12.01.2021

quaker meeting

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

11.30.2021

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.

11.28.2021

good looking books

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

11.27.2021

protector of the art

He was one of poetry’s paladins.

11.26.2021

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.

11.25.2021

anything you say

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

11.23.2021

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)

11.22.2021

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.

11.20.2021

genre renegade

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

11.19.2021

poetry smitten

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

11.18.2021

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.

11.17.2021

my life in realtime

The journal is the narcissist’s preferred genre.

11.15.2021

gift text

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

11.14.2021

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).

11.13.2021

hand-me-downs

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

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

11.12.2021

waiting a turn

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

11.11.2021

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.

11.10.2021

backward or forward

Both memory and imagination must rely on experience.

11.06.2021

nothing worse

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

11.05.2021

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)

11.03.2021

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.

11.02.2021

by words alone

Poet, let language be your primary allegiance.

11.01.2021

don't pull

Let them hear your heart-strings snap back.

10.30.2021

inexact fit

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

10.29.2021

unremunerated

“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.”

10.27.2021

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.

10.26.2021

on hold

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

10.25.2021

fragment or figment

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

10.22.2021

wayside words

Wayside words: Not all words are worth perpetuating.

10.18.2021

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.

10.15.2021

insufficient condition

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

10.14.2021

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

10.13.2021

no event necessary

Some poems answer an occasion but most arise ex nihilo.

10.11.2021

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.

10.10.2021

green screen

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

10.09.2021

hear me

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

10.08.2021

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

10.06.2021

arras surface

There was a poem written all over the real poem.

10.05.2021

knot straight

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

10.04.2021

said too much

A mind that rivered ceaselessly to the mouth.

10.03.2021

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.

10.02.2021

wallpaper

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

9.30.2021

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)

9.29.2021

textual infestation

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

9.28.2021

floating aphorism

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

9.27.2021

ars longo

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

9.26.2021

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.

9.25.2021

language enclave

Poem as language enclave within the empire of words.

9.24.2021

knick-knacks and bric-a-brac

She finds her images at the White Elephant Sales.

9.22.2021

party crasher

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

9.21.2021

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.

9.20.2021

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.

9.19.2021

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.

9.11.2021

unreadable beautiful writing

Written in an attractive yet utterly illegible script.

9.10.2021

things discarded

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

9.09.2021

only need to stoop

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

9.08.2021

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)

9.07.2021

no retelling

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

9.06.2021

original one

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