spiritual practice

When he was asked his religion, he answered that he practiced Poetry.


beyond all that

Very little of what is in a grammar book or a style guide makes any difference to a poet.


time mired

One of those formalists mired in time.


thing itself

When writing a ‘thing poem’ the prop is the prompt.


known unknown

Save me from the celebrity poet: Give me the ignored poet, uneasy with attention, that’s who I want to read.


knew only the new

A great critic smitten with what’s au courant while lacking a sense for what is universal in poetry.


puzzles me most

Though scarcely a confessional poet I write about my life. Impossible not to, really, since it’s what puzzles me most. The lyric voice permits me to acknowledge that, when I write about frames, I may also be writing about my life and, conversely, though I write about what looks like my life I might as well write about any object that is both discrete and amenable, cordial and solitary. Much as any person is. Much as a frame tends to be.

Of the letters of the alphabet, only one works as a perfect frame. It is the O of the gold frame of Michelangelo’s ‘Doni Tondo’, of the mouth of Beckett’s Not I, the o of omphalos and origin, of globe and moon, of look and book, of for and good. Of open and store. Of close and lose. Of hole and whole. Of do and don’t. Of hold and go. Of no and not. Of alone and know and so and old and, yes, love.

—Vona Groarke, Four Sides Full (The Gallery Press, 2016)


x'ed libris

Dear Librarian, whenever you must unburden your shelves of some books, let me offer that I prefer to find the word WITHDRAWN stamped on the inside cover, rather than the harsher DISCARDED.


fast start

He wrote all his best poems before he was twenty.


first 4-8

By the first 4 to 8 lines the reader will be either all-in or will be looking for that exit line that lets him/her out.


pack only the essentials

A haiku travels light, through centuries.


write differently

The fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness. This does not mean to distinguish writing from being alive: it means to correct the fantasy that creative work is an ongoing record of the triumph of volition, that the writer is someone who has the good luck to be able to do what he or she wishes to do: to confidently and regularly imprint his being on a sheet of paper. But writing in not decanting of personality. And most writers spend much of their time in various kinds of torment: wanting to write, being unable to write; wanting to write differently, being unable to write differently.

—Louise Glück, Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994, p. 3)


your one life

The audacious courage by which one lives a life wholly as an artist.


ex nihilo

Why is it necessary that a fragment suggests a whole?


only the poem

Poet, never talk of publishing, speak only of poems.


after witt

Every line in the poem needn’t be equally understood; some lines you just have to pass over in silence and without question.


from everything

I took wild honey from the plants,
I took salt from the waters, I took light from the sky.
Listen, my brothers, I took poetry from everything.

—Jorge de Lima, opening lines of “The Distribution of Poetry, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Ecco, 2010), edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris.


decorative library

The hotel lobby had many bookshelves but the books were turned so that the spines were facing in, facing the wall, as though their titles and authors mattered not, and their purpose was merely decorative like any wall covering.


written storm

Online publishing as furor scribendi.


poem qua poem

The poem in its current state is the poem.


book bludgeon

A critic who likes to remind the reader how much better the old books are than the new ones.


glint of that unlimited vastness

Both in art and in literature, the function of the frame is fundamental. It is the frame that marks the boundary between the picture and what is outside. It allows the picture to exist, isolating it from the rest; but at the same time, it recalls—and somehow stands for—everything that remains out of the picture. I might venture a definition: we consider poetic a production in which each individual experience acquires prominence through its detachment from the general continuum, while it retains a kind of glint of that unlimited vastness.

—Italo Calvino, Letters, 1941-1985 (Princeton U. Press, 2013) selected and with an introduction by Michael Wood, translated by Martin McLaughlin



She has attracted the large audience she deserves.


make it happen

He was a poetry hustler.


too much and then more

As a poet he tended to over-describe. After reading his books you had brush the adjectives off your lap.


shadow, vibration, whiff...

The word ‘poetry’ is used as an exaltation or as an honorific in many arts. But for its practitioners poetry is just something that haunts the final piece.


weight training

Some poets are weighed down by the heavy mantle of their early awards and praise, others gain strength and seem to shrug off the burden of their notoriety.


new into old

[André] Chénier also experimented from early youth in didactic and philosophic verse, and when he commenced his Hermès in 1783 his ambition was to condense the Encyclopédie of Diderot into a poem somewhat after the manner of Lucretius. This poem was to treat of man’s position in the Universe, first in an isolated state, and then in society. It remains fragmentary, and though some of the fragments are fine, its attempt at scientific exposition approximates too closely to the manner of Erasmus Darwin to suit a modern ear. Another fragment called L’Invention sums Chénier’s Ars Poetica in the verse “Sur des pensers nouveaux, faisons des vers antiques.” ["From new thoughts, let us make antique verses"]

[1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chénier, André de]


that's it then

He had a talent for titles, but the poem itself seldom measured up.


dropped net

The poem is a net dropped into the universe.


five year mark

It took me two years to find the book, and three more before I finished reading it.


shadow world

Most superstitions are poetic.


content first

What matters to me even more than the shapeliness and the dance of language is what the poem discovers deeper down than the gracefulness and pleasures in figures of speech. I respond most to what is found out about the heart and spirit, what we can hear through the language. Best of all, of course, is when the language and other means of poetry combine with the meaning to make us experience what we understand. We are most likely to find this union by starting with the insides of a poem rather than with its surface, with its content rather than with its packaging. Too often in workshops and classrooms there is a concentration on the poem’s garments instead of its life blood.

Linda Gregg, American Poet (2001)


lector liberalis

A critic is a reader who takes liberties with the text.


path of half-truths

There are hundreds of ways for a poem to fail, but the easiest course is to falsify.


strains of thought

There was music in the meditation.


piñata poem

Sitting in the workshop hearing the others critique his poem he began to visualize them as blind-folded children flailing at the air, trying to strike the piñata in hopes it would spill some candy and trinkets at their feet.

looking past the crowd

An artist doesn’t mistake audience for achievement.


glistening still

We thought the blood thinned, our weight
lessened, that our substance was reduced
by simple happiness. The oleander is thick
with leaves and flowers because of spilled
water. Let the spirit marry the heart.
When I return naked to the stone porch,
there is no one to see me glistening.
But I look at the almond tree with its husks
cracking open in the heat. I look down
the whole mountain to the sea. Goats bleating
faintly and sometimes bells. I stand there
a long time with the sun and the quiet,
the earth moving slowly as I dry in the light.

—Linda Gregg, from "Glistening"

[My friend the poet Linda Gregg died in the early hours of yesterday.]


too late to alter

If you tried to rewrite this old poem, it would be tantamount to trying to rewrite your life.


more than a game

Dharani, in Japan, means the practice of reciting certain passages from Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit, without translation, which is said to endow the reciter with a range of virtues. “Rhetoric” (kigyo) is regarded as one of the ten evils in Buddhism as noted earlier. Shinkei, then, equated poetry with Buddhism in absolute terms, and did not even allow the suggestion that poetry may be fiction.

It may be said that the effort to find spiritual grace in poetry peaked more or less with Shinkei, a renga poet and therefore Bashō’s predecessor. At any rate, it was this tradition that affected Bashō as he strove to elevate poetry to something more than a game.

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


hidden lines

A poem taking advantage of the camouflage afforded by the paragraph.


painted sign

A half-worn sign on a brick wall is a kind of found poem.


double or nothing

The poet said he was paid zero for his last reading, so he needed to charge me something. I offered to double what he was paid for his last reading. He went silent on the phone…I guess he was considering my offer.


sense of an ending

Sometimes the poem must end on an unsatisfying last line.


solve for x

To think of the poem as an algebraic formula that has both constants (images) and variables (metaphors).


not all but each

If it were possible to define in a phrase the place Cernuda occupies in modern Spanish-language poetry, I would say he is the poet who speaks not for all, but for each one of us who makes up the all. And he wounds us in the core of that part of each of us “which is not called glory, fortune, or ambition” but the truth of ourselves.

—Octavio Paz, On Poets and Others (Arcade Publishing, 1986), translation by Michael Schmidt.



The first line was a feint.


make quick work of

Be suspicious of what you finish easily.


twisting tolstoy

Bad poems are all alike; every good poem is good in its own way.


service first

Stop trying to save poetry and start trying to see how you might serve poetry.


the plunge

I would think of history—and the varieties of language that ride with it—as a vast resource into which one plunges with energy, comparable to sexual energy, demanding and focusing all one’s vitalities. Following this, there is a second phase, which I learned absolutely from Charles Olson: History is important only insofar as it impinges on the present. First, the plunge, the descent into hell, the near-drowning, if you wish; then the return to the surface. Because, if you drown, who cares? And if you don’t plunge, who cares?

— Paul Metcalf, “The Poet and History,” Paul Metcalf, Collected Works, Vol. III, 1987-1997 (Coffee House Press, 1997)


voice advantage

He had the kind of voice that could make pedestrian verses strut.


bottom drops out

Until it’s too late, a reader can’t be certain that a space or a pause in the poem is not an abyss.


one and same

Often narcissist and poet fail to resist synonym.


sum of its form

The fault of certain formalists is to think the poem is the sum of its formal elements.


touch of a lover

Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.

—Plato, The Republic


up to the chin

The poet wades into words unafraid of what the depths hold.


core sample

A poem that was like a core sample of one’s soul.


missed exit

As the poem proceeded you could almost see the poet glancing back at the perfect ending he’d blown by.