4.27.2017

no contest

Don’t tell me about your petty prizes. I want to read your incontestable poem.

4.26.2017

too much

The poem was perfumed music.

4.25.2017

essence of

Squeeze a parable and get a proverb.

4.24.2017

deep meaning

A poem that was smart all the way down to the level of etymology.

4.19.2017

poet's lot

His therapist assured him that being an unknown poet was not something to be ashamed of.

4.17.2017

contemporaneity

George Steiner often insists that the concept of “contemporaneity” should be taken into serious consideration. For instance, it is crucial to know that Édouard Manet and Charles Baudelaire lived at the exact same time in order to understand the deep relevance of one’s work to the other’s. Manet’s fascination with eroticism and modernity coexisted with a more classical touch, which was rooted in a long tradition of painting. In that sense, when his oeuvre was presented in 2011 at Musée d’Orsay in Paris, naming him the “man who invented modernity,” such a claim could only be accurate if related to the perpetuation of certain traditions. Modernity exists alongside tradition. And Baudelaire stands in a similar position. The literary critic Antoine Compagnon famously described his poems as “antimodern,” meaning that they were written as much in contradiction to as in close relation to modernity. Therefore, Baudelaire’s poems and Manet’s paintings, which may seem to be produced in parallel realities, indeed have a lot in common.

—Donatien Grau, The Age of Creation (Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2015)]

4.15.2017

gnarled lines

With its many digressions, the poem tied itself up in knots.

4.12.2017

step back

The poet talks the prose line back from the edge.

4.11.2017

well-wrought ask

A question must be composed better than a statement.

4.10.2017

not a transcendent act

I was going to suggest that 'This poem needs to molt its form.' Then I realized that act is not a metamorphosis.

4.09.2017

cross purposes

When the narrative intersects with the random.

4.08.2017

requisite equine

I put horses in poems, but I’ve never ridden one. They just seem like a good thing to put into literature.

—Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments (Graywolf Press, 2017)

4.03.2017

shared dream

I thought she said the poem was “dream of consciousness.”

4.01.2017

word hose

That line was a firehose of words…

3.28.2017

second to none

Even among anthology pieces the poem stood out.

3.26.2017

my stalker

I once perhaps lingered too long on Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA in Creative Writing website. Since then whoever, or what bot, manages their web advertising has had an ad follow me around the web. It seems wherever I surf there is this ad featuring a comely and sincere looking creative writing teacher holding her hand up, with a slightly bent forefinger, as though she were instructing me. After a month or so, being followed around the web by her, my intended instructor, I think of her as a stalker.

3.25.2017

affluent

Each line a tributary.

3.24.2017

everything and nothing

The words of my book nothing, the drift of it everything.

—Walt Whitman, "Shut Not Your Doors," Leaves of Grass (1865)

3.21.2017

backdoor left unlocked

Often the best poems one writes are those poems one backs into.

3.20.2017

rejection note

It’s nice to see the evolution of your poetry, proving so well that you don’t believe in intelligent design.

3.18.2017

thin as it may seem

Language is the organizing scrim that makes the world intelligible.

3.16.2017

poem at large

Leaving a page of poetry at the bus stop or on a park bench is not litter.

3.15.2017

deep dark line

Her lines mattered like those of an etcher.

3.14.2017

no mouth

Readers:
Roses have no mouth,
So they address your nose with their scent.
The moon has no mouth,
So it speaks to your eyes with its light.
Then with what should a poet speak?

—Oguma Hideo, from “Talk Up a Storm,” Long, Long Autumn Nights: Selected Poems of Oguma Hideo, 1901-1940 (Center for Japanese Studies, The U. of Michigan, 1989)

3.13.2017

unread and not ready

Too much speaking about poetry without due study.

3.12.2017

solid, liquid or gas

As a solid the poem is a form, it can be held and viewed easily from all sides. In a liquid state the poem moves, flows, divides and recombines, never easy to contain. As a gas the poem is not easy to see, it rises and dissipates quickly, leaving no trace. The ideal state of a poem is liquid.

3.10.2017

one-way street

Some failed philosophers become poets, but failed poets seldom become philosophers.

3.09.2017

reading report

I heard the poet A.E. Stallings read today. It was the 54th Wallace Stevens Poetry Program reading. Her work was weaker than all the past readers I’ve heard (going back over a decade). She has a strong background in the Classics (Greek & Latin) but it seems wasted when it comes to her poetry. Stallings read a ‘limerick sequence’ (if you could believe someone would think writing one was a good idea) based on various mythic figures and tales…wow, that was a painful experience to hear. I did like one poem based on the Minotaur myth, wherein the Minotaur isn't slayed by Theseus, but dies trapped below earth after an earthquake has collapsed the structures above his labyrinth.

Stallings is also a translator from the Greek and Latin. I liked something she said about that. Paraphrasing her here: ‘I prefer to translate dead poets. They don’t have any opinions about or objections to your translation.’

3.08.2017

waiting for light

Paintings stacked in a basement; poems in an unopened book.

3.07.2017

word stock

One of the many beneficent aspects of poetry: Learning new words.

3.06.2017

hung in space and silence

     My own notion of a poetry reading is quite different. I want the poet to talk about his poems as little as possible, and not so much about the poems as about something one step removed. The voice in which he does his talking unfortunately is the same voice the poor poems must borrow. The more we hear him the less we may be able to hear them.
     I should like poems hung, one at a time, like Japanese pictures, on the exquisite air, each poem surrounded by space and silence.

—Robert Francis, The Satirical Rogue on Poetry (U. of Massachusetts Press, 1968).

3.05.2017

scenes from my life

Was that a book of poems or a verbal scrapbook of family vignettes?

3.04.2017

known by heart

Without glancing at the contents page or index he cracked open the book at the very poem he wanted to read again.

2.28.2017

not god (sic) enough

Even if a god offered to ghost write the poem the poet would demur.

2.27.2017

in the public square

A symbol monger. An image grinder. A diction trader. A rhetoric freak. A sound dog.

2.26.2017

written over

Critic, create an exegesis that exceeds the text.

2.25.2017

reality calling

In ordinary language words call up the reality, but when language is truly poetic, the reality calls up the words.

Joseph Joubert, Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899), translated by Katharine Lyttelton.

2.24.2017

not beyond me

Poetry doesn’t need those disappointed poets who have stopped reading and writing poetry only because their work was never recognized.

2.23.2017

on the down low

Let’s keep poetry our secret. Otherwise the culture will only ruin it for us.

2.22.2017

sargeant major

With a glance at the page, the words started to fall into line and form ranks.

2.21.2017

hard reading

A poet of a taxing syntax.

2.20.2017

bhizzt phizzt

A typo is a language short circuit. It breaks and effectively ends the transmission as the reader’s mind struggles to create the proper connection.

2.19.2017

keep an animal

[The poet’s] tragedy is summed up in these word written in a private letter by a contemporary American poet: “For more than a month I have not been able to find time to write anything, and you know how heavy that is to a writer who feels all of youth lost to keep an animal.” Here is the animal, crying to be feed and warmed and housed. Here is the poet, who cannot rest from wanting to set down the bit of reality that he has been able to seize.

—Babette Deutsch, “The Plight of Poetry,” The American Mercury (May 1926)

2.18.2017

small window

He talked in those commonplaces of the workshop method, thus you could tell that everything he knew about poetry was learned in the couple of years he’d spent in a MFA program.

2.16.2017

not the breaking point

For all its effects, the only thing important about the linebreak is that it shouldn’t be where the reader stops reading.

2.15.2017

see-saw

The inverse ratio of heft of content to height of rhetoric.

2.14.2017

high notes

He only wanted to sing the arias.

2.13.2017

covenant of pathos

Stuck for a day in Chicago, I wandered over to The Art Institute of Chicago. (Not that anyone had to twist my arm. We're talking about visiting one of the great museums of the world.) In the Modern wing I happened upon an unattractive though clearly expressionistic portrait by Ludwig Meidner. The label stated this:

Though perhaps best known for his visionary, apocalyptic landscapes, Ludwig Meidner, like many German Expressionists, used portraiture to explore the inner emotional life of his subjects. "Do not be afraid of the face of a human being," Meidner once said. "Don’t let your pen stop until the soul of that one opposite you is wedded to yours in a covenant of pathos." In addition to making self-portraits, Meidner painted many of Berlin’s literati, including the Expressionist poet and theater critic Max Herrmann-Neisse. The artist used the thick paint, energetic brushwork, and distorted form characteristic of Expressionist painting to communicate his subject’s inner vitality and psychological life.

2.10.2017

no line drawn

The prose poet willingly risks even the genre for the good of the poem.

2.08.2017

arrival point

To think of the poem’s end as being an arrival.

2.07.2017

flightless bird

So many feathers and sequins, the piece sagged under the weight of its costume.

2.02.2017

dead end or avenue

People think that many poems are hard to read because of the vocabulary, proper names, lacunae, allusions, etc., things they don’t readily recognize. That’s not a difficulty, that’s an opportunity to explore new avenues of understanding.

1.30.2017

nothing too lavish

In a review of Middle Span by George Santayana, in The New Statesman, June 26, 1948, Raymond Mortimer joined [Santayana] with Picasso as the two living Spaniards most conspicuous for genius and said…
"they have both chosen to be expatriates yet retain under their cosmopolitanism a deep Spanishness—the sense “that in the service of love and imagination nothing can be too lavish, too sublime or too festive, yet that all this passion is a caprice, a farce, a contortion, a comedy of illusions.”

Quoted in Sur Plusieurs Beaux Sujects: Wallace Stevens’ Commonplace Book, a facsimile and transcription, edited and introduced by Milton J. Bates.

1.28.2017

there and not there

Poetry is literature’s dark matter.

1.26.2017

take it to the streets

The street poet was threatened by the local authorities with vagrancy and public nuisance. It was then he knew he’d made it as a poet.

1.24.2017

earned bona fides

Critics certify themselves review by review.

1.23.2017

certain touchstones

Never through my own but only by reading certain poems by others do I realize why I’ve given over so much of my life to poetry.

1.22.2017

undimmed by familiarity

Thought proceeds by scheme and sequence; it manipulates, puts things where it wants them, makes different designs from any that the eyes see, and, what is more, know that it is doing so. Conscious art selects from nature and by selecting adds. In the process the forms of nature inevitably take second place; their edges are blunted to fit the ruling design, and the complex final effect, being composed of many parts, diminishes the being of any one part. Yet the price of this triumph is violation of our senses. We evidently see at any moment a sequence of sharp particulars—the light at a window, a tree trunk, the gray of a rock—single, peremptory impressions, moving in endless specificity across our vision. A part of our life belongs to them; we know the world and feel at home in it not least through these sure reminders. Happiness, one sometimes thinks, is clarity of vision, moments when things stand clear in sharpest outline, undimmed by familiarity as if revealed for the first time. Such moments bring back, so to speak, the memory of Eden sparkling on the first day of creation, the tree of life soaring in the middle, and if Eden be related to our childhood, they bring back childhood too. In this spirit Gladstone entitled his book on Homer Juventus Mundi, the world’s youth…
—John H. Finlay, Jr., “The Heroic Mind,” Four Stages of Greek Thought (Stanford U. Press, 1966)

1.21.2017

working dog

A critic should be a terrier let loose in a thicket of letters.