6.25.2017

untouched by any other

An image/thing that was so whole and complete unto itself, it would forever ignore the attraction of metaphor.

6.24.2017

new worlds

After a youth spent leafing through thick dictionaries, after so many years of reading across various genres, how is it I’m still discovering new words? Which is to say new worlds, as though a telescope trained on deep space as the faintest and most distant of stars slowly become visible.

6.23.2017

last words

The last line was epitaph of the poem.

6.22.2017

fighting up

That lyric could lick almost any long poem.

6.21.2017

wood product

It has been speculated that the English word “book” in fact comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for beech (boc), the favored material from which the panels of tablets were fashioned.

—Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Norton, 2003)

6.19.2017

of another language

When the words become foreign to me.

6.18.2017

too soon

The blood hadn’t dried and already the poet tried to memorialize the terrible event.

6.17.2017

long and strong

A long poem with the influence of the Old Testament.

6.15.2017

neither here nor there

The words are never where they're supposed to be.

6.11.2017

hit send

A post-mo email-quality epistle.

6.09.2017

no arbitrary boundary

He [Edgar Allan Poe] was so much against slavery that he had begun to include prose and poetry in the same book, so that there would be no arbitrary boundaries between them.

—Ishmael Reed (epigraph to Paul Metcalf’s Both, p378 in Collected Works, vol. II.)

[n.b.: Quote encountered while browsing a reading area in the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center in Asheville, NC.]

6.04.2017

tell ail

Confessional poetry: Dire diary.

6.03.2017

thus said

A statement of taste spoken as though a truth statement.

6.02.2017

hard pressed

Oppression makes poets. In the land of perfect liberty songs are not pressed out of the heart.

Elia Peattie

6.01.2017

no turning away

He’d set out to write manifestly great poems: The dream of writing poems that upon first reading drew a devoted audience.

5.31.2017

quiet please

Silence is too important and shouldn’t be interrupted with trivial sounds.

5.30.2017

degree of difficulty

The poem was difficult in all the right ways.

5.28.2017

catbird seat

A critic secure being only a critic.

5.27.2017

some experience required

Thus the specific beauties of a poem may easily be lost to an unimaginative mind, as all the values of English poetry might so easily be lost to a world where men, intent upon their own active business, should come at last to employ “business English” as their sole linguistic medium, a medium more completely foreign to the language of Shelley or of Shakespeare than theirs to that of Catullus or of Homer. The beauties of poetry would still be those identical beauties, but these beauties would simply not occur to readers of the poets, were there any readers left, as upon the syllables and lines before them. And if these beauties remain what they are in essence, that is of little interest to a world in which they are effectively prevented from occurring. For they can not appear upon the face of experience even when men concern themselves to look upon the lines that could alone evoke them, unless men’s minds already hold the sensuous elements they would summon, and are capable of the imaginative response though which they must be recreated. If linguistic lore and stores of manuscripts and printed books may plausibly be said to preserve poetry itself, its beauties, even of sensuous imagery, can not so be kept in human experience. For their occurrence, minds are needed stored with the images that contemplation has engraved upon them, endowed with all the powers of imagination for reviving them as the poetry specifies, and as we shall further see, with all the possibilities of feeling and emotion that their beauties must also externalize, if they are to occur in their full intended character.

D. W. Prall, Aesthetic Judgment (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1929)

5.26.2017

two kinds of new

An avant-garde that just is or an avant-garde that exists only as against tradition

5.25.2017

multiply simply

The poem was simple in a thousand ways.

5.24.2017

grown thoughtful

Older poets are prone to meditations.

5.23.2017

not this, not that...

If a poet flips through his/her book at a reading, that’s probably a bad sign. Shouldn’t almost any poem one turns to in the book be worth reading aloud?

5.22.2017

fortifications and formations

There are forms that are castles and those that are hordes.

5.20.2017

flying into himself

One quirk of his [Bill Knott's], which I saw several times, was what I called his "defensive rudeness." For example, someone would approach him and say something like, "I loved your book." And Bill would say, "Then you must have terrible taste in poetry." And turn on his heel, and walk away. In another situation, he replied to the same kind of comment with, "Uh, I'm not from around here, umm, umm, I don't know the streets," and turned away. Needless to say, the people on the other end of this kind of exchange looked as if they were slapped in the face. I remember berating him about this, a few times, and his response was a shrug. He simply did not know how to respond to anything positive.

[...]

In June 2015, Robert Fanning; Leigh Jajuga, a friend of Bill's and an assistant in his last years; Star Black, the poet and photographer, and a friend of Bill's; and I, buried Bill's ashes in Carson City, MI, his hometown. Robert had a small stone made. It says: "William Knott 1940-2014 / I Am Flying into Myself." The line is from a poem called "Death" in his first book:

      Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
      They will place my hands like this.
      It will look as though I am flying into myself.

—Tom Lux, "Bill Knott: Can My Voice Save My Throat," Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet (Tiger Bark Press, 2017), edited by Steven Huff.

[Note: The poet Tom Lux passed away shortly after he edited Bill Knott's posthumous selected poems, I Am Flying Into Myself (FSG, 2017).]

5.18.2017

style points

Style is the inevitable verbal residue of a significant writer. Real style cannot be shared or mimicked, it being the unique markings of that one writer.

5.17.2017

clearly sealed

A book of poems found in its original shrink wrap.

5.15.2017

escape poem

Who knows what poem will escape into the world and be known?

5.14.2017

five beats is all

Blank verse can make you believe in any line.

5.13.2017

price paid

The one price you pay for poetry is attention.

-+-

If you believe, as I do, that poetry is a part of the world's work—a human need—you don't feel time spent on poetry is idle. Poetry's not a luxury but a deep and permanent part of language making.

—Mary Ponsot, Knopf's Question-a-Poet Contest (April 2000)

5.11.2017

stuck here & there

After the critic got finished with the poem it was a pincushion of far-fetched associations.

5.10.2017

opposite directions

It was one of those I-go-this-way-you-go-that-way poems.

5.08.2017

pleasant company excluded

Don’t be that poet who writes only to please.

5.06.2017

difficult and rare

But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.

—Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (1677)

5.04.2017

stacked and racked

It was a poetry book with a high body count.

5.03.2017

say it

Poet, be courageous in your rhetoric.

5.02.2017

metaphorge

The kind of metaphor that seems to forge its connection before one's eyes.

5.01.2017

caged singers

The critic had fabricated some elaborate birdcages for his favorite singers.

4.30.2017

going there

A poet doesn’t know what’s ineffable.

4.29.2017

poems distilled

15
Memory is the purest form of imagination.
(Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”)

45
Anyone can be a gun, but it takes a poet to go off half-cocked.
(Dickinson, 768)

169
Finding a poem in a blank page is like finding a snowman in flakes still falling from the sky.
(Stevens, “The Snow Man”)

321
The lamb that hears the growl needn’t stick around for the howl.
(Ginsberg, “Howl”)

454
A dream’s best intentions often end up a waking nightmare.
(L. Hughes, “Let America Be America Again")

464
Sometimes we have to die many times to figure out how we want to live.
(Plath, “Lady Lazarus”)

—George Murray, Quick (ECW Press, 2017)

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 littering.

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.

1.19.2017

figures in space

The poem’s rhetorical figures reminded one of watching a troupe of acrobats going through their convoluted routines.

1.18.2017

limits of understanding

A great poem cannot be taught, it can only be explored together intelligently.

1.17.2017

foreplay

The title titillated but that was it.

1.16.2017

impressed hard

I am after painting reality impressed on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream, but I am not after painting dreams as such, or fantasy.

George Tooker (1920-2011), American artist.

1.15.2017

overdressed

A minor poet draped in the mantle of his long poem.

1.11.2017

currency trade

If poetry is a kind of money it’s as mysterious in value as bitcoin.

1.09.2017

lost articles

The poems only his notebook has known.

1.08.2017

lean into the corner

All one expects of the word at the end of a line is that it holds the corner.

1.07.2017

walk as prophecies

As {Wm.] James echoed Emerson, so Emerson was echoing the romantic poets. They too urged that men should walk as prophecies of the next age rather than in the fear of God or in the light of Reason. Shelley, in his “Defense of Poetry,” deliberately and explicitly enlarged the meaning of the term “poetry.” That word, he said, “may be defined to be ‘the expression of the Imagination.’” In this wider sense, he said, poetry is “connate with the origin of man.” It was, he went on to say, “the influence which is moved not, but moves.” It is “something divine…at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which science must be referred. It is at the same time the root and the blossom of all other systems of thought.” Just as the Enlightenment had deified Reason, so Shelley and other romantics deified what I have been calling “The Imagination.”

—Richard Rorty, Philosophy as Poetry (U. of Virginia Press, 2017)

1.05.2017

bounty not border

Poetry’s allegiance is to the resources of language and not to the boundaries of genre.

1.04.2017

aspiring attendant

Each stanza should be a poem-in-waiting.

1.03.2017

mishandled analog device

The young man picked up the book, then fumbled around looking for its power button.

1.02.2017

stop, look and listen

Poet, be a fearless witness.