mental link

Metaphor as mind-rhyme.


invitation to a voyage

The ideal place to teach creative writing is a used book store, says my friend Vava Hristić.
My hunch that language is inadequate when speaking about experience is really a religious idea, what they call negative theology.
Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets.
A New Hampshire high school student reading an ancient Chinese poem and being moved—A theory of literature that cannot account for that commonplace miracle is worthless.
For Emily Dickinson every philosophical idea was a potential lover. Metaphysics is the realm of eternal seduction of the spirit by ideas.
Seeing the familiar with new eyes, that quintessential idea of modern art and literature, the exile and immigrant experience daily.
A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights.

—Charles Simic, The Poet’s Notebook (WW Norton & Co., 1995), edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall and David Weiss.


place or prop

For Wallace Stevens place names were just props in the staging of the poem; they’re not real places.


sidestep the missteps

Part of the ‘anxiety of influence’ relates to the effort not to repeat the errors of the precursors.


among us

They lived among us, yet we didn’t know our poets.


trunks and foliage

Beyond the words, beyond the woods.


before he was anything

My father, before he was anything else, was a poet. He regarded this vocation, as he records in the notebooks, as some “mission from G-d.” (The hyphen indicated his reverence to the deity; his reluctance to write out the divine the name, even in English, is an old Jewish custom and is further evidence of the fidelity that he mixed with his freedom.) “Religion, teachers, women, drugs, the road, fame, money…nothing gets me high and offers relief from the suffering like blackening pages, writing.” This statement of purpose was also a statement of regret: he offered his literary consecration as an explanation for what he felt was poor fatherhood, failed relationships, and inattention to his finances and health. I am reminded of one of his lesser-known songs (and one of my favorites): “I came so far for beauty, I left so much behind.” But not far enough, apparently: in his view he hadn’t left enough. And this book, he knew, was to be his last offering.

Foreword by Andrew Cohen to The Flame: poems, notebooks, lyrics, drawings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) by Leonard Cohen.



The publicity described him as a ‘professional poet’.


no such thing

The prosiest of poets are the first to reject the prose poem.


verse arises

And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves - not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge [1910] (Dalkey Archive Press, 2008), translated by Burton Pike.


small knowing group

Rather have a cabal than an audience.


line limit

If this line keeps going on, ranging forward, loping along, it will soon reach the limit of the margin and become prose.


time (un)bound

The perfect poem is both of its time and absolutely outside of time.


first image

An image everyone missed until this moment.


by your hands

Poet, don’t accept the form, shape it.


great and simple images

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

—Albert Camus, Selected Essays and Notebooks (Penguin, 1979), translated by Philip Thody.


poetics of the political

It’s the poetics in a political poem that make it matter.


line by line

Lines that advance and lines that reinforce.


join the ranks

The least you could do after giving up on being a writer, is to become a serious reader.


new and abused

I had to give him credit for titling his book, New & Rejected Poems.


what is time, what is poetry

For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.

—Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book XI (ca. 400 CE)

For what is poetry? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than poetry? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is poetry? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.


apart from process

I know he wrote a lot of poetry, but did he write any poems? There being a difference.


conditional audience

An educated and experienced readership is the necessary and sufficient condition for great poetry.


retrospective advantage

Often when someone longs for ‘the spirit of the past’, they forget that spirit was a critical distillate made during a successive age.


breezy poem

How To Write A Breezy Poem
     by Charles “Chuck” Calabreze

1. Begin with “Because,” “When,” or “If.”

2. Mention two strangers. Describe in detail.

3. Tell where you’re watching from.

4. Create a simile involving a household pet.

5. Make a tentative philosophical observation.

6. Take back tentative philosophical observation.

7. Confess that you’ve lied about 1 & 2.

8. Change the subject entirely. Or write a series of similes involving various pop culture icons. Extra credit: Drop names of TV shows seen only on Nick at Nite.

9. Say what you’re really doing (i.e. writing a poem).

10. Confess that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

11. Tell what you’d rather be doing.

12. Write a brief passage proving that you’re not a capital ‘P’ poet (e.g., T.S. Eliot)

13. Further undermine your authority by impugning your motives. (Hint: reduce them to something base and trivial.)

14. Invent a simile or two or three using common kitchen appliances or objects.

15. Mention a friend’s marital or dating problems. Extra credit: Mention your married friend’s dating problems.

16. Make list of events beginning with “After.”

17. Make tentative psychological observation.

18. Take back tentative psychological observation.

19. Rapidly change the subject to avoid implication of 16.

20. Return to the strangers. Begin line “I swear.”

21. Envy something about the strangers. Example: Unselfconsciousness.

22. Mention an obscure rock ‘n’ roll band.

23. Praise the band extravagantly.

24. Change the subject again.

26. Apologize to the reader.

25. End with slightly obtuse but trivial observation grounded in everyday routine. If possible, be witty.

[Originally appeared in Countermeasures #3]


given to

A poet given to prose.


after gombrich

Art is made by artists and by the critics who recognize it in all its itness.


pointed texts

Documentary poetics: Utilizing found poetry for its political aspect.


more is less

What does it mean that after about five books you’ve not published a Selected? Then there was the poet who touted her twelve books of poems…by now shouldn’t you be announcing a New & Selected or a Collected?


vigilant elite

Always the literati must call out the lappers-up of the light popular.


art is

It is changing.

It has order.

It has variety.

It affects other things.

It is affected by other things.

It doesn’t have a specific place.

It doesn’t have a specific time.

Its boundaries are not fixed.

It may go unnoticed.

Part of it may also be part of something else.

Some of it is familiar.

Some of it is strange.

Some of it is unknown.

Knowing of it changes it.

To know of it is to be part of it.

Robert Barry 1970

[Robert Barry: An artist book (Karl Kerber Verlag – Bielfeld, 1986), edited by Erich Franz. Image: a typewritten single sheet of paper.]


literary collaborators

A manifesto makes room for the aphorism. The aphorism is made for a manifesto.


poem-eating contest

Nothing wrong with preferring bite-sized poetry, but you must test the limits of your appetite from time to time with long poems.


hearse chaser

I’m sorry that I only read your work when you were dead.


first to mine

In the course of one's reading, it's nice to think, even if it’s not true, that I’ve been first to mine this gemstone quotation.


single motion

He composed a line in a single motion, like an archer taking an arrow from a quiver.


floated promiscuously along

The difference, then, between the poetry of a poet, and the poetry of a cultivated but not naturally poetical mind is that in the latter, with however bright a halo of feeling the thought may be surrounded and glorified, the thought itself is still the conspicuous object; while the poetry of a poet is Feeling itself, employing Thought only as the medium of its utterance. In the one feeling waits upon thought; in the other, thought upon feeling. The one writer has a distinct aim, common to him with any other didactic author; he desires to convey the thought and he conveys it clothed in the feelings which it excites in himself, or which he deems most appropriate to it. The other merely pours forth the overflowing of his feelings; and all the thoughts which those feelings suggest are floated promiscuously along the stream.

J. S. Mill, “The Two Kinds of Poetry,” Essays on Poetry (U. of South Carolina Press, 1976), edited by F. Parvin Sharpless


midden of broken things

A fragment gathers with others of its kind.


words as medium

Not so much a poet as a text artist.


hard back

Reader, be a breaker of books.


prison argot

The critics of that school feared they’d invented a prison argot.


reading series guideline

The organizer of the reading series posted on his website one guideline under the heading “Requirement to be a scheduled Reader”: 1. Do you attend these readings? If ‘No’, go away. If ‘Yes', tell me about yourself and what you’ve been writing.


sentences comment

34. When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art.

35. These sentences comment on art, but are not art.

—Sol Lewitt, Sentences on Conceptual Art"

[First published in 0-9 (New York), 1969, and Art-Language (England), May 1969]


resist the list

Don’t allow your reading list to be dictated: Hunt it, find it, make it your own.


acrostic composed



situational awareness

A poet recognizes immediately the ‘con’ in lexicon.


beauty blinded

This light, this landscape (Poros, Greece), these days start to threaten me seriously. I close the shutters so I can work. I must protect myself from beauty...You feel your brain emptying and lightening; the long day absorbs it. Today I understood why Homer was blind; if he had had eyes he wouldn't have written anything.

—George Seferis, A Poet’s Journal: Days of 1945-1951 (The Belknap Press, Harvard U. Press, 1974), translated by Athan Anagnostopoulos.


figure of speech fugue

A poem that throbs with its tropes.


poem as bookcase

Loaded with literary allusions, each line of the poem was like a bookshelf.


playing long odds

He was prone to playing the long odds, so he quit his job, borrowed $50K and bet on getting an MFA in Creative Writing.


audience disconnect

After the poet concluded the reading with her most harrowing of poems, the audience smiled and clapped heartily as though to prompt an encore.


false dualities

Beware nevertheless of false dualities: classical and romantic, real and ideal, reason and instinct, mind and matter, male and female—all should be merged into each other (as a Taoists merged their Yin and Yang in the Tao) and should be regarded as two aspects of one idea. […]

Yet ridiculous as may seem the dualities in conflict at a given time, it does not follow that dualism is a worthless process. The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.

—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (Persea Press, 1981; first published in Curwen Press in 1944)


mind pain

As when reading an article on the latest subatomic theory, a good poem should hurt your brain.


quiet but not empty space

Poet, strain the words from silence.


book as handheld device

Your poetry being printed only makes it more portable, not more important.


just passing through

We call them passages because we are unlikely to pass our eyes over them again.


brokedown horses

A bright critic who hitched his wagon (note: dead metaphor) to the wrong authors.


intrinsic solitude

Stranded on this distant land where spaceships don’t pass nor ever will, lost on this speck of sand far from all commercial routes of the universe, I’m condemned to share the intrinsic solitude of its inhabitants, people incapable of communicating with a tool less unwieldy and impenetrable than language. I use it to send coded messages that only other castaways, those they call poets, can understand.

—Ana Maria Shua, translated by Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies (Schaffner Press, 2018), edited by James Lough and Alex Stein.


what happens underground

Model for a poem: rabbit warren.


big data

The day may be coming when canonicity is measured by tallying Google searches.