six shooter

The dread of recognizing the sestina form on a page.


where to begin

Knowing there was so much of the poet to read, I found it hard to start.


poem without bounds

To write an inexhaustible poem.


woven design

A poem as intricately patterned as an oriental rug.


wrong blocks

After Harry Thurston Peck, editor of The Bookman, had reviewed Robinson's first collection, finding the author's "humor is of a grim sort, and the world is not beautiful to him, but a prison house."

[Robinson responded in the letter to Peck.] "I'm sorry to learn that I have painted myself in such lugubrious colors..." [Going on to say:]

“The world is not a prison house, but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where millions of of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

―Edwin Arlington Robinson, quoted in Edward Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life, by Scott Donaldson.


three too many

Is there an example of a tripartite metaphor?


audience held

One feels most like a poet in that bardic moment speaking before enrapt faces.


library of the mind

He closed his eyes and saw in his mind where all his books were, those shelved and those stacked on their sides. When he opened his eyes, he couldn’t find the one title he was looking for.


lit is

To write a singular document.


drives on

The truck-driver poet looked at each exit ramp as a possible ending before he speeded past.


wind flow

[Episodes of Eccentrics Among Haikai Poets, 1816, compiled by Takenouchi Gengen’ichi] begins its description of Sutejo this way:

    […] From a very young age, she showed signs of a poetic turn of mind. In the winter of her sixth year, she made:

       Yuki no asa ni no ji ni no ji no geta no ata
       Morning snow: figure two figure two wooden clogs marks

    Because of this, one year she received a poem from someone exalted:

       Kayahara no oshi ya suti oku tsuyu no tama
       Too good to be left in a weedy field: this drop of dew.

The original world for what’s given as “a poetic turn of mind” is fūryū, literally “wind flow”—an expression that can’t be translated to anyone’s satisfaction. It refers to a liking for things somewhat unworldly or transcendental or the object of that inclination, such as poetry. Among its synonyms is fūga, which carries a greater dose of “elegance” or “refinement.” Another synonym, fūkyō, suggests “poetic dementia.” Any haikai person must be imbued with fūryū, fūga, or fūkyō.

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


one among many

Each of us playing a small part in the poetry’s panoply.


dog-ear bookmark

The dog-eared page could mark an important passage, a run of words to return to, or it could mean a stopping place, when then where the book was closed, set aside and never opened again.


with all they have

The worst of the formalist poets are most vehemently opposed to free verse.


dark passage

You knew going in, this was a poem you’d be lucky to elucidate.


let there be dancing

When writing finally returned to Greece, in the eighth century B.C., the new Greek writing, its users, and its uses were very different. The writing was no longer an ambiguous syllabary mixed with logograms but an alphabet borrowed from the Phoenician consonantal alphabet and improved by the Greek invention of vowels. In place of lists of sheep, legible only to scribes and read only in palaces, Greek alphabetic writing from the moment of its appearance was a vehicle of poetry and humor, to be read in private homes. For instance, the first preserved example of Greek alphabetic writing, scratched onto an Athenian wine jug of about 740 B.C., is a line of poetry announcing a dancing contest: “Whoever of all dancers performs most nimbly will win this vase as a prize.”

—Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (W. W. Norton & Co., 1999)


book of spells

The fortune-teller poet thought you wouldn’t notice that her book of spells was a battered unabridged dictionary.


easy target

Like a parodist, the plagiarist should aim higher.


long view

Literature is one long poem.


wary of the way forward

When it came to advanced practices in poetry and the arts, he was avant-guarded.


white goat with ribbon & bell

Emily Dickinson had an amazing imagination, but so did her nephew, who came home from school one day in tears, having been berated by his teacher—perhaps even whacked—for having told the class about the white goat who lived in the attic. He was attacked for being a dreamer, a liar, someone who made things up. Upon hearing this, Emily was furious, beside herself with fury, and said that the teacher could come to the house and see for herself the white goat in the attic, for indeed it lived there, Emily had seen it, there it was, munching a pile of grass under the beams.

This anecdote is the only thing I remember from reading a five-hundred-plus-page biography of the poet. I am not even vaguely interested in the men, or the women, or any of that other stuff; I’m interested in the goat, whom I love as if it were mine own, and though I don’t have an attic, I have a place in my head where it can live, and go on living, as I feed it daily with mounds of fresh cut grass. Over the years, it has been given a blue ribbon round its neck, from which dangles a silver bell.

—Mary Ruefle, On Imagination (Sarabande Books, Quarternote Chapbook Series #13, 2017)


no type

A poem that resisted the stasis of the printed page.



slipped the system

A word that had escaped the care, custody and control of the language.


dig site

The critic approached a poem like the site of an archeological dig. Much time, care and cataloging was involved in unearthing its artifacts.


against artifice

The poets I most admire need no artifice.

[The language itself being a necessary artifice.]


well-stocked inventory

The poem was like entering a store filled floor to ceiling with racks of good words.


winslow homer

The consummate designer of the great compositions based his design upon the same acute observation that delights us in the sketches; the brilliant sketcher, though he does not carry design to its ultimate perfection, is yet always a born designer, so that almost any one of his sketches has the possibility of a great picture in it, and his slightest note is a whole, not a mere fragment.

—Kenneth Cox, What is Painting?: Winslow Homer and Other Essays (W. W. Norton, 1988).


from another room

Allusions are the like voices half-heard from adjoining rooms.


life of lyn lifshin

A curious case. The compulsion to publish so much; everything seemingly. Long ago, as an editor of a litmag, facing the onslaught of those submissions...the overstuffed envelopes would show up even as one had just rejected the last batch. There were some gems therein. But it was also absurd: Was there some warehouse, full of long tables and typewriters, where low-paid workers typed poems in the style of Lyn Lifshin? The sheaves gathered every 30 minutes, wheeled on a cart into the folding department, then on to the envelope lickers, tongues hanging out, in the sealing department. A mail bag full of envelopes left on the loading dock, addressed to dozens of far-flung little magazines.

In another era would she have made her fame as one of the Instapoets?


sing it, speak it

From a documentary on Fairport Convention, a musician quoted Martin Carthy as saying, “The worst thing you could do to a folk song is not to sing it.”

The worst thing you could do to a poem is not to speak it.


whatever is of use

Poetry takes bits and pieces from all the arts, humanities and sciences.


disadvantaged appendage

My hand looks a little helpless without a pen.


describe or explain

The subject was science, and I heard a useful distinction made between ‘describing’ and ‘explaining’. The former is more open to alternative interpretations of what the thing/phenomenon is, showing us what there is to experience. The latter is more closed, trying to say why it is and why it is the way it is.


dull edge

He’s been describing himself as being cutting-edge for so long, you would think he’d have cut through something by now.


only into this

That form may be the only vessel into which this poem may be poured.


no explanation for it

If you want to annoy a poet, explain his poetry.

—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Practical and Philosophical Aphorisms (Random House, 2016)


crosscut saw

The right margin is a serrated edge, and this poem is going saw you in half.


top down

Fire the CEO…meaning: drop the title.


happening in there

Psychiatry and psychology take the study of emotions seriously, but poetry is the lab of emotions.


not entirely comfortable

The kind of word that looks a little worried sitting there in a line of poetry.


that poem

The poet suspected he might have to invent a new language in order to write the poem.


our logos and the cosmos

In Heraclitus’ fragments, the structure of language, the structure of thought, and the structure of the cosmos itself are all underpinned by a hidden logos. First, there is spoken logos, which humans possess, then there is the logos of the cosmos, which is silent. The correct articulation of the former leads to the revelation of the latter.

—Andrew Hui, A Theory of the Aphorism: From Confucius to Twitter (Princeton U. Press, 2019)


going beyond

Whether by nuance or audacity, all great poems outstrip the resources of their language.



fashion hound

An editor who favored the fashion of the times over that poetry which defied its times.


poet materializes

When he introduced himself as a poet, the other party nodded his head, his eyes unfocused, trying to imagine what exactly that meant.


late to the train

[Poet], on whose train all are late...

—Marina Tsvetaeva, "Poets", translated by Ilya Shambat


far shore

Sometimes the line you want to write is vaguely seen, like a far shore.


there for your protection

The Editors: Were they the gatekeepers or the quality control department?


forward regardless

A poet doesn’t stop writing because no one is paying attention.


armature inside

An image that would construct a poem around itself.



different knowing

Peter Lamarque, in his essay on ‘Poetry and Abstract Thought’, writes that readers of poetry ‘attend far more closely, and in a different way from philosophy, to the process of thought’. Such a process, rather than being one of logical connections, may be one of sound and syntax, rhythm and accent, of sense sparked by the collocations and connotations of words. For those, too, may become a form of ‘knowing’. John Gibson changes the verb when he writers, for instance, that literary works ‘represent ways of acknowledging the world rather than knowing it’. But I suggest that we should keep the idea of ‘knowing’ in play, in order to force it to include process and replay, wonder and unknowing, seeing and listening. To help us to know differently, in all the word-bound, sound-bound, rhythm-bound ways of poetic language, is what poetry, as opposed to philosophy, can offer.

—Angela Leighton, “Poetry’s Knowing,” The Philosophy of Poetry (Oxford U. Press, 2015), edited by John Gibson.


two thirds done

I thought I wasn’t very far along reading the academic book, then I realized the last third of the book was notes, bibliography and index.


worthy writer

When I come across a passage worth quoting, I’m content to be a scribe.


see through

The agon of the unfinished: I see it, I see through it, I cannot see it through.


not a blush

A writer who could not be embarrassed by anything he’d written, therefore he was destined to go unred. (sic)


strike out a path

They say that poetry dies; poetry cannot die. Had she only one human brain for her asylum she would yet endure for ages, for she would burst forth like the lava of Vesuvius and strike out a path through the most prosaic realities.

George Sand, Thoughts and Aphorisms from Her Works (Morrison & Gibb Ltd., second edition 1912), arranged by Alfred H. Hyatt


not a glance

The problem with most long poems is that the poet is never looking back.