time spent

On the side of critics, often good criticism takes much longer than the original composition.


selection is criticism

Even organizing a reading series is a critical act.


foam and sand

Every month Poetry magazine arrives in the mail and I think of waves on a beach, a wash of white foam dissipating into the sand.


anthology is

Anthology: text zoo.


nature and artifice

A vapour trail cuts across and above some untidy clouds, across the blue, before and after the clouds, as I look up through trees blown by a strong wind. A Gestalt centering on that intimate mixture of nature and artifice. A poem—perhaps.

Geoffrey Grigson, A Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982)


blurbs get behind me

The poet was pleased her reputation had risen to the point she was no longer obliged to gather blurbs.


reading time

Was I a slow reader or did poetry just reveal itself slowly?


running behind

You can’t make up lost ground in the poem by adding more words.


muchly more

It’s always a bad sign when you hear a writer being praised for being ‘prolific'.


prepare to read

One must make ready for an encounter with poetry.


ultimate funny

I love my funny poems, but I'd rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that's the best. If you laughed earlier in the poem, and I bring you close to tears in the end, that's the best.

—James Tate, The Paris Review (Issue 177, Summer 2006) interview by Charles Simic.

[New website honoring James Tate.]


stealth poems

There are many songs that poets don’t recognize as true poems.


compressed composition

He found that he could only force poems to happen. And the shorter the time to write the poem, the better.


another page

A poet promised in this page another even better page.


open book critic

It’s okay to be a disagreeable critic as long you can convince the reader that your opinion may be flawed and you’re still open to being awed.


to wilt too soon

A bouquet of flowery blurbs graced the back cover.


painting, meaning, music

Every sensible definition of poetry is personal—is attuned to a poet’s own habit and nature—and is incomplete. If you collected all such definitions of poetry by poets, no doubt they would stand in a circle, with poetry, or life, or essence of man, in the middle, as clear at last as a poem. At the moment I am for Pasternak’s conclusion that poetry ought to contain painting and meaning, in addition to music.

Geoffrey Grigson, A Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982)


not too much fidelity

Writers insist that editors be faithful toward their texts; but not faithful to their typos or other errors therein.


the time it takes

Slow poetry: publishing a broadside.


chance and control

In art, what part accident, what part intent.


relative time

At the reading, the poet said he'd dashed off this one, which meant the poem was a decade in the making.


fully furnished

They tried to give him a chair in poetry. He refused unless there was a table to go with it.


space beyond the words

If no white space cushioned the poem its language would have to brush up against the language of the world. The world where language buys sausages and fills insurance forms. Where it writes rejections and makes empty promises. Where it speaks in parliaments and fudges truth and sells cosmetic surgery and guns. And if there were no white space to mark it off, how would we know the difference? They are only little words. Even the innocent ones amongst them look like repeat offenders, like the lying sort.

‘Don’t play what’s there,’ Miles Davis said, ‘play what’s not there.’ Play the void. Play the white space. Play outside the frame.

If only there were ways of framing off the worst of our lives. Of containing it. Forbidding it to leak into the rest of our well-lived days.

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


open and closed

You wanted to write, but you valued your reticence.


stand still

Until the piece was published it held the possibility of improvement.


unfinished environs

I looked around and saw all the partly read books stacked about.


new order rhetoric

A poem that raised rhetoric to a new order.

[Thinking of Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem.]



The poem that comes holus-bolus while being sequentially laid out in lines.


ready for everything

He had the strong and sinewy look of the determined and patient walker, who is always going off, his long legs moving quietly and very regularly, his head straight, his beautiful eyes fixed on the distance, and his face filled with a look of steady defiance, an air of expectation—ready for everything, without anger, without fear.

Ernest Dalahaye, on Arthur Rimbaud, 1925, Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking (Notting Hill Editions, 2018)


bad architecture

The poem stood like bad architecture filling the space of the page.


no dumping

A poem that was a dumpster of images.


write this with me

To write a poem that invites the reader into its composition.


useful list of errors

The erratum slip made for a convenient bookmark.


horrors of verse

Here Thomas Hardy informs us the trees from where the birds flew were on his right because he needed to rime with 'night'...

And the town-shine in the distance
    did but baffle here the sight,
And then a voice flew forward:
    “Dear, is’t you? I fear the night!”
And the herons flapped to norward
    In the firs upon my right.

[Thomas Hardy's "On a Heath"]


all in the index

He bragged he could write the whole book by simply perusing its index.


poet at the wheel

Never trust a poet who can drive. Never trust a poet at the wheel. If he can drive, distrust the poems.

—Martin Amis, The Information

[Encountered this quote in Garner’s Quotations]


little enlarged

Poets are so precious and proprietary about their litmag publications. They never ask how many people really read it.


practical plus

To poets prose seems much too practical and potentially profitable.


but what about

Remember, there is always a counter to whatever smart thing you can say about poetry.


things or signs

Her nouns were real things. Her nouns were signs.


thought for the new year

There is a lot of nasty stuff in life which comes breaking up our ecstasy, our inheritance. People should read more poetry and dream their dreams.

—Muriel Spark, A Good Comb: The Sayings of Muriel Spark (New Directions, 2020), edited by Penelope Jardine


cosmic index

Just reading the book’s index delighted me with its far-flung references.


act / object

Is it an act or object?

[This is not a question you can ask of the poem.]


critical concern

The critic worried that after his take-down of the Apollonian poet he might be smitten with donkey ears.


tepid praise

I’m mildly interested in that kind of poetry, but not wildly.



The poem you will write.


teaching poets

You can be too good a teacher-poet: One begins being thought of as a better teacher but a lesser poet.


should end well

The main thing about a story is that it should end well, and perhaps it is not too much to say that a story’s ending casts its voice, color, tone and shade over the whole work.

—Muriel Spark, The Informed Air (New Directions, reprint 2018)


blindspot words

Words one has a blindspot for; for example, in my case: perspicuity.


bars not spines

He began to look upon the spines of the unread books as prison bars.


polyhedron box

The ‘box’ we call poetry is a polyhedron still building out new spaces.


bear with me

I think the poet decided to write a very long poem to test who among his readers were beyond discouragement.



Like any first words on the page, a title is a place to get started. The title shouldn't be considered sacred like a totem...it can be discarded at the whim of whatever words follow.


belongs neither

For [Luce] Irigaray, a philosophy that is also a wisdom of love requires a speech which is not ‘authoritarian’ or ‘pedagogical’. Instead, it should have as its aim the production of a ‘sharing’ between the speaker and the listener. When this occurs: ‘between the two something exists that belongs neither to the one nor to the other, nor moreover to any word. And this something must, in part, remain indeterminate’.

—Ben Grant, The Aphorism and Other Short Forms (Routledge, 2016) [quoted sections above come from Luce Irigaray’s The Way of Love (London and New York Continuum, 2002), translation by Heidi Bostic and Stephen Pluh├ácek.]


thus spoken

Specifics accrue to the speaker's authority.


some go this way, some the other

A fork in one’s life: religion or art.


mood bias

Paying more attention to how my mood may influence my reaction to a work of art.


pooh pooh who are you

She was dismissive of Frost’s poetry…ha, ha (last laugh?).

[Thinking of Lisa Jarnot]


through poetry

Poetry, for me, has been a slow education. In the seductiveness of patterned sound. In sensory imagery as a relatively direct mode of thought. In the cryptic encoding and decoding of experience. Ultimately in the exhilarating and unexpected transmission of thought, fact, and feeling that are not only made possible through poetry, but are irrepressible in it.

—Roo Borson, Counterclaims: Poets and Poetries, Talking Back (Dalkey Archive Press, 2020)



A work of art that had no afterlife beyond the death of its creator.