 1967. At a dinner hosted by the Poetry Society of America, Robert Lowell rose to praise Marianne Moore as the nation's best woman poet. Blessedly, Langston Hughes leapt up to assert that she was the best Negro woman poet in the country. What astonishes me is how few women today, hearing this story, appreciate the irony in it. Was she black? they ask.

—Maxine Kumin, “Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness” (The Georgia Review, Winter 2012)


watery diarrhea

After hearing that Christian Bök had been instilling ‘poetry’ within the DNA of E. coli bacteria, I decided I’d better check the symptom list...

Symptoms can include:

   •abdominal cramping
   •sudden, severe watery diarrhea that may change to bloody stools
   •loss of appetite/nausea
   •vomiting (uncommon)

Oh...I too dislike it.


off hand

His best ‘writings’ were those things he’d said in conversation and that others had remembered and recorded.


listen up, people

Another online litmag with one of those masthead manifestos written by an editor too young to understand how much his exhortations sound like echoes.


line cutter

The first line came late.


spin off poem

A small poem spun off from a still forming, larger one.


first sight

Seeing a poem in publication pales before that moment of reading it as a largely completed draft.


good form

Fortunately we don’t need to know how bad the age is. There is something we can always be doing without reference to how good or how bad the age is. There is at least so much good in the world that it admits of form and the making of form. And not only admits of it, but calls for it. We people are thrust forward out of suggestions of form in the rolling clouds of nature. In us nature reaches its height of form and through us exceeds itself. When in doubt there is always form for us to go on with. Anyone who has achieved the least form to be sure of it, is lost to the larger excruciations. I think it must stroke faith the right way. The artist, the poet, might be expected to be the most aware of such assurance. But it is really everybody’s sanity to feel it and live by it. Fortunately, too, no forms are more engrossing, gratifying, comforting, staying than those lesser ones we throw off, like vortex rings of smoke, all our individual enterprise and needing nobody’s co-operation; a basket, a letter, a garden, a room, an idea, a picture, a poem. For those we haven’t to get a team together before we can play.

—Robert Frost, “The Letter to The Amherst Student*,” Selected Prose of Robert Frost (Collier Books, 1968), edited by Hyde Cox and Edward Connery Lathem. *Written in 1935.


flipping through pages

A scholar whose studies could only be described as desultory.


critic as scout

Critics run ahead of us to call out warnings and to mark stopping places.


noir poetics

First case the joint with a good close reading.


red line

The genius and the hack don’t need an editor. For the rest of us that office often does good work.