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

The 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.


single line

What prose masks with explanation, poetry exposes in the stroke of a line.


get ready for praise

The occasional poem: a poet’s chance to shine among his contemporaries.


path not theory

Walk this way: Bloom asked you to read this way.


things about

The poem is the cry of its occasion,
Part of the res itself and not about it.
The poet speaks the poem as it is,

Not as it was: part of the reverberation
Of a windy night as it is, when the marble statues
Are like newspapers blown by the wind. He speaks

By sight and insight as they are. There is no
Tomorrow for him. The wind will have passed by,
the statues will have gone back to be things about.

—Wallace Stevens, from “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” The Auroras of Autumn (1950)

[This afternoon was the twenty-fourth annual Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash. The guest speaker, Langdon Hammer, featured the poem “An Ordinary Evening…” in his talk entitled The Virtual Stevens.]


no time for games

These were not the days for language play.


hall of all hallows

A great library to some is a temple of immortal spirits. On another it strikes as a most melancholy charnel-house of souls.

F. H. Bradley, Aphorisms (Oxford, 1930)


low profile

Among the approved occupations after being put into witness protection is being a poet.


something that happens to you

[Alice] Neel liked quoting, with amusement, a strange remark made to her by Malcolm Cowley: “The trouble with you Alice, is you’re not romantic.” In truth, she was capital R Romantic in a very late, modern way: starched by experience. Art was not a refuge for her—she had no refuges, only respites. It was her life lived by other means, in which she enjoyed some moment-to-moment control. Rather than reflect on the preemptory realities of other people, she took them head-on, turning their force around and sending it back out. At times, every brushstroke can feel like a victory, against tall odds, of high humor fringed with deadly seriousness. Lots of celebrated twentieth-century art has seemed dated and tame lately. Not Neel’s, which, beyond being something to look at, is something that happens to you.

—Peter Schjeldahl, “Alice Neel,” Hold, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1998-2018 (Abrams Press, 2019)


walk this way

It was not just meter, it felt like the poet’s footsteps.


keep coming back

At AA meetings they have a mantra used to challenge each other: Keep coming back. At poetry readings the same mantra should be thrown out to the group: Keep coming back.


belongs here

No poem can escape a critical cubby-hole.


trusting translation

Reading a translation is a matter of trust. At least one must trust that a good amount of craft and poetic sensibility went into making the translation.


fish bone

That line was like a fish bone, suddenly sticking in your throat.


just once

You were famous—infamous some might say—for never seeing a movie more than once.

That’s right.

But now that you have—

More time? I still don’t look at movies twice. It’s funny, I just feel I got it the first time. With music it’s different, although I realize that sometimes with classical works, I listen to them with great enthusiasm and excitement the first time, but I’m not drawn to listen to them again and again. Whereas with pop, it’s just the reverse. Give me Aretha singing “A Rose is Just a Rose,” and I can play it all day long. I can’t explain that.

Afterglow: A last conversation with Pauline Kael (De Capo Press, 2002), intro and interview by Francis Davis


his darlings murdered

A writer who lived off his kill fees.


near sighted

It was all close-to-home writing.


kelp diver

He had delved so deeply into the poem that he felt submerged in the text, a diver with the alphabet twisting upward around him like kelp.


mouthpiece mort

The poet presumes to speak for the dead.


star from the start

The attractive beauty of an inchoate poem.


pleasure reading

An hour won. Dryden’s Epistles read for pleasure September night windy, dark, warm, and I have read the Epistles of Dryden.

Reading these Epistles which have no connection with my work and little with my ideas, have given me a happy sense of my own leisure. Who has the necessary time and vacancy of mind to read Dryden’s Epistles for pleasure in 1927? or to copy out extracts from them into a Commonplace Book? Or to write out more often than is necessary the words: Dryden, Epistles, Dryden’s Epistles? No one but me and perhaps Siegfried Sassoon.

E.M. Forster, Commonplace Book (Stanford U. Press, 1985), edited by Philip Gardner


cruel and unusual

But for the law against cruel and unusual punishment, I’m sure many prison libraries would love to own this book of poems.


easy writer

Writers don’t fear their facility even though it’s that talent which most threatens their true work.


marking / making

A couple tables away in a café, I watched as a young woman scribbled intently in an ordinary spiral notebook…markings/makings of a new world.


carrying case

Thousands of years from Homer or Sappho and we can still carry around poems in our heads.


end or beginning

Was it the last line of this poem, or the first line of the next?


a way of truth

Thus, as Crispin says, no man can “think one thing and think it long.” At best, all man’s trivial tropes can do is reveal a way of truth. And the early Stevens sought for aphoristic techniques to make those tropes sound as fragmentary—as “trivial”—as possible.

Beverly Coyle, A Thought to be Rehearsed: Aphorism in Wallace Stevens’s Poetry (UMI Research Press, 1983)


strings and stick figures

Poet, treat the alphabet as so many puppets commanded by your hands.


after dante

In the middle of the poem which is life I found myself within a dark woods.


running short on everything

Stunted lines, stinted vocabulary.



He thought of poetry as one of the staples of life.


skeleton key

The least line of text in his hands became a skeleton key able to open a trove of associations.


condition of poetry

Interestingly, three of the major writerly features of the pieces in Tender Buttons are alliteration, rhyme, and repetition, mainstays of poetry. Are these the fixed points around which the apparent chaos of those separate words attempt to dance? Indeed, much of Stein’s difficult work inclines toward the condition of poetry…


Finally it was impossible: the meaning, the associated emotion, could not be destroyed. It could be baffled but no annihilated. Unlike the paint [re Cezanne] that became apples and mountains, or within both simply shapes on the flat inflexible surface of a canvas, words cling to their meanings. And the mind of the listener also clings to meaning. She told [interviewer Robert Bartlett] Haas:

   I took individual words and thought about them
   until I got their shape and volume complete and
   put them next to another word and at the same
   time I found out very soon that there is no such
   thing as putting them together without sense. I
   made innumerable efforts to make words write
   without sense and found it impossible. Any human
   being putting down words had to make sense
   out of them.

—Lawrence Raab, “Remarks as Literature: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein,” Why Don’t We Say What We Mean? (Tupelo Press, 2018)


go on from here or end

A poem whereby any line from here on could be either the next line or the last.


poem from nothing

It’s dangerous when you can pluck a poem out of thin air. To be able to find a poem in any situation, generated from the least stimulus.