orts, scraps and fragments

A collected poems was just published. In time the sweepings of the famous poet’s fragments and unfinished work will be published.

peer review

A poet-critic who was a little too politic.


interchangeable counterparts

Titles and last lines are more alike than different. Typically both try to do too much.


meteor strike

To drop an improbable word within a line a poetry.


invisible hand

A poet is the reverse of a chess-player. He not only doesn’t see the piece and the board, he doesn’t see his own hand—which indeed may not be there.

—Marina Tsvetaeva, from title essay of Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 2010), introduced and translated by Angela Livingstone, p. 153.


secured rooms

When I first heard of blockchain technology, I immediately thought of a strong poem in stanzas.


alt audience

Her poems would only appeal to an uncommon reader.


scale and duration

Pure technical mastery on a large scale or over a long period always commands admiration.


carriage return

Old enough to remember the manual typewriter and the sound of the carriage return bar, throwing the line back against the wall of the left margin, where it would once more have to fight its way forward.



A language like English will always try to eat the choicest parts of foreign languages.


preparing for the festivities

In 1471, around the time the copper ball was placed atop the Duomo, Verrochio & Co. was involved, as were most of the other artisans of Florence, in the festivities organized by Lorenzo de’ Medici for the visit of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the cruel and authoritarian (and soon-to-be assassinated) Duke of Milan….Verrochio’s shop had two major tasks for the festivities: redecorating the Medici’s guest quarters for the visitors and crafting a suit of armor and an ornate helmet as a gift.

The Duke of Milan’s cavalcade was dazzling even to the Florentines who were used to Medicean public spectacles. It included two thousand horses, six hundred soldiers, a thousand hunting hounds, falcons, falconers, trumpeters, pipers, barbers, dog trainers, musicians, and poets. It’s hard not to admire an entourage that travels with its own barbers and poets.

Walter Isaacson’s biography Leonardo da Vinci (Simon & Schuster, 2017)



Fighting an editor over suggested changes to a poem that once printed will be consigned to oblivion.


ultimate image

An image that makes obsolete its ‘ideal form’.



The outer frame of the poem should be the world, and not the edges of the page.


travels light

No matter how straitened one’s circumstances, poetry is art you can carry with you.


fixed or in motion

Images that are static versus images that are actions.


transcendent particulars

The poet-critic Robyn Sarah, quoting from her own notebook entry, in a piece called “Poetry’s Bottom Line,” stated that she had three things she looked for in a poem. The first, that a poem “should transcend its own particulars,” I had no reason to argue with. But the second and third seemed contradictory, perhaps because of the figurative nature of the statements: “2) it should be built to bear weight” and “3) it should have lift.” These two elements are somewhat at odds in the physical world, though both are admirable qualities for a poem. My mind wanted to find an analog for weight-bearing and lift: Just north of where I live there is an airbase where several Lockheed C-5 Galaxy military transport jets take off and land. They can certainly bear weight (many tons of equipment), and have lift enough to bear that weight aloft, though in flight they appear lumbering. Then I thought of a more apt thing from this world: a cathedral. Certainly, as something built of stone, and often buttressed, the cathedral’s arches bear great weight. And by their height, the arches leading to thinner ribs, holding tall stain-glass windows, under a vaulted dome and great spire(s), all of these aspects create ‘uplift,’ as one raises the head upward to gaze in awe, so that if the experience is not one of actual lift, the feeling of a lifting toward the heavens is there, leading one back to her first notion of ‘transcending its particulars’ of stone, timber and glass.


step into the same poem twice

Once a poem has appeared in print, I leave it alone. I can count on the fingers of one hand the published poems I have altered in any substantial way for subsequent reprintings. A poem seems to me to have an integrity born of its moment of creation that should be respected. The “later me” who might want to word things differently is no longer the same person who wrote that poem; I don’t entirely trust her impulse to meddle with it. Let her write her own poems.

I took me some years for me to realize that not all poets operate this way: that for some, the text of the poem is something considerably more fluid and mutable, even after it has appeared in print. One fellow poet recently quoted to me what she says was the watchword at a graduate writing program she attended in the United States: “It’s all a draft until you die.”

Robyn Sarah, “Abandonment and After,” Little Eurekas: A Decade’s Thoughts on Poetry (Biblioasis, 2007)


speak esse

Some important elements of the poem must come through in translation, or what hope have we as humankind?


lifeless list

A publisher overly proud of a big list of insignificant titles.


blank page

Sometimes staring at the ceiling is where the best poems are written.


went silent

In the end, his poetry got too close to silence.




the visual or the musical

…whether we should finally compare Pound’s free verse to ancient musical notations, as if it indicated the placement of varying scales, tones, or, on the other hand, compare it to sculpture, as does Donald Davie, seems a question worth asking, though not worth answering. After all, if Pound did not trouble himself to choose either the visual or the musical as modernist poetry’s sister art, I see no reason why readers should have to make the choice on his behalf. Still, by listening to Pound’s Imagist poems (no only reading, analyzing, interpreting, source-hunting), one may hear the music of the twentieth century having “just forced, or forcing itself into words.”

—Alex Shakespeare, “Poetry Which Moves By Its Music,” Imagism: Essays on Its Initiation, Impact and Influence (UNO Press, 2013), edited by John Gery, Daniel Kempton, and H.R. Stonback.


pass in silence

The message of that passage was that you could read the words a thousand times and still it would escape you.


canon content

The canon is made of many great poems and a certain number of academic study pieces.


last vestige

He thought he was being published; in fact, the little magazine was neutralizing the poem, rendering it harmless and making it virtually unseen.



Trying to write what should just be recorded faithfully.


architect of the imagination

Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.

—Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), The Future of Architecture (1953)

I often think of Frank Lloyd Wright's remark, If the roof doesn't leak, the architect hasn't been creative enough. Which speaks to the flaws any work of art that awes us must have.


low pressure system

Sitting down to write with that good feeling of a gathering storm.


word origins

You will need to know some etymology in order to access the poem’s full resources.



One thought of the poem as a mineshaft, where many have descended into its dim-lit reaches to do their work, each bringing to the surface a few tons of material, and yet the veins radiate in many directions, and go on for indeterminate distances.


image framed

An image seen through curatorial aperture.




While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At the touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

James Wright



Another minor poet with major poet attitude.


ancient artifact

A typewritten poem had arrived by mail and the editors and staff passed it around the office asking if anyone knew what it was.


critical difference

Opinion expires in time. Analysis lasts.


buckle up

A first line that clicked like a race driver’s seat belt.


respectful attention

Poets and artists ‘let things be’, but they also let things come out and show themselves. They help to ease things into ‘unconcealment’ (Unverborgenheit), which is Heidegger’s rendition of the Greek term alētheia, usually translated as ‘truth’. This is a deeper kind of truth than mere correspondence of a statement to reality, as when we say ‘The cat is on the mat’ and point to a mat with a cat on it. Long before we can do this, both cat and mat must ‘stand forth out of concealedness’. They must un-hide themselves.

Enabling things to un-hide themselves is what human do: it is our distinctive contribution. We are a ‘clearing’, a Lichtung, a sort of open, bright forest glade into which beings can shyly steep forward like a deer from the trees…It would be simplistic to identify the clearing with human consciousness, but this is more or less the idea. We help things to emerge into the light by being conscious of them, and we are conscious of them poetically, which means that we pay respectful attention and allow them to show themselves as they are, rather than bending them to our will.

—Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café (Other Press, 2016)


uses of language

A poet who allowed language to signify. A poet who asked language to sign in blood.


made statement

Even the shape of the poem had some swagger.


gaseous body

If this long poem was an astronomical body, it would be classified as a ‘gas giant’.


word of his own

The critic Maurice speaks of the pompatus of poetry.

[Steve Miller’s word]


no more than opinion

Yet poetry is still thought of, insistently, as a product, as something answering either to a determined definition or else to a use not necessarily its own. Gregory Corso rightly said that only the poet can validate him- or herself. There is no other reference or judgment that can give more than an opinion. Opinions are rightly and generously the response an art may depend upon, but they do not determine what it is or can be.

—Robert Creeley, “Reflections on Whitman in Age,” On Earth: Last poems and an essay (U. of California Press, 2006)


matter of

A poem of deceptive mass.


tight spot

Photographs are often cropped for better effect, and likewise poems too should be willing to give up some background in favor of compositional impact.


must be put down

Sometimes the critic must shoot the audience.


flaws of the first water

The poem’s flaws would have been features in lesser poems.


inner travel

Outer travel becomes the setting of inner travel, but if the mood is somewhat that of the Odyssey, the travelers are less able and confident than Odysseus, and the world less viable to purpose. The width of things and the isolation of the characters look forward to much in the Hellenistic Age, and even in the Aeneid, rather than back to the sureness of the Odyssey. Of the classical Greek writers, Euripides notably created a language for privacy of experience, and he paradoxically did so by pressing intellectually farther than other poets and finding no solution in it.

—John H. Finlay, Jr., “The Theoretical Mind,” Four Stages of Greek Thought (Stanford U. Press, 1966)


hearing loss

Having attended too many slams, he was now deaf to the more nuanced forms of poetry.


implicit question mark

Let the last line swerve a little.


counted and found wanting

The Instagram poet with a massive albeit abased audience.


vital organ

A good poem while entering the body via the brain, will lodge itself under the sternum, close by vital organs, the heart and the lungs.


room with a view

Nature poetry that seemed to have been written by someone staring out a window.


ship rebuilt while at sea

We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.

Otto Neurath, Empiricism and Sociology, ed. Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1973).

Poets are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.


forward speaking

One hopes a book becomes a tongue that won’t be still.


craft spirit

Perhaps we need less of the creative spirit and more of the attention to craft.


upon this rock

With this word I found the whole poem.


preferred to proffer his own

It became apparent that when he’d said that he loved poetry, he meant his own.