enemy of decoration

Seferis quotes Cavafy’s critics…
“Cavafy's method is always to use the most frugal and anti-poetic phrase for the expression of his poetic ideas.” He is “the implacable enemy of any kind of decoration.”

Then Seferis says…
There is no doubt of the fact that “Cavafy stands at the boundary where poetry strips herself in order” (as I have said elsewhere) “to become prose.” No one has ever gone farther in this direction. He is the most anti-poetic (or a-poetic) poet I know…

—George Seferis, “Cavafy and Eliot—A Comparison,” On the Greek Style, translated by Rex Warner (Little Brown, 1966)


word weeds

Word weeds: some beautiful in their scattered, untamed glory; others thick and choking out the poetry’s fullest flowering.


box or old barn

Even a poem that closes, as Yeats said, like a box clicking shut, is open in many ways…reading it is like being inside an old barn with many missing boards and shingles, the light streaming in from many directions.


free-roam romance

The poem was all horses running on a beach, manes catching sunlight against surf…all that free-roam romance.


poets mistaken about love

Poets are the only people to whom love is not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience; which entitles them to mistake it for a universal one.

—Hannah Arendt, "Action," ch. 33 (footnote), The Human Condition (1958)


uneasily reconciled polarities

A superior metaphor is made of uneasily reconciled polarities.


strop them upon your tongue

Like an itinerant knife sharpener, the poet should try to find words in need of a good honing. And, if need be, he should strop them on his tongue a few times until they have a bright new edge.


no match for verisimilitude

The imagination is no match for verisimilitude.


narrative at risk

The poet will always put the narrative at risk in favor of arresting images and felicitous sounds.


silent poetry

Painting is often called "silent poetry," Wushengshi, and thought of as a way of releasing feelings that need not, or sometimes could not, be put into words. Huang Tingjian,a great eleventh-century calligrapher, wrote of painter Li Gonglin:

Duke Li has verses which he doesn't want to throw out,
So with light ink he "writes" them down as silent poetry.

From the The Three Perfections: Chinese Painting, Poetry & Calligraphy by Michael Sullivan (George Braziller, revised edition '99)


all poems are political

In contemporary society, to write a poem is a political act.


makes a physical impression

Though entirely made of words, the poem somehow makes a physical impression on one’s life.


web of belief

The poem as a 'web of belief’. (after Quine)