seedy exactitude

Philip Larkin in his capacity as librarian at Hull University came into Bertram Rota [London bookseller], looking for copies of his own early books for the university collections. This struck me as a self-flagellatory exercise….If sometimes I label him “The Bard of Impotence” this is not to say he was not a good poet, a paragon of seedy exactitude, but that his oeuvre exudes impotence, whether it be his own, this country’s, or both together. Despair becomes its own comfort zone, which may explain his immense appeal to the happily depressed masses. When I offered him a copy of his first book, The North Ship (1945), for £200 he balked at the price, saying, ‘What, for that piece of rubbish!’ The librarian left with his satchel empty. The poet, on the other hand, would have thought the book less rubbishy had it been a tenth the price?

—Marius Kociejowski, A Factotum in the Book Trade: a memoir (Biblioasis, 2022) (87)


line denies line

A poem in which the first line denied the title and each line after repudiated the prior.


peep show

Publishing one’s poem is a way to be seen, but it’s a tiny peephole with nary an eye passing by.


cadence cascade

Not regular meter but the cadence of a stream passing over stones.


by the line

The editors of the haiku magazine decided to pay their contributors—by the line.


eat it or read it

From the book review of SUPER-INFINITE: The Transformations of John Donne, by Katherine Rundell:

Rundell’s own style can dazzle, though at times the wit feels a bit strained, as when she describes Donne’s unreadable tract “Pseudo-Martyr” as “so dense it would be swifter to eat it than to read it."

I can think of a poem or two that one might say was "so dense it would be swifter to eat it than to read it."


take only what you need

He never applied for artist fellowships or grants. His day job provided money enough, so why compete with those who needed the extra income.


multum in parvo

A poem of modest length but majestic in scope.


not sticky

He’s published a dozen books and not one poem sticks in the public consciousness.


failures in poetry

I am not sure what I hope for. I feel I am
doing my best. It reminds me of when I was
sixteen dreaming of Lorca, the gentle trees outside
and the creek. Perhaps poetry replaces something
in me that others receive more naturally.
Perhaps my happiness proves a weakness in my life.
Even my failures in poetry please me.

—Linda Gregg, from “The Letter,” Sacraments of Desire (Graywolf Press, 1991)

[n.b.: Linda Gregg born on September 9.]


lenticular card

The first draft often contains another poem embedded therein, or even more than one poem partly hidden within. It’s like one of those lenticular flicker cards you used to get from a Cracker Jack box. You look at the card and you see an image, but turn the card only slightly, and a whole new image will appear.


song to poem

Poet, listen to beautiful songs and the poems will follow.


numbers game

Often the author’s bio will tout how many books published as if that counted when it comes to art.


either direction

He wrote the poem frontwards and then backwards, and it worked either way.


gift horse pass by

Give the awards to those who need them. Others will find rewards in the work itself.


call it style

He thought that if he was bad at some aspects of writing, those errors might manifest themselves as a kind of style.


struck by a chisel or ax

All edifices of art need to be built upon thought’s solid foundation.

If it’s not a poem, no matter what form it’s in, it’s not a poem.

Deep eclectic thought, rendered through easily apprehended language, creates poetry of the highest order.

I live: I sing.

It’s natural that poets thirst for some kind of a constitution: In addition to ensuring the people’s daily bread as well as their well-being, a country must safeguard its art from destruction.

If, while writing, your work feels forced, when it is read by others, it will feel even more forced.

What are the secrets for writing poetry?
—With na├»ve and honest eyes, look at the world, and convey what you comprehend and what you feel through the simplest forms of language.

The beauty inherent in poetry is the luminance of humanity’s upward-striving spirit expressed entirely through the poet’s passion. This kind of luminance not only glitters and splashes like embers from a fire in darkness, but also shoots out like sparks from a rock struck by a chisel or ax.

—Ai Qing, “Excerpts from the Notebooks,” Selected Poems (Crown, 2021), translated by Robert Dorsett

[n.b.: Ai Qing was the father of the artist Ai Weiwei. Ai Qing was a poet and dissident imprisoned for resisting the totalitarian regime in China.]


margin width

All poets are marginalized, but some have wider margins to write/work in.


it goes like this

He recited the poem from bad memory and somehow managed to improve upon the composition.


two-way street

One can only hold the critic to account when he quotes from the text on which he expounds.