9.19.2020

critic types

A thug critic, a theory critic, a thiswayandorthat critic.

9.18.2020

cut through

It was no caesura, it was a scissor’s cut through the line.

9.17.2020

play no favorites

No word held higher than another.

9.15.2020

preferred experience

It was a poem I’d rather have read to me, than have had to read myself.

9.14.2020

classically defined

‘Classical qualities, classical form’ are easy words to say. What exactly do they mean? They imply an idea of excellence; they imply also clearness, sobriety, the art of composition; they mean, finally, that reason, rather than imagination and sensibility, presides over the execution of the work, and that the writer dominates his material.

Jules Lemaître, “Guy De Maupassant,” Literary Impressions (Kennikat Press, 1971)

9.12.2020

laid out in there

Old anthology with a charnel house for a contents page.

9.10.2020

no rain

Block: Why will the letters not rain over the desert blankness of the page?

9.09.2020

pressed poetry

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

—Elia Peattie (8/14/96: 8)

[Emerson: Poems are expedients to get bread. (paraphrase)]

9.08.2020

preferred if not perfect

As a critic he knew not to expect perfect, but he knew what to prefer.

9.07.2020

against whiplash

Perhaps a prose poet gets tired of being jerked around by linebreaks.

9.05.2020

wag and shrug

The poet shrugs as the grammarian wags a finger.

9.04.2020

poetry speaking

Certain words when you come upon them in a poem signal this is poetic writing.

9.03.2020

like a burr

An aphorism
should be
like a burr:
sting,
stick,
and leave
a little soreness
afterwards.

Irving Layton, "Aphs," The Whole Bloody Bird: Obs, Aphs & Pomes (1969)

9.02.2020

out of order

One who put art ahead of life, and then was dead.

8.31.2020

turn at the cliff's edge

A good line of poetry creates an uneasy expectation if not a cliffhanger.

8.27.2020

well said newly seen

An aphorism shouldn’t be (as Pope put it) ‘what oft was thought, but ne’er so well express'd’; for however ‘well expressed’, it will not move us unless the words convey a novel way of seeing an important aspect of the world or our existence.

8.26.2020

nonce upon a time

Poems that are half-told tales, interrupted narratives, improbable parables, or stories that lose their way.

8.25.2020

was flying

Bruno, I've spent my life looking for that door to finally open in my music. Just anything, a crack...I remember in New York, one night...A red dress. Yes, red, and it looked great on her. So, one night we were with Miles and Hal...we'd been going over the same stuff for an hour I think, just us, so happy...Miles played something so beautiful it almost knocks me off my chair, and then I was off, I closed my eyes, and I was flying, Bruno, I swear to you I was flying...I could hear myself as if it was from very far away but inside myself...

—Julio Cortázar, “The Pursuer” The Jazz Fiction Anthology (Indiana U. Press, 2009), edited by Sascha Feinstein and David Rife, translation by Sandra Kingery.

8.24.2020

in bits and pieces

An anecdotal poetics: The way he talked about poetry via remarks and vignettes.

[Thinking of Jack Gilbert]

8.23.2020

known unknown

The poet always knows more about the poem than you do.

8.21.2020

postcard poets

Browsing an old postcard site using the search word ‘poet’ I found that Russia had by far the greatest number of poet postcards. A little window into how certain cultures value poetry.

8.19.2020

be quoted or die

Literary fame is measured by being oft-quoted.

8.18.2020

more renown

One of those poets who thought by publishing so much, renown would follow.

8.17.2020

avoided drawing

A poet who alluded when it was time to illustrate.

8.16.2020

ruling passion

Since the age of fifteen poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any tasks or formed any relationship that seem inconsistent with poetic principles; which has sometimes won me the reputation of an eccentric. Prose has been my livelihood, but I have used it as a means of sharpening my sense of the altogether different nature of poetry, and the themes that I chose are always linked in my mind with outstanding poetic problems.

—Robert Graves, The White Goddess (Faber & Faber, 1948)

8.12.2020

meter was his métier

He could scan a line of poetry with his eyes closed.

8.11.2020

part way

He was a writer who didn’t finish things.

8.10.2020

lookalikes

One of those old white poets who grew a Whitmanic beard in the last years of his life.

[Thinking of John Berryman, Hayden Carruth, Donald Hall, etc.]

8.08.2020

after the storm

That line fell across the page like a downed tree,
and it took out some powerlines with it.

8.07.2020

against which

Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I could express has its meaning.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), translated by P. Winch, p 16.

8.05.2020

poem that lives

A poem lives by its memorable lines and the reader’s feel for the worth of its whole.

8.04.2020

ur-genre

If a good poet is using prose it's being used toward some purpose or for some effect. Poetry is the ur-genre: It takes and uses whatever resources the language offers. And when the language is lacking resources, poetry may well create a few more elements no one knew were there.

8.03.2020

of leaves and fascicles

Nineteenth century America produced just two preeminent poets, Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).

Walt self-published his books and was a great self-promoter, to the point of publishing reviews in newspapers of his own books. Walt had the goods and knew he had them: Walt’s poetry was expansive and innovative, pressing particularly on the boundary of poetry and prose, and putting equal pressure on the mores of his times. His poetry (Leaves of Grass) was published in several editions. He sunk his teeth into the times, and at the time of his death, the literary world had grudgingly caught up to Walt. His Leaves inexhaustible.

Emily was not known in her lifetime. Note that her dates fit within Whitman’s. Though she wrote many poems, she published only a handful of them. Her style was eccentric and her thinking was bold. If her poems were published in the state they were written, most readers of her day would be appalled or nonplused by them. Emily took pains to preserve her poems; tied up in tidy fascicles stored in a bureau drawer. Then she asked her sister Lavinia to destroy them upon her death. That didn’t happen and Emily's poems, surviving well-meaning but intrusive editing, eventually were recognized.

In time we’ll know who were the most important poets of twentieth century America. There are contenders but will it be as few as two?

8.02.2020

and many others

How does it feel to be “And Many Others”?: Anthologies that list (on the back cover or in ads) only some of the contributors.

8.01.2020

unappreciated crap

Poetry, The New Yorker, APR, The Paris Review, et al, they’re all publishing crap. But not my crap.

7.30.2020

fail better

There are failed poems that should be published in the state in which they were abandoned. Many a tidy and finished poem shouldn’t stand to be published shoulder to shoulder with a glorious mess.

7.28.2020

two ways

[From 1996 interview with Ralph Adamo and John Biguenet published in the New Orleans Review]

Allen Ginsberg and I used argue about aesthetics a lot. Every week he had a new idea. Usually hopelessly wrong. One time we were talking about spontaneous poetry, and he said, “Well, you believe what I believe, which is that an artist is a person who makes things.” He doesn’t submit to voices speaking, I said. You hear voices thinking, you write it down, but I am in charge of the poem. You might let the horse run for a while , but you tell it which direction to go, because if you don’t , the horse will eat all day. I believe in the horse. I believe in listening to the horse, but I’m riding the horse. And Allen said, “You’re afraid to release your poetry from your control. You afraid, let me see,” he said. “Write some poems that way.” So I wrote some poems that way. They’re in my first book. They are the only two poems in the book that I wish weren’t there. If I ever do a selected poems, those two poems certainly won’t be there.

Jack Gilbert, Interviews from the Edge: 50 Years of Conversations about Writing and Resistance (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), edited by Mark Yakich and John Biguenet, p. 205.

7.26.2020

toss up

The judge said of the poetry books: All are equally good, and each indistinguishable from the other.

7.25.2020

profound sip

A poem should be a tincture of the universe.

7.23.2020

alt usage

If it’s poetry you want to write
You must pitch your Strunk & White.

7.22.2020

squeal at the turn

You could hear the tires squeal at the turn of a line.

7.21.2020

words aren't precious

I began to experiment with Japanese forms, particularly the tanka and the renga, because their psychological structures are alien to me and force me to work without my familiar tools, my little linguistic reflexes and logical assumptions. It’s fun to keep throwing away those familiar responses, which amount to the old way of working, and to try to do something that makes me feel like a beginner again. It’s like finger-painting—I can make lots of fast, trivial messes and crumple the cheap, ephemeral paper. Gone! No important! And every once in a while I really surprise myself, and write something that suddenly throws light on the mystery. In order to do this, I’ve had to make some rules for myself. One: don’t save drafts. I used to cling to all the false starts and apparent dead ends in case some gem might be embedded there. I still believe that the unconscious knows valuable things that I don’t, but most of what it knows is useless stuff. Two: if a line isn’t working, start again from scratch. Words aren’t precious. If I lose a promising trail, so what? Unless I’m willing to lose it, how can I get to the next one, and the next? I think I used to stop far too soon, letting whatever happened to be there on the page command my attention, instead of asking myself what could be there in its place. What is this myopia but a reflection of my self, which likes to fix broken things and which would rather not think painful, self-annihilating thoughts? Thus the third rule: there’s only one question—what is the self? Until it’s answered, keep asking it. Then, who knows?

—Chase Twichell, “To Throw Away,” Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems (Middlebury College Press, 1997), Robert Pack and Jay Parini, editors.

7.19.2020

new species

A poem that was unfamiliar as such.

7.17.2020

word fortress

Poet, write a stanza that stands as a word fortress.

7.16.2020

confident line

Poet, write a line that never looks back.

7.14.2020

get what you pay for

Most poetry events are free, so organizers can’t give a money-back guaranty.

7.13.2020

mainly blah

The mainstream could throw up a thousand books a year just as good as this one and just as undistinguished.

7.12.2020

solitary business

The poets find the refuse of society on their streets and derive their heroic subject from this very refuse....  One year before Baudelaire wrote "Le Vin des chiffonniers," he published a prose description of the figure: "Here we have a man whose job it is to gather the day's refuse in the capital. Everything that the big city has thrown away, everything it has lost, everything it has scorned, everything it has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects. He collates the annals of intemperance, the capharnaum of waste. He sorts things out and selects judiciously; he collects, like a miser guarding a treasure, refuse which will assume the shape of useful and gratifying objects between the jaws of the goddess Industry." This description is one extended metaphor for the poetic method, as Baudelaire practiced it. Ragpicker and poet both are concerned with refuse, and both go about their solitary business while other citizens are sleeping; they even move about the same way.

—Walter Benjamin,  Selected Writings, 4: 1938–1940 (Belnap Press, 1996), p. 48., Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, editors

7.11.2020

deep space

Why are we so amazed by how poems are formed when the universe holds similar mysteries.

[South Pole Wall]

7.10.2020

more in the prose

Her prose sketch of how the poem was written was more interesting than the poem itself.

7.08.2020

one or undone

A line of poetry should have integrity or else it should unravel extravagantly.

7.07.2020

not blocked enough

After reading a book with two-thirds too many pages of poetry, I wished that more poets complained of ‘publication block’.

7.06.2020

fixedly

In the precise particular the peculiar hides.

7.05.2020

gauged by language

If a poet writes about nothing, his language better really be something.

7.04.2020

not the least of it

Most of what you’ve written has never been published; that’s as it should be.

7.03.2020

it can fly

Frank Gallo, author of Birding in Connecticut:
“Note the plain face of the female House Finch as compared to boldly patterned face of the female Purple Finch which shows a distinct white eyebrow and wide black eyeline. As with the male, the female House Finch has a longer tail, is buffy below, and has a curved culmen (upper beak) versus the short-forked tail, whiter belly, and straight culmen of the female Purple Finch.”

Sometimes the talk of birders reminds me of the distinctions made by poetry critics. ‘But the thing can fly,’ I want to say.

7.01.2020

not yet adult

His juvenilia was more like ‘adolescencia’.

6.29.2020

don't be that guy

After the poetry reading he asks the poet to sign his book with an obvious remainder mark.

6.28.2020

handed a parachute

Here’s your parachute, Poet, wonderful as the charms of the chasm.

Vincente Huidobro, Preface to “Altazor,” trans. by Eliot Weinberger, Pinpoints in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), selected by Raúl Zurita and edited by Forrest Gander.

6.27.2020

lewd or lame

Limericks are either lewd or lame.

6.26.2020

drop dead backdrop

I swear if an author were brought before a firing squad the background would be shelves of books.

6.25.2020

linear sense

You write word strings. A poet writes lines.

6.23.2020

need to know, paid to know

He knew more about poetry than anyone who wasn’t getting paid to be in the know.

6.22.2020

repeat and change

According to the critic Bob Thompson, one of the criteria of Yoruba art and sculpture is “repetition of changes.” This is significant to “For Our People” as well, for the poem does not repeat monotonously but moves unexpectedly, piling on moments and incidents authentic and sensitive to the Black experience, gathering momentum until it reaches a crescendo.

—Angela Jackson commenting on her poem “For Our People” in The Eloquent Poem (Persea Books, 2019) edited by Elise Paschen.

6.21.2020

epigram

His favorite artist is KAWS,
doesn’t that say it all?

6.20.2020

particle poem

A poem in which almost nothing happens: a glance, a gesture, a lilt, particle of a larger world.

6.18.2020

tell it

Necessarily the times had shifted poetry toward rhetoric.

6.17.2020

pamphlets, chapbooks, books

Remember that your words don’t create a recycling problem until they’re physically printed.

6.15.2020

can you hear me

Poets in those times were too busy giving readings. In fact most of the poetry they’d ‘read’ was what they’d heard at readings.

6.14.2020

general or particular

What has reasoning to do with Art or Painting?

The difference between a bad Artist and a Good One Is: The Bad Artist Seems to copy a Great deal. The Good One Really does copy a Great deal.

To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is Alone Distinction of Merit.

—William Blake, annotations to Sir Joshua Reynold’s Discourses.

--
From May to September, 1809, Blake held an exhibition of his works at the house of his brother James on Broad Street. He had advertised it with the motto, “Fit audience find tho’ few.” The catalogue was included in the half-crown admission. This exhibition was Blake’s “one great effort to secure recognition as a representative of imaginative art,” and it ended in comparative failure.

Artists on Art: From the XIV to the XX Century (Pantheon Books, 1945), edited by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves

6.12.2020

empty space

As he was reading he found that his eyes drifted to the blank spaces.

6.10.2020

head above

As it turned out the title was too good for this poem.

6.09.2020

two ways to get there

A poetry of method, a poetry of material.

6.08.2020

bi-directional imagination

Memory calls up experience in an imaginative act, while fantasy carries forth experience in an imaginative act.

6.07.2020

no audience

Still waiting for that single Klieg to step into.

6.06.2020

handwriting

And what else is handwriting but the concentrated expression of the personality of the individual? Of all the sciences or pseudo-sciences which presume to interpret the character and destiny of man from signs, graphology is surely the one which has the soundest foundation. Handwriting is taught, and certain of its characteristics belong to the general style of the period, but the personality of the writer, if it is at all relevant, does not fail to pierce through. The same happens with art. The lesser artists show the elements common to the period in a more conspicuous manner, but no artist, no matter how original, can avoid reflecting a number of traits. In terms of handwriting one can speak of a ductus, or hand, or style of writing not only in actual handwriting, but in every form of artistic creation, which is to an even greater extent an expression, something pressed or squeezed out of the individual.

Mario Praz, Mnemosyne: The Parallel Between Literature and the Visual Arts (Princeton U. Press, 1974)

6.04.2020

come round again

I must reread poetry because poetry always has more to reveal.

6.02.2020

high standard

I ask only to write a poem like Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

5.31.2020

single-use product

One of those ‘exercise poems’ that should be marked ‘Please dispose of properly after use’.

5.28.2020

stilted speech

Syllabics often make the language sound unnatural, for good or for bad.

5.27.2020

manners or mischief

A poetry of manners, a poetry of mischief.

5.25.2020

radar screen

It is an accuracy of vision, an account of now, an account of memory or a vision, an account of a dream, of a fiction totally imagined, described, accurately and exactly to our best ability beyond misstatement, beyond misshaping any shape of our idea. In our practice as poets, to be inaccurate becomes a real Lie. All our attention is on the page. We cannot account for the hours spent—we have only the page. A radar screen watcher works a high vigilance profession. Our attention is so intense that it is a vigilance, too.

—Laura Jensen, “Lessons in Form,” Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry (Wayne Stat U. Press, 1990), edited by James McCorkle

5.24.2020

sum of its parts

A great first line and a fine ending, with all the chutes & ladders lines in between.

5.23.2020

poem place

A good poem dwells in the mouth while making a home in the mind.

5.20.2020

read to be or not to be

You have to read a lot of poetry in order to know what kind of poet you want to be...and what kind you don’t.

5.19.2020

obscure worlds

As print litmags, always obscure, fade into archives, the online litmags blot out cyberspace.

5.18.2020

missteps are steps

A poem that flaunted its flaws, knowing they were necessary to the whole.

5.17.2020

eye poet

   In Miss Moore’s time…the poet found it indispensable to work directly with the printed page, which is where, and only where, his cats and trees exist.…We may say that this became possible when poets began to use typewriters. And we may note that Miss Moore has been in her lifetime: a librarian; an editor; and a teacher of typewriting: locating fragments already printed; picking and choosing; making, letter by letter, neat pages.
   Her poems are not for voice; she senses this herself reading them badly; in response to a question, she once said that she wrote them for people to look at….Moore’s cats, her fish, her pangolins and ostriches exist on the page in tension between the mechanisms of print and the presence of a person behind those mechanisms.

—Hugh Kenner, “The Experience of the Eye: Marianne Moore’s Tradition,” Modern American Poetry: Essays in Criticism (David McKay Co., 1970), edited by Jerome Mazzaro.

5.16.2020

for whom the taco bell tolls

I don’t have enough time ahead of me on earth to read TBQ.

5.15.2020

undo influence

Certain poets let their keen interests—be it Zen, Marxism, bird-watching, etc.—infuse their verse, and the poems suffer the influence.

5.14.2020

eyes open and aware

Turn a line of poetry as you would turn a corner in a part of the town you don’t know.

5.12.2020

fiction enough

By and large, poets believe the world is fiction enough. (Maybe Wallace Stevens said that already.)

5.11.2020

stamp collecting

All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
Ernest Rutherford

All poetry is either lyric or stamp collecting.

5.10.2020

short and sweet

It’s easier to judge longer poems. Short poems are more difficult to rank for merit.

5.09.2020

unwieldy lines

Though written in level and even lines, unwieldy was what he was going for.

5.08.2020

authoritative line

[One point from a list of 14 principles of composition, which he prefaces by saying, "I honestly do not know how consistent I am in using principles of composition. Certainly the compromise between eye and ear is not always the same kind of compromise. Every poem makes its own peculiar demands. Still, I will try to list a few principles by which I generally work."]

11. Don’t explain away a line which has an authority of its own, even if the line may puzzle the intellect—i.e., don’t write for people more interested in understanding a poem than experiencing it. This is not the same as being willfully difficult or obscure, which is merely tiresome.

—Peter Klappert, in “O’Connor The Bad Traveler,” Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Longman, 1977), edited by Alberta T. Turner

5.07.2020

why is your face familiar

The character actor and the major poet were both trying to get recognized in the local bar. The character actor won.

5.06.2020

back to basics

Stayed home, sewed his own clothes, wrote poems.

5.04.2020

staid style

That staid style that shows too much conscious control over the material.

5.03.2020

insignia

To say this poem stands for me.

5.02.2020

worth glory

All art is religious in a sense that no artist would work unless he believed that there was something in life worth glorifying. This is what art is about.

—Henry Moore, Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations (U. of California, 2002), Alan Wilkinson, editor.

4.30.2020

resource management

A poet prone to waste a lot of white space.

4.29.2020

holding on

Books for some of us are handholds over the abyss.

4.27.2020

tooth and nail

An artist and a writer lived together harmoniously while their books and artwork battled for every inch of wall space.

4.25.2020

bio overblown

One of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bios trying too hard to impress.

4.24.2020

poetry got small

Like the character Norma Desmond from the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, she was the kind of poet you could imagine responding to an interviewer who'd suggested her reputation had faded, with the line: “I am big. It’s poetry that got small.”

4.22.2020

this is the world

Jean Cocteau said mystery exists only in precise things—people in their situations, situations in people. Because I believe the visionary life has nothing to do with a necessarily transcendent existence, I like most of the poetry I read. I believe most poets know this is the world; and when you try to lead a special life or write a special poetry, you are dancing with an imaginary partner at a meaningless dance to which you have invited yourself and no one else.

—Frank Stanford, “With the Approach of the Oak the Axeman Quakes,” Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Longman, 1977), edited by Alberta T. Turner

4.21.2020

thousands of lines of me

Its critical rhetoric couched in politics and theory, language poetry was perhaps the most self-indulgent of all poetry movements.

4.20.2020

product placement

There were so many brand names popping up in her poetry, I was certain she’d struck some product placement deals before publication.

4.19.2020

carrying poetry

Many of us carry a few touchstone poems. Perhaps some of us live by a handful of poems.

4.18.2020

perfect thing

Only a very short poem can be perfect. Perfect but small.

4.17.2020

the poetic vertical

Every real poem, then, contains the element of time-stopped, time which does not obey the meter, time which we shall call vertical to distinguish it from ordinary time which sweeps past horizontally along with the wind and the waters of the stream. Whence this paradox, which we must state quite clearly: whereas prosodic time is horizontal, poetic time is vertical.

—Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetic Moment and the Metaphysical Moment,” The Right to Dream (The Dallas Institute Publications, 1988), translated by J. A. Underwood, 172.

4.15.2020

poems first

Read the poems before you read the bio.

4.14.2020

surfs the edge

She was a critic who could keep up.

[Thinking of Marjorie Perloff]

4.11.2020

words before markers

Put words before reading cues (punctuation).

4.10.2020

altar and rituals

The altar of the writing desk, and the rituals of sitting there.

4.09.2020

obscure grasping

The poetry that comes into being as a result of the working of the creative intuition upon poetic knowledge therefore reveals both an “obscure grasping of the real” and “an obscure grasping of the soul of the poet.” Maritain calls the former the “direct” sign of a poetic act and the latter a “reverse” sign of the same act. Both signs are inextricably involved in the making of a poem.

For if at the source of the poetic act there is the experience which I have tried to describe, in which the obscure grasping of the real, resounding in the creative subjectivity, is at the same time an obscure grasping of the soul of the poet, it will be necessary that the work be made a manifestation of both at once. This work is an object, and must always maintain its consistency and its proper value as an object, and at the same time it is a sign, at once a “direct” sign of the secrets perceived in things, of their avowal, of some irrecusable verity of their nature or history, transpierced by the creative intuition, and a “reverse” sign of the substance of the poet in the art of spiritual communication and revealing itself to itself. [Jacques and Raïssa Maritain, The Situation of Poetry(Philosophical Library, 1955), p 84]

Samuel Hazo, The World within the Word: Maritain and the Poet (Franciscan U. Press, 2018)

JF: I wanted to like the book more than I did. So much muzzy metaphysics in Maritain’s poetics. Ample amounts of Maritain are quoted, full of abstract words and concepts, presented as though self-evident, but Maritain offers almost no textual evidence to buttress his assertions. Hazo provides many quotes from other authors to try to underpin Maritain’s bold but unfounded ideas. I give Hazo credit for linking Keats and Hopkins to some of Maritain’s ideas. However, the two poets, and their notions of ‘poetics’, prove to be more relevant to the creative process than any of Maritain’s grand notions.   

4.08.2020

slack science

Critical writing using the language of science without its necessary rigor.

4.06.2020

two poles

There are poets who come from the word, and poets who come from the world. Most poets are suspended in that strange and uneasy magnetism between those two poles.

4.04.2020

spark, spur, start

To find something in the inchoate to get the poem started.

4.02.2020

goes with the territory

I hardly know a poet who is not a logophile.

4.01.2020

guiding spirits of lit

Certain writers (e.g., Dante, Shakespeare, Dickinson,...) are no longer historical literary figures, having transcended the bonds of time, they’ve become guiding spirits of literature.

3.31.2020

ray of light

One day [Gerard Manley] Hopkins was walking down a garden pathway when he suddenly stopped, and looking down toward a spot on the ground, began to turn round on his heel. After he had been doing this for some time an alarmed gardener, thinking him slightly queer, asked him what he was doing; to which Hopkins replied that he was trying to get the “inscape” of one single piece of gravel which was caught in the sun’s ray, and which he was trying to see from all angles.

Quoted from Donald Nicholl, Recent Thought in Focus (Sheed and Ward 1952), p. 70.

3.29.2020

exposed and open

In order to understand art, one must be exposed to art in as many of its manifestations as possible, and then one must be open to those varied experiences, in order to develop a true and abiding feeling for art.

3.28.2020

a poem contends

As soon as it's made, a poem contends with formless that would erase it, that would cause it to fade into the din of background noise.

3.25.2020

annotations mon ami

From the margin notes in the used book he was reading he recognized a kindred reader.

3.24.2020

no longer one of us

One of those people you knew who had given up on being a poet, and who now seemed more ordinary to you.

3.23.2020

ideal poem

I write or try to write as if convinced that, prior to my attempt, there existed a true text, a sort of Platonic script, which I had been elected to transcribe or record.

—Donald Justice, "Notes of an Outsider," Platonic Scripts (U. of Michigan Press, 1984)

3.22.2020

books instead of toilet paper

They closed the libraries during the pandemic. Lucky for him he was a prepper when it came to hoarding books.

3.21.2020

lyric poets and others

There are only lyric poets and poets who write other texts we call poems.

3.19.2020

plagiarist's defense

Legal doctrine: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ignorance of the literature is no excuse.

3.18.2020

write this way

Too many writing guides pointing to the same kind of good writing.

3.17.2020

life's work

A critic who conducted us through one poem with insight and due respect.

3.15.2020

the image

In the image, imbalance suggests movement, a movement toward balance and stability.
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The image is the unlocked door between the adjoining rooms of imagination and memory.
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The poem is not a system for the reproduction of images, but one for the making of images.
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The image allows us to experience time as if it were a landscape.
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Through the image, memory forestalls the ephemeral.

—Eric Pankey, from “The Image,” Vestiges: Notes, Responses & Essays, 1988-2018 (Parlor Press, 2019)

3.14.2020

first poem

Remember the excitement, even thrall, of composing your first real poem, however rudimentary: the images, the turns of phrase, the surprises of diction, pattern and word sounds, etc. In a sense every poem written since is a grasping after that first experience.

3.13.2020

paper bandages

Some poems are bandages for the wounds of the soul, the lacerations of the spirit.

3.10.2020

text takes a backseat

Even the broadside seems to have sacrificed the simple virtues of text to visual impact.

3.09.2020

road kill

He was so long on the poetry circuit, all he knew was being a performer.

3.08.2020

skim off the best

The poet skims off the best of life and puts it in his work. That’s why his work is beautiful and his life is bad.

—Leo Tolstoy

[A Writer’s Commonplace Book (Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., 2006), compiled and edited by Rosemary Friedman.]

3.07.2020

read for

Read for comprehension, and for disorientation, dislocation, and dizziness.

3.06.2020

range of years

As a young poet he imagined himself a Rimbaud, but after twenty years at the university he’d become John Crowe Ransom.

3.03.2020

life stories

Many people want to write poetry only if they’re allowed to tell their life stories.

3.02.2020

wordless moment

The image, though composed of words, adds a moment of nonverbal sensing to the poem.

3.01.2020

well-made well-worn

Often the talk of craft, the importance of craft, belies a conservative approach when it comes to art-making.

2.29.2020

metaphor go ahead

Our metaphors go on ahead of us, they know before we do. And thank goodness for that, for if I were dependent on other ways of coming to knowledge I think I'd be a very slow study. I need something to serve as a container for emotion and idea, a vessel that can hold what's too slippery or charged or difficult to touch.

—Mark Doty, “Souls on Ice

2.28.2020

parochial dialect

Many artists utter universals when they speak of process, composition, creation, etc.; when, at most, they should be speaking in a parochial dialect.

2.27.2020

all marked

The dream of a perfect commonplace book wherein each page might be marked or underlined as a place to return to.

2.26.2020

famous flaws

Flaws in a work become attributes over time: We accept and then praise the author/artist for not seeing the missteps.

2.25.2020

stacking up

When a book gets delivered to your home before you have finished the last one ordered.

2.24.2020

somewhere in the margins

Awake, it’s trickier business, this saying
so deliberately what we can only hope means anything.
Especially when we’re at it this late, weighing words
until they somehow seem to matter, until
we look at them again in the next day’s excruciating light
and realize mostly we stayed up all night for not nearly enough.

[…]

          And you wherever you are,
with your own frantic pages of notes to get back to,
another night drunk down to the cold bottom of the cup,
imagining an even better poem somewhere in the margins
of the best you can do right now,
you know how that one goes.

David Clewell, from “This Book Belongs to Susan Someone,” Blessings in Disguise (Viking Penguin, 1991, The National Poetry Series)

[I've been away from St. Louis for 35 years, but David was a poet I was close to in my last few years there.]

2.23.2020

critical making

All artists are critics by means of their making certain things rather than others, and by making those things in certain ways rather than others.

2.22.2020

not less or more

If Woolf is your source text, your erasure poem can't go wrong: Every word in the text was well tested before you came along with your eraser.

2.20.2020

subject extent

Some poets change subject matter poem to poem; others change subject matter only after exhausting a series of poems related to a single subject.

2.19.2020

genre renegade

I’ve never accepted that Joyce’s works are classed prose and not poetry.

2.18.2020

soft start

The beginning was too benign.

2.17.2020

under grandeur, grandeur under

The business of the poet and novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things, and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things.

—Thomas Hardy, from 1885 notebook; quoted in The Life of Thomas Hardy, p. 171

2.16.2020

little done well

Most poems fail because they accomplish very well so little.

2.15.2020

the time it took

He said he’d written the poem only today, which was true, as much as it was true that the poem had been composed over the better part of his life.

2.14.2020

wordly love

A poet too much in love with her vocabulary.

2.10.2020

members only

A poet who desperately wanted to join club Avant-Garde.

2.09.2020

priceless poetry

Poetry stands in resistance to this commercial culture. It is not about acquiring material wealth; instead, it’s about human insight, genuine human connectivity, and promotes mindfulness and awakening. In that way, poetry is priceless.

—Arthur Sze, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Interview with Arthur Sze by Kenji C. Liu, Jan 26, 2020.

2.04.2020

wait it out

He’d become much more willing to wait for a poem to come.

2.03.2020

you say tomato

Any two people can scan the same line and disagree on the stresses.

2.02.2020

red zone

When writing the last 20 lines of a poem, the poet is in the red zone.

[On Super Bowl LIV Sunday]

2.01.2020

solo act

The poetry reading turned into a one-person play.

1.29.2020

waist deep and weilding

The intrepid poet wades into language without fear.

1.28.2020

music before content

A poet's attunement to the activity of his speech organs can trigger corresponding aural (phonic) 'ideas', in which case a poem's sound structure is tied to the poet's phonic imagination, and the sequence of speech organ movements or sequence of phonic imaginings marks the inception of poetic thinking. That's what poets mean when they say that poetry begins with sound. Schiller, for instance, would often hear "a poem's music in [his] soul first, before having a clear idea of its content" (cited in Ernest Dupré and Marcel Nathan, le langage musical: Étude medico-psychologique, 1911)

—L. P. Yakubinsky, On Language and Poetry (Upper West Side Philosophers, 2018), trans. by Michael Eskin.

1.27.2020

mind made

Imagination is not experience. Imagination is experience manqué.

1.25.2020

six shooter

The dread of recognizing the sestina form on a page.

1.24.2020

where to begin

Knowing there was so much of the poet to read, I found it hard to start.

1.23.2020

poem without bounds

To write an inexhaustible poem.

1.22.2020

woven design

A poem as intricately patterned as an oriental rug.

1.20.2020

wrong blocks

After Harry Thurston Peck, editor of The Bookman, had reviewed Robinson's first collection, finding the author's "humor is of a grim sort, and the world is not beautiful to him, but a prison house."

[Robinson responded in the letter to Peck.] "I'm sorry to learn that I have painted myself in such lugubrious colors..." [Going on to say:]

“The world is not a prison house, but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where millions of of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

―Edwin Arlington Robinson, quoted in Edward Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life, by Scott Donaldson.

1.18.2020

three too many

Is there an example of a tripartite metaphor?

1.17.2020

audience held

One feels most like a poet in that bardic moment speaking before enrapt faces.

1.15.2020

library of the mind

He closed his eyes and saw in his mind where all his books were, those shelved and those stacked on their sides. When he opened his eyes, he couldn’t find the one title he was looking for.

1.14.2020

lit is

To write a singular document.

1.12.2020

drives on

The truck-driver poet looked at each exit ramp as a possible ending before he speeded past.

1.11.2020

wind flow

[Episodes of Eccentrics Among Haikai Poets, 1816, compiled by Takenouchi Gengen’ichi] begins its description of Sutejo this way:

    […] From a very young age, she showed signs of a poetic turn of mind. In the winter of her sixth year, she made:

       Yuki no asa ni no ji ni no ji no geta no ata
       Morning snow: figure two figure two wooden clogs marks

    Because of this, one year she received a poem from someone exalted:

       Kayahara no oshi ya suti oku tsuyu no tama
       Too good to be left in a weedy field: this drop of dew.

The original word for what’s given as “a poetic turn of mind” is fūryū, literally “wind flow”—an expression that can’t be translated to anyone’s satisfaction. It refers to a liking for things somewhat unworldly or transcendental or the object of that inclination, such as poetry. Among its synonyms is fūga, which carries a greater dose of “elegance” or “refinement.” Another synonym, fūkyō, suggests “poetic dementia.” Any haikai person must be imbued with fūryū, fūga, or fūkyō.

—Hiroaki Sato, On Haiku (New Directions, 2018)

1.10.2020

one among many

Each of us playing a small part in the poetry’s panoply.

1.09.2020

dog-ear bookmark

The dog-eared page could mark an important passage, a run of words to return to, or it could mean a stopping place, when then where the book was closed, set aside and never opened again.

1.08.2020

with all they have

The worst of the formalist poets are most vehemently opposed to free verse.

1.07.2020

dark passage

You knew going in, this was a poem you’d be lucky to elucidate.

1.05.2020

let there be dancing

When writing finally returned to Greece, in the eighth century B.C., the new Greek writing, its users, and its uses were very different. The writing was no longer an ambiguous syllabary mixed with logograms but an alphabet borrowed from the Phoenician consonantal alphabet and improved by the Greek invention of vowels. In place of lists of sheep, legible only to scribes and read only in palaces, Greek alphabetic writing from the moment of its appearance was a vehicle of poetry and humor, to be read in private homes. For instance, the first preserved example of Greek alphabetic writing, scratched onto an Athenian wine jug of about 740 B.C., is a line of poetry announcing a dancing contest: “Whoever of all dancers performs most nimbly will win this vase as a prize.”

—Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (W. W. Norton & Co., 1999)

1.04.2020

book of spells

The fortune-teller poet thought you wouldn’t notice that her book of spells was a battered unabridged dictionary.

1.03.2020

easy target

Like a parodist, the plagiarist should aim higher.

1.01.2020

long view

Literature is one long poem.