uses of poetry

Sitting at table in the café, I noticed a poetry book had been jammed under one leg to keep the table from wobbling.


poetry god

It was said of him that no one knew more about poetry than he did.


all art is sensual

But all art is sensual and poetry particularly so. It is directly, that is, of the senses, and since the senses do not exist without an object for their employment all art is necessarily objective. It doesn't declaim or explain, it presents.

—William Carlos Williams, The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams (New Directions, 1951)


poem in brackets

The ideal reader would be able to “bracket” (as Husserl theorized) the poem, and thus experience it as a singular and pure phenomenon


wholly new

He showed me his revision but I could detect no provenance from the prior poem.


vantage point

Never stoop to slap the popular. Wave to it from above as it passes by.


nearly invisible

She was so much an identity poet she managed to make herself anonymous.


sacred spider

Mallarmé described himself as a “sacred spider,” the inventor of a “marvelous lacework,” The appearance of “On Toss of the Dice” thus colluded, in its lacy lack of transitions, with the Lumière brother’s cinématagraphe, which had burst upon the world late December 1895 and was barely up and running before Mallarmé began his optical oeuvre. Bravely conceived and fiercely written against the long tradition of verbal poetry, “One Toss of the Dice” marked a great shift in the direction of the visuality of our own era, with still and moving projections, hand-held personal data devices, monitors, and screens.

—R. Howard Bloch, One Toss of the Dice: The Incredible Story of How a Poem Made Us Modern (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017)


walt and emily

Whitman the empathetic ego at large. Dickinson the introspective ego writ large.


abc and abs

A young poet was invited into the basement of an older poet, and upon seeing a letterpress there, asked what kind of exercise equipment it was.


source images

An image that draws upon a history of related images.


aged out

If an artist lives past about age 80, the assumption is that s/he is already dead. Which is to say that the creative life is assumed dead even if the artist isn’t.


not accustomed

When Parra’s lines seem disconnected, it is because they are connected in a supralogical way in which we are not accustomed to seeing things. When the conventions of cause-and-result seem to be outraged, they are.

—Miller Williams, introduction to Emergency Poems (New Directions, 1972) by Nicanor Parra, translated by Miller Williams


not the marrying kind

The couplet rimes were a bad match: One was turning in circles at the altar, and the other forgot the ring.


rough to read

So much suffering in those lines, you felt it was written with claw marks.


of no matter

The poetry was not up to a level where critical attention would be worthwhile.

[Thinking of Instagram and Twitter poets.]


mosaic array

The poem as a mosaic of well-placed words.


my roller coaster


For half a century
Poetry was the paradise
Of the solemn fool.
Until I came along
And built my roller coaster.

Go up, if you feel like it.
It's not my fault if you come down
Bleeding from your nose and mouth.

by Nicanor Parra, Poems and Antipoems (New Directions, 1966), translated by Miller Williams

[I changed this post because I realized in 2016 I'd posted the same poem, "Young Poets." Not that a good poem, one I've memorized since my youth, shouldn't be posted twice or thrice or a trillion times, but I'm trying not repeat myself. Parra, for me, is one of the unique poets.]


green space

A nature poem good enough to be named a state park or protected green space.


mind the gap

A poem complete in its conception is necessarily compromised in composition.


inflection point

A book of poems that if it didn’t change the course of poetry, at least inflected it.


and another

Successive drafts have a point of diminishing returns.


shows promise

Sometimes it’s enough that reading a poem makes you want to read another or the next one.


implies another mark

     Every time I set up a blank canvas or a blank piece of paper, I experience the same feeling—queasiness, something approaching panic, and a profound lack of self-belief. There are a limitless number of marks that could be made, and almost all of them will be mistakes. That is, they will set up a logic which will lead the picture to banality or pointless mimicry. For every mark implies another. Will that circle be repeated or answered by different shape? Will it be a sun, a plate, a face? That stuttering horizontal line—it’s the sea isn’t it? Or if it’s not, you’d better work hard and fast to make that clear. And so on.
     One of the reasons painters tend to develop a signature style and stick to it is that this helps answer the original panic. Some people will always begin with an image at the centre of the picture plane. It seems that Picasso mostly does this---a face, a bird, a group of figures, will shoulder themselves out of the centre, and the lines will press away to the edges of the paper or canvas. Other painters think very hard about edges, and work inwards. Oddly, because his pictures mostly involve a central shimmering block of colours, I think Mark Rothko probably painted that way. But an initial, bold decision about how to break up the picture surface, and—to put it banally—what will go where, helps any painter get going. And once you have a way in, you are likely to use it again and again; and that way in will hugely influence what’s going to happen next.

—Andrew Marr, A Short Book About Painting (Quadrille Publishing Ltd, 2017)


ride the breath

Less inspire and more spur.


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