more than familiar

The syllable is intimate with silence.


inhabited lines

Left with the feeling that a person lives in those lines.


after dante

In the middle of making my poem,
I found I was lost in a dark wood.


all of what she was

[Lorine Niedecker] wrote to Bob Nero, “I dream of an ease of speech that takes in the universe” (April 20, 1967). At the same time she recalled her beginnings: “Early in life I looked back of our buildings and said, ‘I am what I am because of all this’. “Lake Superior” negotiates the local and the global, the self and the species: we are what we are because of all this. Her point of access is the unselfconscious notations of geology and pre-history. There, through her own painstaking practice, she locates the solace of an immanent infinite.

Jenny Penberthy, “Writing Lake Superior,” Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Poetics of Place (U. of Iowa Press, 2008), edited by Elizabeth Willis.


lyric first

When we think of poetry we first think of the lyric. The lyric being poetry’s quintessence.


seen & unseen

The physical act of sewing, with the seen and unseen thread, feels like composing a line of poetry.


to parts unknown

A missing persona poem.


commonplace book

The wondrous passages I can only dimly recall. For many years I trusted memory too much when reading. Now I write things down.


reading matter

Not long ago I wrote a series of poems in response to the collection, The Dream We Carry, by Olav Hauge, a Norwegian. He opened a door for me that I had not known stood closed. He deals in elementals. “A good poem,” he wrote, “should smell of tea, / or of raw earth and freshly cut wood.”

Art is a conversation with the past. Sometimes it is an argument.

—Frederick Smock, On Poetry: Palm-Of-The-Hand Essays (Broadstone Books, 2017)


looking in all the wrong places

The scholars scour the poet’s archive for personal anecdotes, familial first causes, and everything else quotidian and pedestrian that the poet attempted to transcend when writing.


short shrift

Not a review, but a nod of notice. (The problem with microreviews is if they’re positive they’re indistinguishable from blurbs.)


praise be

When encountering a foreign word or phrase, pause not only to puzzle out the meaning but also to praise the generosity of translators.


speak poet

Charge for the observant poet: See something, say something.


sure surrender

It is not possible to understand without surrender. As long as the slightest inclination to criticism remains in the consciousness it is hopeless to do justice to what is strange.

Beauty is not intrinsic in any form—it comes to make that form.

To critics: Write of the quick, as you do of the dead, with the same detachment.

Every aesthetic expression is dynamic and therefore involves distortion.

Too much craft in art ruins the art in the craft.

One can live for years with nothing on outside but a few hours with nothing in inside; that applies to art also.

Art never improves, only changes.

Margaret Preston, Aphorisms (Art in Australia, LTD, 1929)


say it

A poetics not of seeing, but of a way of saying.

[Thinking of Robert Creeley]


not mine

Leafing through an old notebook, I find many lines that must have been forged in my handwriting.


little twitter

Oh, please tickle me with one of your little twitter poems.


two paths

There’s a difference between poets who answered a calling and poets who pursued a literary career.


certain things

One thing is certain, and I have always known it—the joys of my life have nothing to do with age. They do not change. Flowers, the morning and evening light, music, poetry, silence, the goldfinches darting about...

—May Sarton, quoted in From May Sarton’s Well: Writings of May Sarton (Papier-Mache Press, 1994), selection and photographs by Edith Royce Schade. (p. 46)


book of forms

All the world, things immense and small, things static and moving, are possible models for the poem.


telling talk

The poem was rhetoric heavy.


well-placed pin

Whenever the long poem started to sag, the poet had the good sense to pin it up with a lyric section.


all the right words

The index of that book seemed like a word list for a great poem.


inside the atom

We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.

Niels Bohr, in his first meeting with Werner Heisenberg in early summer 1920, quoted in Theorizing Modernism: Essays in Critical Theory (1993) by Steve Giles, p. 28.


you're a superstar

Simon & Schuster’s book publicity states that Michael Robbins is a “superstar poet.” I did not know that.


what it is

Given that we agree the poem is accessible, would that be the first attribute you’d mark it with?


wait as they whet

One of those pauses during a writing workshop when in the background you could hear steel being sharpened on a grinding wheel.


longer grave

The poet was 5’ 9” tall in his life. I’m told his archive, in the basement of the university library where it’s housed, measures 18 linear feet.


staying grounded

Whatever their skills at language might be, poets should know how to plant and to tend a vegetable or a flower.


when art appears

The most beautiful book would be that which would not be possible to consider as a book.

When art appears, life disappears.

To paint so as not to have to think any more pleases me, to think in order to paint is a piece of nonsense on the high tide of the spirit.

Gallery openings fill me with melancholy, the same goes for weddings and funerals.

Francis Picabia, Yes No: Poems & Sayings (Hanuman Books, 1990), translated by Rémy Hall


revising aristotle

The poem’s drama was in its usage and not in its narrative elements.


twain never met

No other metaphor before.


new game

They invented a new way to play at poetry.


dizzying universe

You have to read haphazardly, open and discover good books by happenstance these days. There are so many poets, so many books (planets), swimming into one’s ken (to steal a phrase from Keats).


went by me

I don’t mind if I miss certain allusions as they sail past me without recognition as long as they ruffle a few brain cells as they pass.


two poets

There are two masters, Antonio Machado and Juan Ramón Jiménez. The first lives on a pure plane of serenity and poetic perfection; a human and celestial poet who has already transcended every sort of struggle, the absolute master of his prodigious inner world. Jiménez is a great poet ravaged by the terrible exaltation of his “I,” lacerated by the reality around him, stung incredibly hard by insignificant things, his ears tuned to the world, which is the true enemy of his marvelous and unique poetic soul.

—Federico Garcia Lorca, “Conversation with Bagaría,” Deep Song and Other Prose (New Directions, 1975), edited and translated by Christopher Maurer.


questionable choice

Asking the poet you once dated to write an epithalamium for your wedding


royal road

If the interpretation of dreams is the via regia to the unconscious, then the interpretation of poems takes the same wondrous road to the unknowable.


thin thing

Slide a poem under the door.


no afterlife

Often the poems will die with the poet. And sometimes the poems go first.


decibel level

No deep truth has ever been shouted.

—Juan Ramon Jiménez, The Complete Perfectionist: The Poetics of Work, translated and edited by Christopher Maurer (Doubleday, 1997), p. 150.


four-legged audience

Being a poet, sometimes he found himself reading to empty chairs.


author of itself

A poem should have the virulent integrity of Coriolanus.


untouched by any other

An image so whole and complete unto itself, that it would forever ignore the attraction of metaphor.


new worlds

After a youth spent leafing through thick dictionaries, after so many years of reading across various genres, how is it I’m still discovering new words? Which is to say new worlds, as though a telescope trained on deep space as the faintest and most distant of stars slowly become visible.


last words

The last line was epitaph of the poem.


fighting up

That lyric could lick almost any long poem.


wood product

It has been speculated that the English word “book” in fact comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for beech (boc), the favored material from which the panels of tablets were fashioned.

—Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Norton, 2003)


of another language

When the words become foreign to me.


too soon

The blood hadn’t dried and already the poet tried to memorialize the terrible event.


long and strong

A long poem with the influence of the Old Testament.


neither here nor there

The words are never where they're supposed to be.


hit send

A post-mo email-quality epistle.


no arbitrary boundary

He [Edgar Allan Poe] was so much against slavery that he had begun to include prose and poetry in the same book, so that there would be no arbitrary boundaries between them.

—Ishmael Reed (epigraph to Paul Metcalf’s Both, p378 in Collected Works, vol. II.)

[n.b.: Quote encountered while browsing a reading area in the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center in Asheville, NC.]


tell ail

Confessional poetry: Dire diary.


thus said

A statement of taste spoken as though a truth statement.


hard pressed

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

Elia Peattie


no turning away

He’d set out to write manifestly great poems: The dream of writing poems that upon first reading drew a devoted audience.


quiet please

Silence is too important and shouldn’t be interrupted with trivial sounds.


degree of difficulty

The poem was difficult in all the right ways.