less is core

For a poet, 'less is core'. If I can't say it in a page, I can't say it.


the poet's Rubicon

When reading a great poem, see if you can tell which line was the poet’s Rubicon.


perfectly balanced, expertly weighted

A poem so perfectly balanced and expertly weighted with words that at the end of the poem one felt an urge to read it backwards, half-expecting the same experience and pleasure.


Walt's truth

I come next to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a book of singular service, a book which tumbled the world upside down for me, blew into space a thousand cobwebs of genteel and ethical illusion, and, having thus shaken my tabernacle of lies, set me back again upon a strong foundation of all the original and manly virtues. But it is, once more, only a book for those who have the gift of reading. I will be very frank—I believe it is so with all good books, except, perhaps, fiction. The average man lives, and must live, so wholly in convention, that gunpowder charges of the truth are more apt to discompose than to invigorate his creed. Either he cries out upon blasphemy and indecency, and crouches the closer round that little idol of part-truths and part-conveniences which is the contemporary deity, or he is convinced by what is new, forgets what is old, and becomes truly blasphemous and indecent himself. New truth is only useful to supplement the old; rough truth is only wanted to expand, not to destroy, our civil and often elegant conventions. He who cannot judge had better stick to fiction and the daily papers. There he will get little harm, and, in the first at least, some good.

—Robt. Louis Stevenson, “Books Which Have Influenced Me,” from Essays On The Art of Writing


survives a misquoting

A good line of poetry can easily survive a partial misquoting.



the other side of originality

When he claims to be solitary, the artist lulls himself in a perhaps faithful illusion, but the privilege he grants himself is not real. When he thinks he is expressing himself spontaneously, creating an original work, he is answering other past or present, actual or potential creators. Whether he knows it or not, one never walks alone along the path of creativity.

—Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Way of the Masks, quoted in “The Artist as Critic,” Every Force Evolves a Form by Guy Davenport


the retinue and the slave

The prose writer attends the retinue that is language. As one enslaved, the poet lies prostrate before each passing word.


exposes, expounds, propounds

Theory at first exposes, then expounds, and finally propounds; and in that last phase it becomes an insidious enterprise.


poem made of poems

Reading the Classical fragments one is struck by the fact that any poem is perhaps no more than a conglomeration of smaller ‘poems’. The ideal would be that any passage excerpted from a poem could stand alone as a poem.



A critic should be 'periperspicacious'.


tabula rasa

Something there is (in a poet) that doesn’t love tabula rasa. That makes one desire to take up pen as though it were a sharp nail and to scratch his or her name, in so many, many words, into that blank tablet.