quaker meeting

A poem should be composed like a Quaker meeting: With much sitting in silence until provoked from an unknown source to speak.


It is not pathetic messages that make us shed our best tears, but the miracle of a word in the right place.

—Jean Cocteau, A Call to Order (1956), trans. by Rollo H. Myers, 153.


good looking books

A small press publisher who had a reputation for producing beautiful books by inferior writers.


protector of the art

He was one of poetry’s paladins.


called forth

It matters not if the poem starts as prayer or grocery list, only a few words are called for, and the poem called forth.


anything you say

One can love another’s words without believing a word of them.


to hear great things

I had come to hear that great things might be true. This I was told on the Christopher Street ferry. Marvelous gestures had to be made and Humboldt made them. He told me that poets ought to figure out how to get around pragmatic America. He poured it on for me that day. And there I was, having raptures, gotten up as a Fuller Brush salesman in a smothering wool suit, a hand-me down from Julius. The pants were big in the waist and the shirt ballooned out, for my brother Julius had a fat chest. I wiped my sweat with a handkerchief stitched with a J.

—Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift (Viking Press, 1975)


memory of robert bly

I heard Robert Bly read no more than a couple times in my life. Memorable for me was when we brought our infant son to a reading Bly did in Springfield MA. Generally we could get away with doing that, by sitting in the back in case we had to make a hasty exit. This time it didn't work so well: The baby let out a loud cry...but before we could get up and hurry out of the room, Bly called for us to bring the baby to him. Stopping his reading to greet the baby with good words and praise for his early interest in poetry, etc. I'm not certain all of the audience was pleased by the interruption, but you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be impressed by his generous spirit...and it made a lasting impression on my wife and me.


genre renegade

Often the best poets are those writers who hardly know what poetry is.


poetry smitten

One of those poets who was too much in love with poetry.


faults and falls

The greater the writer the more transgressions we tend to forgive. A minor writer will not survive even one stumble of bad behavior.


my life in realtime

The journal is the narcissist’s preferred genre.


gift text

A short gift inscription handwritten inside the front of the book exceeded the literary merit of all the print that followed.


clean lines

To me writing haiku is a good exercise. I dig and respect them because they create an image—paint a picture—so precisely. They draw pictures in very clean lines. You say what you want to say symbolically. I work with haiku a lot in my attempt to handle the language—the word. I don’t see haiku as black form, but, then, you utilize whatever modes or vehicles are available to you.

—Etheridge Knight, interview by Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo 19:4 (Fall 1996).



Writers who teach writing by repackaging advice received from their teachers.

[After reading another craft book chockful common advice essays. Plus prompts!]


waiting a turn

A poet waits for recognition from other poets awaiting recognition from other poets…


starting gate

The first line should be like the start of a horse race. Each word, whether calm or jumpy, guided into a stall of the starting gate. Then…the bell rings, and they run.


backward or forward

Both memory and imagination must rely on experience.


nothing worse

Couplet: Is there anything worse / than a novel in verse?


boundary-dissolving moment

…to fully experience a boundary-dissolving moment in a poem, we must first dissolve the boundary that separates us from the poem itself. When we analyze and interpret a poem, when we put all our energies into “figuring it out,” we separate ourselves from it. The poem becomes an object of study, a problem to be solved. Analyzing/interpreting poems has its place and its value, but reading this way keeps us at a distance. In a mindful or spiritual reading, what we want is to enter the poem, to live in the field of its imaginative energy for a time, to appreciate and experience it rather than think about it.

—John Brehm, The Dharma of Poetry (Wisdom Publications, 2021)


where it's going

The poet may know, but the reader shouldn’t know where the poem is going or where it will come out.


by words alone

Poet, let language be your primary allegiance.


don't pull

Let them hear your heart-strings snap back.


inexact fit

A poet knows how hard it is to enfold in language even a very small part of the world.



“Penny for your thoughts,” I said to the pensive poet. “Sad,” he replied, “but that’s more than I made last year from my published work.”


not too pure

Cleanse your spirit of spleen, my teacher said, before exercising your function as critics. Not that the voiding of spleen doesn’t pose certain dangers: there are some souls who have nothing else to offer, who run the risk of blanking themselves out with purgation. “Be pure, be pure, and evermore be pure: but be not too pure,” for we live in essential impurity. Melancholia, black bile—asta bilis—has joined with the poet more than once to produce imperishable pages. There is no need to begrudge the critic a little melancholy. Nonetheless, a little soap here, a little swab there have their place in the household of literature.

Antonio Machado, Juan De Mairena* (Univ. of California Press, 1963), edited and translated by Ben Belitt

*‘Juan De Mairena’ was a pseudonym of Machado's. The Marirena persona being a provincial professor of rhetoric, philosophy and literature. The subtitle of this book: Epigrams, Maxims, Memoranda, and Memoirs of an Apocryphal Professor with an Appendix of Poems from The Apocryphal Songbooks.


on hold

Block: Even Dial-a-Poem put me on hold.


fragment or figment

Forever certain there is a magnificent fragment in my notebook, if only I could find it.


wayside words

Wayside words: Not all words are worth perpetuating.


phenom poet

They had made her so famous so fast that no one would ever take her seriously. She was now phenomenon, not a person.


insufficient condition

A prose poem in which the prose never rose to a condition of poetry.


three polish aphorisms

I had so much joy in my creations that there cannot be a question of merit.
—Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935)

Tell me what books you have at home; I’ll tell you who you are.
—Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980)

Beyond each corner a number of new directions lie in wait.
—Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)

[Beyond each line-break a number of new directions lie in wait.]

A Treasury of Polish Aphorisms (Polish Heritage Publications, 1997) compiled and translated by Jacek Galazka


no event necessary

Some poems answer an occasion but most arise ex nihilo.


imaginative writing

When he didn’t get the creative writing teaching gig, the poet asked why: His c.v. lacked imagination, was the response he got.


green screen

His writing was merely green screen upon which his images would be layered in.


hear me

The poets tripped over themselves trying to get to the microphone. I’m afraid it was no grail.


pot alive

Thinking back to the pottery class I once went to in which the amateur potters, if they produced a few decent pots, at least went some way toward revealing their secret selves. A coarse-spoken graceless woman would produce something delicate; myself, something like a cow pat. (The vase that turned in stages of collapse into a low-sided dish, then a plate, then did service as an ashtray.) At least from pottery I learned that a pot is either alive or dead…In a pot that deserves to live, the fire still licks around the clay and, even if it is centuries old, the potter still touches his work.

—Elizabeth Smither, The Commonplace Book (Auckland U. Press, 2011), p. 118


arras surface

There was a poem written all over the real poem.


knot straight

All the lines written straight across the page, yet the poem was a knot of language.


said too much

A mind that rivered ceaselessly to the mouth.


size that doesn't matter

Monumentality impresses too easily. Take a few steps back to consider whether the impact is real or initial intimidation due to scale.



So much of the poetry published online becomes just the unnoticed wallpaper of the web.


speak from the eyes

Charles Reznikoff is a poet of the eye. To cross the threshold of his work is to penetrate the prehistory of matter, to find oneself exposed to a world in which language has not yet been invented. Seeing, in his poetry, always comes before speech. Each poetic utterance is an emancipation of the eye, a transcription of the visible into the brute, the undeciphered code of being. The act of writing, therefore, is not so much an ordering of the real as a discovery of it. It is a process by which one places oneself between things and the names of things, a way of standing watch in this interval of silence and allowing things to be seen—as if for the first time—and henceforth to be given their names. The poet, who is the first man to be born, is also the last. He is Adam, but he is also the end of all generations: the mute heir of the builders of Babel. For it is he who must learn to speak from his eyes—and cure himself of seeing with his mouth.

—Paul Auster. "The Decisive Moment", Talking to Strangers: Selected Essays (Picador, 2019)


textual infestation

There were so many punctuation marks in the poem, he thought to call an exterminator.


floating aphorism

Each line of the poem threatened to float off as aphorism dissipating in the atmosphere.


ars longo

Two male poets were comparing the length of their long poems.


artist impoverished

[Paul Léautaud] was mean, slanderous, and cruel; he could also display generosity and great delicacy in his judgments. Even at his most caustic there was a simplicity, an absence of vanity, rare in a writer. He talked about death and love, authors and actors, Paris and poetry, without rambling, without moralizing, without a trace of bitterness for having fallen on hard times. He was sustained, without knowing it, by the French refusal to accept poverty as a sign of failure in an artist. Léautaud, at rock bottom, still had his credentials. His monumental diary "Journal Littéraire", which he kept for over 50 years, can without exaggeration be described as the greatest study of character ever written.

—Mavis Gallant, Paris Notebooks (Stoddart, 1988), 143.


language enclave

Poem as language enclave within the empire of words.


knick-knacks and bric-a-brac

She finds her images at the White Elephant Sales.


party crasher

Reader as party crasher: He liked it when the start of a poem was somewhat uninviting.


metaphor must

A metaphor should make the eyes widen, blink or squint, or even bulge from the head. A metaphor shouldn’t pass without reaction.


suspect subject

Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it, a wise man once told me.

―Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (Norton, 1979)

better end

How hard it is to hear the end of poem as it happens. Often it’s easy to see how the poet wrote past a better ending.


waist deep in the river

Writing is like wading waist deep into a river, noticing the trees on the far bank, the swallows catching light as they dive and turn over the surface, while what you should be writing about is down in the murk, the flow of the slow current, the catfish and carp moving along the bottom.


unreadable beautiful writing

Written in an attractive yet utterly illegible script.


things discarded

Perhaps all the shorter poems you have written are just the tailings from a long poem you will never write.


only need to stoop

One of those days when you could find poems lying about on the ground.


what a fencer

[Emily Dickinson] is an inimitable poet, definitely not to be emulated. The white dresses and white slippers descending the stairs from a room where she espied Death driving his carriage, vanishing into a dark grove of trees. All those dashes—what a fencer she would have made.

Elizabeth Smither, The Commonplace Book (Auckland U. Press, 2011)


no retelling

Tell me a story I’ll never be able to retell as well.


original one

Obviously the poet had read very little, thus he may be excused for thinking of his own work as original.