broadcast range

If this book was a radio station it would be classified as ‘easy listening’ or ‘soft rock’.


regulatory department

The masthead of the formalist magazine listed both an editor and a compliance officer.


real seeing

Trees meant many things for Sartre: Being, mystery, the physical world, contingency. They were also a handy focus for phenomenological description. In his autobiography he also quotes something his grandmother once said to him: ‘It’s not just a question of having eyes, you have learn how to use them. Do you know what Flaubert did to the young Maupassant? He sat him down in front of a tree and gave him two hours to describe it.’ This is correct: Flaubert apparently did advise Maupassant to consider things ‘long and attentively’, saying:

There is a part of everything that remains unexplored, for we have fallen into the habit of remembering, whenever we use our eyes, what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the slightest thing contains a little that is unknown. We must find it. To describe a blazing fire or a tree in a plain, we must remain before that fire or that tree until they no longer resemble for us any other tree or any other fire.

Quoted in At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell (p. 103)


you are here

The poet who is nomad, living everywhere and nowhere, the poet who leaves home and never comes back, and the poet who stays.


order error

He put out a collected poems when a corrected poems would have been more appropriate.


lack of stickiness

Measuring the quality of a book by the number of times the mind wanders away while reading.


sirens in the distance

Ambulance chaser of in extremis moments.


not harriers

Critics who are like vultures picking over the same canon carcasses.


public and private

These two poles of outward and inward transformation are the Romantic extremes: Shelley's claim that the poets are unacknowledged legislators, Keats's cry, "oh for a life of pure sensation". Keats saw that Shelley's wish to vivify the language of noble reason, so that it would incite men to make a just world, could lead only to the surrender of hidden poetic gardens to public planners; Keats wrote poems like arbors, in which readers were invited to spend a lifetime eating imaginary nectarines from imaginary dishes.

—Stephen Spender, "Inside the Cage: Reflections on conditioned and unconditioned imagination," The Making Of A Poem (Norton, 1962)


worth the effort

The urge toward revision will tell you whether it’s a poem worth worrying over.


rival ally

Each line was both complement and competitor to the other.


larger than life

An image that magnifies reality.


coats in the closet

Poems that hang like old coats in the closets of these unopened books.


book mark

Mark my grave with a book cairn.


to suggest is the dream

To name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment of a poem, which derives from the pleasure of step-by-step discovery; to suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this mystery that constitutes the symbol: to evoke an object little by little, so as to bring to light a state of the soul or, inversely, to choose an object and bring out of it a state of the soul through a series of unravelings.

—Stéphane Mallarmé, quoted by Jules Huret, in “Enquête sur l'Evolution littéraire,” Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology (U. of California Press, 1995), translated by Henri Dorra.



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).