right kind of wrong

A poem that was the right kind of wrong, making its missteps due to its leaps or when getting to close to an edge.


act of survival

Because those poems that move me are enactments of discovery, not retellings. In those poems that change me the speaker is most often the protagonist, not the narrator. The narrator knows he will survive the poem. The protagonist never knows if he will even make it to the end; the poem itself becomes the act of survival, the act of flailing and probing, an open desire for grace or change. I think this is what Stevens meant when he said the poem is the act of the mind in the process of finding what will suffice. Not having found what will….

—Jorie Graham, “Pleasure,’ Singular Voices: American Poetry Today (Avon Book, 1985), edited by Stephen Berg.


better left unsaid

The only way to have said it better would have been to just to think it, to not have uttered it at all.


further persuaded

Each line needs only to persuade the reader to read the next.


old songs

Old poems, old songs…how to let them go?


got the once-over

Nothing worse could be said of a poem than it was all artifice and surface.


steel grace

I append the translation by J. U. Nicolson (The Complete Works of François Villon). I find Mr. Nicolson’s rendering of this poem more satisfactory than D. G. Rossetti’s or John Payne’s, both of whom make the poem too “musical,” destroying its natural diction which was Villon’s great quality, and both of whom make the poem too sentimental. Villon has sweetness in him and love of beauty, even piety; but his grace is a steel-like hardness; he is never, except perhaps in the Ballade of Grosse Margot, sentimental. Swinburne understood Villon perfectly, and he did several excellent translations but he did not translate the Dead Ladies:

    Say where, not in what land, may be
    Flora the Roman? Where remain
    Fair Archippa’s charms, and she—
    Thaïs—in beauty so germaine?
    Echo, calling afar, in vain,
    Over the rivers and the marshes wan,
    Lovelier once than girls profane?
    But where are the snows of the last year gone?

Burton Rascoe, Titans of Literature (Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1932)


typo byproduct

If you haven’t suffered a bad typo, you’ve not published enough. To a publisher: If you haven't let slip an egregious typo, you're not publishing enough.


page eater

A codex book uneasily digested by a digital device.


fascist poetics

Pound’s fascism should have been evident by the certainties in which he propounded his poetics.


throws light upon illusionist

We need critics because poets and writers, like magicians, are reluctant to divulge the mechanics behind their tricks.


art of time and place

The true work of art...is not the work of the individual artist. It is time and it is place, as these perfect themselves.

—Wallace Stevens, Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (Vintage, 1965).

[Last evening was the twenty-third annual Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash. Cole Swensen was the speaker and her presentation was titled, "Perhaps the Truth Depends." She took us on a journey of quotes and pictures related to Stevens' habit of walking, plus some related history of walking poets.]


singular path

Cut your own idiosyncratic path through literature.


false front

That false-front description that relies on expected adjectives.


chalk lettering

A poem so transitory it should be written in chalk.


case made

Every poem that is written is a defense of poetry.


colorful icing

A title that was cake decoration.


coming home

“But it took him a long time / finally to make up his mind to go home.” That’s the last line and a half of Bishop’s “The Prodigal.” Home, of course, is mutable, like any word or concept. But not indefinitely so. We learn from poetry of the gradual balancing of language on the exact midpoint between it-could-be-anything and it-can-only-be-this. I want to ask in this essay if I’m a poet, if that’s my “home”—but I think, for me, it’s still too early to know.

—Valerie Cornell, “On Being Unable to Read,” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2000), edited by Molly McQuade.


first sight

First sight, best sight. To describe with new eyes.


no answer

A last line has no answer.


stand-up stanza

A single stanza can set a poem bolt upright.



mental link

Metaphor as mind-rhyme.


invitation to a voyage

The ideal place to teach creative writing is a used book store, says my friend Vava Hristić.
My hunch that language is inadequate when speaking about experience is really a religious idea, what they call negative theology.
Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets.
A New Hampshire high school student reading an ancient Chinese poem and being moved—A theory of literature that cannot account for that commonplace miracle is worthless.
For Emily Dickinson every philosophical idea was a potential lover. Metaphysics is the realm of eternal seduction of the spirit by ideas.
Seeing the familiar with new eyes, that quintessential idea of modern art and literature, the exile and immigrant experience daily.
A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights.

—Charles Simic, The Poet’s Notebook (WW Norton & Co., 1995), edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall and David Weiss.


place or prop

For Wallace Stevens place names were just props in the staging of the poem; they’re not real places.


sidestep the missteps

Part of the ‘anxiety of influence’ relates to the effort not to repeat the errors of the precursors.


among us

They lived among us, yet we didn’t know our poets.


trunks and foliage

Beyond the words, beyond the woods.


before he was anything

My father, before he was anything else, was a poet. He regarded this vocation, as he records in the notebooks, as some “mission from G-d.” (The hyphen indicated his reverence to the deity; his reluctance to write out the divine the name, even in English, is an old Jewish custom and is further evidence of the fidelity that he mixed with his freedom.) “Religion, teachers, women, drugs, the road, fame, money…nothing gets me high and offers relief from the suffering like blackening pages, writing.” This statement of purpose was also a statement of regret: he offered his literary consecration as an explanation for what he felt was poor fatherhood, failed relationships, and inattention to his finances and health. I am reminded of one of his lesser-known songs (and one of my favorites): “I came so far for beauty, I left so much behind.” But not far enough, apparently: in his view he hadn’t left enough. And this book, he knew, was to be his last offering.

Foreword by Andrew Cohen to The Flame: poems, notebooks, lyrics, drawings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) by Leonard Cohen.



The publicity described him as a ‘professional poet’.


no such thing

The prosiest of poets are the first to reject the prose poem.


verse arises

And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves - not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge [1910] (Dalkey Archive Press, 2008), translated by Burton Pike.


small knowing group

Rather have a cabal than an audience.


line limit

If this line keeps going on, ranging forward, loping along, it will soon reach the limit of the margin and become prose.


time (un)bound

The perfect poem is both of its time and absolutely outside of time.


first image

An image everyone missed until this moment.


by your hands

Poet, don’t accept the form, shape it.


great and simple images

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

—Albert Camus, Selected Essays and Notebooks (Penguin, 1979), translated by Philip Thody.


poetics of the political

It’s the poetics in a political poem that make it matter.


line by line

Lines that advance and lines that reinforce.


join the ranks

The least you could do after giving up on being a writer, is to become a serious reader.


new and abused

I had to give him credit for titling his book, New & Rejected Poems.


what is time, what is poetry

For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.

—Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book XI (ca. 400 CE)

For what is poetry? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than poetry? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is poetry? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.


apart from process

I know he wrote a lot of poetry, but did he write any poems? There being a difference.


conditional audience

An educated and experienced readership is the necessary and sufficient condition for great poetry.


retrospective advantage

Often when someone longs for ‘the spirit of the past’, they forget that spirit was a critical distillate made during a successive age.


breezy poem

How To Write A Breezy Poem
     by Charles “Chuck” Calabreze

1. Begin with “Because,” “When,” or “If.”

2. Mention two strangers. Describe in detail.

3. Tell where you’re watching from.

4. Create a simile involving a household pet.

5. Make a tentative philosophical observation.

6. Take back tentative philosophical observation.

7. Confess that you’ve lied about 1 & 2.

8. Change the subject entirely. Or write a series of similes involving various pop culture icons. Extra credit: Drop names of TV shows seen only on Nick at Nite.

9. Say what you’re really doing (i.e. writing a poem).

10. Confess that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

11. Tell what you’d rather be doing.

12. Write a brief passage proving that you’re not a capital ‘P’ poet (e.g., T.S. Eliot)

13. Further undermine your authority by impugning your motives. (Hint: reduce them to something base and trivial.)

14. Invent a simile or two or three using common kitchen appliances or objects.

15. Mention a friend’s marital or dating problems. Extra credit: Mention your married friend’s dating problems.

16. Make list of events beginning with “After.”

17. Make tentative psychological observation.

18. Take back tentative psychological observation.

19. Rapidly change the subject to avoid implication of 16.

20. Return to the strangers. Begin line “I swear.”

21. Envy something about the strangers. Example: Unselfconsciousness.

22. Mention an obscure rock ‘n’ roll band.

23. Praise the band extravagantly.

24. Change the subject again.

26. Apologize to the reader.

25. End with slightly obtuse but trivial observation grounded in everyday routine. If possible, be witty.

[Originally appeared in Countermeasures #3]


given to

A poet given to prose.


after gombrich

Art is made by artists and by the critics who recognize it in all its itness.


pointed texts

Documentary poetics: Utilizing found poetry for its political aspect.


more is less

What does it mean that after about five books you’ve not published a Selected? Then there was the poet who touted her twelve books of poems…by now shouldn’t you be announcing a New & Selected or a Collected?


vigilant elite

Always the literati must call out the lappers-up of the light popular.


art is

It is changing.

It has order.

It has variety.

It affects other things.

It is affected by other things.

It doesn’t have a specific place.

It doesn’t have a specific time.

Its boundaries are not fixed.

It may go unnoticed.

Part of it may also be part of something else.

Some of it is familiar.

Some of it is strange.

Some of it is unknown.

Knowing of it changes it.

To know of it is to be part of it.

Robert Barry 1970

[Robert Barry: An artist book (Karl Kerber Verlag – Bielfeld, 1986), edited by Erich Franz. Image: a typewritten single sheet of paper.]


literary collaborators

A manifesto makes room for the aphorism. The aphorism is made for a manifesto.


poem-eating contest

Nothing wrong with preferring bite-sized poetry, but you must test the limits of your appetite from time to time with long poems.


hearse chaser

I’m sorry that I only read your work when you were dead.


first to mine

In the course of one's reading, it's nice to think, even if it’s not true, that I’ve been first to mine this gemstone quotation.


single motion

He composed a line in a single motion, like an archer taking an arrow from a quiver.


floated promiscuously along

The difference, then, between the poetry of a poet, and the poetry of a cultivated but not naturally poetical mind is that in the latter, with however bright a halo of feeling the thought may be surrounded and glorified, the thought itself is still the conspicuous object; while the poetry of a poet is Feeling itself, employing Thought only as the medium of its utterance. In the one feeling waits upon thought; in the other, thought upon feeling. The one writer has a distinct aim, common to him with any other didactic author; he desires to convey the thought and he conveys it clothed in the feelings which it excites in himself, or which he deems most appropriate to it. The other merely pours forth the overflowing of his feelings; and all the thoughts which those feelings suggest are floated promiscuously along the stream.

J. S. Mill, “The Two Kinds of Poetry,” Essays on Poetry (U. of South Carolina Press, 1976), edited by F. Parvin Sharpless


midden of broken things

A fragment gathers with others of its kind.