seven things

My take on 7 things you should know about being a poet:

1) Pobiz and poetry are mutually exclusive.

2) You should make a life and then be a poet too.

3) Though some may dress unusually, poets are not exotic creatures. Black is always in fashion.

4) If you’re prone to envy, poetry is not going to be a satisfying endeavor for you. Bitterness is sure to set in.

5) Poets may make little money, yet one might say they live in a state of privileged impoverishment.

6) Poets who need writing prompts and exercises to produce poems should give up the art.

7) Poetry is a sweet slow poison.


three-minute format

Whether due to the limits of the attention span or listener fatigue, there is a reason that the three-minute pop song format remains prevalent; and, similarly, there is a reason most poems should stay within a single-page length: If the poem has a subject, then one can expect a capable poet to properly address or do justice to most subjects within a page. If the poem has no subject, then the poet’s pushing beyond that length will require felicities of sound, intriguing phrase-making, and compelling image-making to hold reader’s attention. But even at very high level, without the hold of narrative or theme or the complexities of a subject, inattention is bound to set in. And the mind will wander so far as not to be reading anymore.


excluded middle

A metaphor is a spark across the excluded middle of A is A or it is not A.


begin before the beginning

Begin in a place before the poem you were thinking of begins.


steam powered

In an age of technological wonders, the poem remains steam-powered. By which I mean powered by breath and the heat of emotion.


taste irrelevant

The quest for a style that makes taste irrelevant. A style beyond taste.


tiny poem of hope


Tomorrow will be beautiful,
For tomorrow comes out of the lake.

—Emanuel Carnevali, Furnished Rooms,
edited by Dennis Barone, Bordighera Press 2006

(I love the way this small poem works, starting with that bald-faced expression of hope then turning to 'the lake' as the improbable agent of satisfaction.)


beauty & ugliness

Flowers are made to seduce the senses: fragrance, form, colour.

If you can not be seduced by beauty, you can not learn the wisdom of ugliness.

—H.D., “Notes on Thought and Vision, Scilly Islands, July 1919,” Notes On Thought And Vision & The Wise Sappho (City Lights 1982) with an introduction by Albert Gelphi



The line should be self-sharpening; so that time cannot dull its edge.


Gordian knot

A certain poem may be like a Gordian knot. It would seem to take a lifetime to untie its lines. Then a critic’s insight, like a slash of metal from the arm of Alexander, cuts through the poem in a single stroke.


no mask

One cannot read a poem while wearing a mask. Poems are for the open-faced and wide-eyed.


stop thinking about poetry

For some time now I’ve had a nagging suspicion that I would be a better poet if I could stop thinking about poetry.


in the astronaut’s helmet

I seem to be one of the last authors, not counting theologians, to refer now and then to the notion of a “spiritual life.” In our day, we confine ourselves at the best of times to discussing the imagination. The word “imagination” is beautiful and vast, but it doesn’t hold everything. Some people look at me suspiciously for this very reason; they think I must be a reactionary, or a double-dyed conservative at the very least. I open myself to ridicule. Progressive circles condemn me, or at least look at me askance. Conservative enclaves likewise fail to understand what I’m talking about. Poets a generation younger keep their distance. Only a certain young Spanish poet told me in Barcelona that my essays perhaps signal that postmodern irony may be conquered one day. But what is the spirit, the spiritual life? If only I were up to defining such things! Robert Musil says that the spirit synthesizes intellect and emotion. It’s a good working definition, for all its concision.

In the case of poetry, literature, it’s simpler to say—theologians know a thing or two about this—what the spirit isn’t. It’s not psychoanalytic any more than it’s behavioral, sociological, or political. It is holistic, and in it are reflected, as in the astronaut’s helmet, the earth, the stars, and a human face.

These are difficult and dangerous considerations.

—Adam Zagajewski, “Dangerous Considerations: A Notebook,” translated by Clare Cavenaugh, Poetry, Oct. 2007


familiar arcane

Poetry makes the familiar arcane.


Evel Knievel of metaphor

Poet, be an Evel Knievel of metaphor! Make that death-defying jump between two places Ooooh...too far apart.


substitution of terms: Dewey

“if we once start thinking, no one can guarantee where we shall come out — except to say that many ends, objects, and institutions are doomed. Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.”
—John Dewey

if we once start writing poetry, no one can guarantee where we shall come out — except to say that many ends, objects, and institutions are doomed. Every poet puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.


poem = manifesto

All manifestos are also poems. Or is it that all poems are manifestos.


stick it

Stick that last line like a gymnast dismounting after a perfect routine.


personal space

In a poem the words are given their personal space.


critique of abstractions

Poetry as 'the critique of abstractions'. (after A.N. Whitehead)


by-product of sincerity

Originality is in any case a by-product of sincerity; that is to say, of feeling that is honest and accordingly rejects anything that might cloud the impression, such as unnecessary commas, modifying clauses, or delayed predicates.

—Marianne Moore, Predilections (Viking Press, 1955)


60 second manifesto

I thought this was a well executed performance piece (60 second lecture). I've often observed that much of the 'prosody' of language poetry is expressed in the negative: Poetry that is asyntactic, non-narrative, non-linear or discontinuous, lacking closure, etc. True to form, Bernstein's poem-manifesto is completely phrased in the negative except for the last line, in which he invokes the great Borscht Belt comics' mantra of 'a joke is all in the timing'.


authority and uncertainty

Both lyric authority and lyric uncertainty have great attraction.


appreciated rejection

Years ago, when I was actively submitting poems to little magazines, I got one of those rare rejection notes that are more than rejection slips, they are small critical essays about one’s poem, elucidating this or that strength &/or failure of the poem at hand. Whether or not one agrees with the comments, one has to appreciate the lavish attention given to one’s poem by the rejecting editor. This is especially true if one has ever edited a small magazine. The sheer volume of submissions that one has to open, wade through, and reject, makes it nearly impossible for an editor (often another poet) to take such time and care with any one submission, no matter how attractive or intriguing or very close to acceptance the particular poem or group of poems may be. In the end, this type of rejection, where the poem is addressed so scrupulously and thoroughly, is a greater gift than if the poem had been accepted with the typically short note: “We’d like to take “X” for the next issue. Thanks for sending us your fine work…” The poem is then published in what is ultimately an obscure place in the pages of the little magazine. One gets a publishing credit; but little more is gained from the experience.

Tonight, I got to hear my rejecter, David Wojahn, read his poems. Speaking to him after his reading, I recounted my experience with his overly generous rejection note. He smiled and said it must have been when he was editing Crazyhorse. I hadn’t even remembered the name of the journal. It wasn’t important. Only the rejection note was.


third world dictator

The poet paraded around proud as a third world dictator, his latest little magazine publications splayed like gaudy epaulets on his shoulders.


sopping poetry

I had urge to lift up the poem and to wring out the excess words.


allusions galore

Critical readings mass produce allusions.


thinking and remembering

One definition of poetic power is that it so fuses thinking and remembering that we cannot separate the two processes. Can a poem, of authentic strength, be composed without remembering a prior poem, whether by the self or by another? Literary thinking relies upon literary memory…

—Harold Bloom, The Art of Reading Poetry (HarperCollins, 2004)


visible wires

Images that are no more than props or stage-set scenery. Even if the images fly or hover, one can see the wires and pulleys.


emerging writer

The term ‘emerging writer’ always makes me think there should be a term for those writers who are fading away or slipping into oblivion. But ‘vanishing writers’ or ‘disappearing writers’ sounds too ominous for that state of benign neglect or collective forgetfulness where they must find themselves.


test drive

He took his new poem for a test drive at the local open mike.


word harvest

After reading the poem one had an urge to harvest it for particular and peculiar words.


under the lash

The line stooped and bloodied under the metrical lash.


what is not seen

The image owes neither its principle nor its power to what is visually given. To justify the poet’s conviction and the image’s frequency and naturalness, we must integrate with it those constituents that we do not see, and whose nature is not visual. They are in fact those by which material imagination is made manifest. Only a psychology of the material imagination could explain this image in its real totality, in its real life.

—Gaston Bachelard, L’Eau et le rêves

(translated by Jean-Claude Margolin, in Bachelard’s Philosophy and Poetics, 1989, Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology & University Press of America)

existential angst

A post-modernist is afraid to take even himself seriously; afraid of what he won’t find therein. In many ways post-modernism is a manifestation of existential angst.


verbal salients

Lines of poetry: verbal salients into silence.


lack of closure

Lack of closure is only an alternate strategy of closure, because poems, after all, finally, do end...


to trust is not to revere

It’s against our nature to distrust inspiration. But we needn’t revere it as a divine spirit either.


Heidegger’s hut

Small poem: Heidegger’s hut.


noble action

Can a biography be poetic? Only if the anecdotes are transmuted into poems, that is, only if the deeds and the dates cease to be history and become exemplary. But exemplary not in the didactic sense of the term but in the sense of “noble action,” as when we say: unique example. Or: myth, ideal argument and real fable. The poets help themselves to legends in order to tell us real things; and with real events they create fables, examples. The dangers of poetic biography are twofold: the unsolicited confession and the unasked counsel.

—Octavio Paz, “Luis Cernuda: The Edifying Word,” On Poets and Others, translated by Michael Schmidt, Seaver Books 1986


unnatural language

Poetry is unnatural language: supernatural language or language in a primitive state.


rich soil of the language

So many poets have sprung forth solely from the rich soil of the English language.


tip sheets

Blurbs are like tip sheets you pick up when entering a race track. Most of what they say will be proven wrong by the day’s running (or reading).


traceur poet

Poet, be a traceur through the languescape!


image of note

Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain.

—Natasha Trethewey
from “Theories of Space and Time,”
Native Ground (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)


brute poets

The brusque, blunt and brutally honest poetry of an Alan Dugan or a William Bronk.


voluptuary of one's vocabulary

A poet living large in the voluptuary of his vocabulary.


discrete element

In poetry the sentence and sentence fragment coexist harmoniously. The latter being like a sentence in that it’s often bounded by a starting capital letter and the endpoint period, however it’s not meant to function as a grammatical unit; rather the sentence fragment serves as a discrete element of thought, speech, image or breath.


compelling content

A style lacking in character only compelling content can give.


utilitarian artist

To a certain extent, the artist can be considered the most utilitarian of persons, for he uses even unusable things, he is the one who uses insignificant perceptions and arbitrary acts to invent, outside of a practical interest, a background interest, a secondary necessity. The unique quality of artistic invention is to lend these useless impressions such a value that not only do they become as indispensable as any direct perception, but as they are given to us we feel even more the need to find them again and to enjoy them. This is what Paul Valéry calls the “aesthetic infinite.”

—Maurice Blanchot, “Poetics,” Faux Pas, translated by Charlotte Mandell, Stanford Univ. Press, 2001


brain tattoo

The image was a brain tattoo.


free associative reading

If literary magazines didn’t make payment with copies, who'd ever read them?


end of the line

The end of each line or verse (the turning) allows for a resonance to fill the brief pause and also opens the line up to a moment’s reflection.


emotion inflected

The poem’s impetus is emotion. But all the better when inflected by intellect.


set upon the word herd

The wolves of revision set upon that vast migration of words, to cut out the weak and infirm.


first stumbling efforts

So the enthusiastic praise often lavished on works employing innovatory techniques, new stylistic tricks, novelties of form or medium is misplaced unless these bring, or have the potential to bring, some new aesthetic character of value. In this respect those who inveigh against the cult of the original are right; but equally, those are wrong who decry any extreme stylistic or technical innovation before assessing what is being done with it or what might be, what new worlds of aesthetic experience are opened up. Who could have foreseen the glories to be achieved, faced with the first stumbling efforts in sonnet form or the first essays in pictorial perspective?

—Frank Sibley, “Originality and Value”


condition of Muzak

After Post-Modernism: All Art aspired to a condition of Muzak.


force over nuance

The political poem sacrifices nuance for emotional force.


grail poem

Sometimes he thought he could almost see the faint outlines of that grail poem.


pressure of the contemporaneous

Two nights ago, The Friends & Enemies of Wallace Stevens with the Hartford Public Library had James Longenbach as our guest speaker. His talk was entitled "An Examination of Wallace Stevens in a Time of War." Generally, Longenbach's thesis was that Stevens did care about what was happening around him in the world, and that he used his poetry not as evasion but as way to inflect and to change those impinging circumstances of existence. Longenbach, using the example of the composition of one his own poems, told about how a box of paperclips had been one of the poem's triggering elements. However, Longenbach choose not to make that specific thing an image in the poem. The imagination would not be pinned to that particular reality.

A key quote in the talk was this one from Opus Posthumous:

"The pressure of the contemporaneous from the time of the beginning of the World War to the present time has been constant and extreme. No one can have lived apart in a happy oblivion."

Stevens goes on to state:

"In poetry, to that extent, the subject is not the contemporaneous, because that is only the nominal subject, but the poetry of the contemporaneous. Resistance to the pressure of ominous and destructive circumstance consists of its conversion, so far as possible, into a different, an explicable, an amenable circumstance."


large garden

The poem is a garden planted too large to ever be perfectly kempt.


prototype and finished product

Each poem, once finished, is both prototype and finished product.


trope dope

It's easy for poets to get hooked on that trope dope.


expectation and vulnerability

Imagination is only the expectation of or a vulnerability to the poems all around us.


self-enclosed, self-limiting

A poem presents material so that it becomes a universe in itself…There is something self-enclosed and self-limiting in a poem, and this self-sufficiency is the reason, as well as the harmony and rhythm of sounds, why poetry is, next to music, the most hypnotic of the arts.

—John Dewey, "The Varied Substance Of The Arts," Art As Experience(Perigee/Penguin Putnam Books, 1980)



Each line is a stratum. As you read down through the poem, the weight of the lines above you can be felt.


lost in performance

Performance tends to enlarge the text to the point that all nuance and detail are lost due to scale.


effigy of alphabetic straw

To read materially is to make the word a crude effigy of alphabetic straw.


poet pirate

Poet, be a swashbuckler on the high seas of language!


of poets and philosophers

To the extent that poetry and philosophy are taken to be mutually exclusive, poetry is viewed as an activity purely of creating or inventing (poiesis, making), philosophy, as an activity purely of learning (mathesis) or seeing (theorein). Poets are taken to be produce, actively, what had not been at all, philosophers to apprehend, passively, what must always be. This is why philosophers have been taken, by some, to have access to the truth; they are supposed merely to take in what they view, not to alter it by viewing.

The opposition between making and learning—and, therefore, the mutual exclusion of poetry and philosophy—is a false one. As for making, no matter how creative the poet, the poem created is conditioned by the poet’s language and experience: the creation is not ex nihilo. It may be less apparent that the philosopher’s learning cannot be a matter of wholly passive receptivity…if it were, the receptivity would not go beyond mute apprehension. As soon as a philosopher begins to speak or to teach, the philosopher begins to make or produce: the philosopher becomes a poet. [p. 8]

I do not mean to suggest that no distinction between philosophy and poetry may or should be drawn; I do not mean to suggest that any distinction that would make a writer either a philosopher or a poet is misleading. The best writers, in my judgment—the most interesting, the most illuminating, the most informative, the most aesthetically pleasing—are philosophical poets or poetic philosophers. Nietzsche is among them. [p. 9]

Alan White, Within Nietzsche’s Labryrinth (Routledge, 1990)


no echo

A word fell off the end of my line, and vanished into a crevasse of white space. The word with which it had rimed called out to it, but no echo could be heard.



The personal and the local are always synecdoche for the universal.


the folds

He handed me his poem and I read it, but what could I say other than that the folds in the paper were the most beautiful and elegant elements of the page. The best lines, so to speak.



The slam poet apparently thought shouting was a poetic technique.


figurehead from dream

Poetry comes to me from an always latent dream. I like to direct this dream except on days of inspiration when I have the impression that it directs itself

I don’t like a dream which just drifts (I was going to say which just dreams). I try to make a substantial dream of it, a kind of ship’s figurehead which after crossing inner space and time confronts outside space and time—and for it the outside is the blank page

—Jules Supervielle, “Reflections on the Art of Poetry, 1951,” Selected Poems, edited by George Bogen


density is dynamism

Density of language necessarily adds dynamism to the poetry.


fear of heights

With no stanzas below, I felt a slight vertigo atop that tower of text.


petty criminals

The backroom of the bar was a haven for prostitutes and their pimps, con artists, addicts and dealers, poets and other petty criminals.


intellectual luxury good

When poetry is cut off from its social, cultural and political underpinnings, it becomes an intellectual luxury good.


Heidegger, Holderlin, Rilke

Since the publication of Being and Time, Heidegger has attempted, in certain tracts, to erect a kind of philosophy more myth-like than mystic, in which he enjoins us to a communion with the earth and the world, invoking to this end the thought of Hölderlin and Rilke.

—Jean Wahl, A Short History Of Existentialism (Philosophical Library, 1940)


running scared

The avant garde is always running scared, like the Israelites fleeing not through a parted Red Sea but the Mainstream about to close over them.


and yet undefined

Words organized for affect; often employing the effects of sound, imagery and metaphor through compressed expressions marked by their nuance or unusual perspective.


metaphor's category error

The metaphor flaunts its ‘category error’.


banish muse and daimon

Banish both the muse and daimon. Let inspiration arise solely from the real.


not the language of the age

The language of the age is never the language of poetry.

—Thomas Gray (1716-1771), in a letter to Richard West, 8 April 1742


elephant graveyard

The sonnet is poetry's elephant graveyard…the place where old poets go before they die.


more apes

They say if you have an infinite number of chimpanzees with keyboards, one of them will randomly type one of Shakespeare’s poems. For my next poem, it’s that good,
trust me, you’re gonna need a few more apes.


unfit line

Trust that the unfit line will benefit the poem. It's a loose wire that the reader must attend to.


sincerely a circle

If a poet can’t be sincere, neither can a critic. So nothing can be sincerely criticized if nothing can be sincerely said by the poet.


faithless poetry

Prose is in that measure a fine art. It might be called poetry that had become pervasively representative, and was absolutely faithful to its rational function.

—George Santayana, Reason in Art


bad marriage

The best metaphors are like those marriages that all the relatives said would never work out or last, but somehow did.


opens a fissure

A great line of poetry opens a fissure, allowing a little light from the numinous into this dim world.


harking to the barking

Another ivory tower academic harkening to the strains of street-level poetry.


contract of adhesion

The poem is a ‘contract of adhesion’. Drafted by one party and offered to the reader on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.


intervene in the deepest part

This is how I recognize an authentic poet: by frequenting him, living a long time in the intimacy of his work, something changes in myself: not so much my inclinations or my tastes as my very blood, as if a subtle disease had been injected to alter its course, its density and nature. Valéry and Stefan George leave us where we picked them up, or else make us more demanding on the formal level of the mind: they are geniuses we have no need of, they are merely artists. But a Shelley, but a Baudelaire, but a Rilke intervene in the deepest part of our organism which annexes them as it would a vice.

—E. M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay, translated by Richard Howard (Arcade Publishing, 1998)


well-appointed or stripped

Poetry can be either well-appointed prose or prose stripped bare. But poetry cannot exist between these two sectors on the prose spectrum.


words at eye level

The lines of the poem were like shelves in a store, displaying certain words for maximum attention. Some like hardware stores chockfull of tools and thing-a-ma-jigs, others like variety stores stocked with cheap toys and inexpensive housewares, and others fine gift shops showing off their objets d’art.



The first few lines of a poem are tinder. With imagination as the match, that moment when material fuel and mental energy flare up or smolder out.


A finely-rendered image leaves a faint afterimage flickering in the mind after the passage has been read.


form without a model

When one speaks of traditional form, one is speaking about the haphazard product of a culture's literary history. How many poetic forms arose naturally out of a particular culture or language? Borrowed, grafted, adapted, one could even say ‘translated’, forms are not inherent to the culture and its language. Trial & error, chance, and the arbitrariness of custom all play a role in the development and perpetuation of forms within any language's poetry. There is nothing particular to the Italian temperament that naturally spawned the fourteen-line sonnet.


blimp titles

I detest seeing titles set in 14 point type (or larger), bolded or emboldened, proclaiming their aggrandized status apart from the body of the poem. Titles big as blimps flying over the tiny text scurrying below, blocking out the reader’s light.


homeland is language

A poet’s only homeland is language.


twain notions

All words are spiritual—nothing is more spiritual than words.—Whence are they? along how many thousands and tens of thousands of years have they come? those eluding, fluid, beautiful, fleshless realities, Mother, Father, Water, Earth, Me, This, Soul, Tongue, House, Fire.

—Walt Whitman, “An American Primer,” The Neglected Walt Whitman, edited by Sam Abrams, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993


For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are only here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window—
at most: column, tower…But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, from “The Ninth Elegy,” Ahead of All Parting, Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell, Modern Library, 1995


book of spells & divinations

The lexicon is the poet's book of spells and divinations.


hardest turn

Nothing in writing the poem should be harder than starting a second page.


cowboy poetry

Cowboy poetry: Git along little doggerel.


water buffalo's carcass

One of T.S. Eliot’s sillier notions was that the poem’s content was little more than a bit of meat that a burglar carries with him to distract the house dog while he steals away with the valuables. My mind-keep is guarded by a beast that could tear the three heads off Cerberus. So that poet-burglar better be dragging the carcass of a water buffalo.


good cook

My guess is that the poet is also a good cook.


substitution of terms

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein

Poetry is an opening up to the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.


shadow symbol

Often the poetic image casts a shadow symbol.



Treat each line as though it were an algebraic equation that must be simplified and reduced to its least terms.



How important was that image?: As though a kind of scrimshaw etched on human bone.


flarf = word barf

Flarf is word barf. A glorified writing exercise, as if the world needed another
reason or method to perpetrate bad poems. (It’s no coincidence that ‘flarfing’ arose at the same time the ‘paradelle', Billy Collins’ pet form, had its day.) Has anything of lasting interest ever been created by an artist absent a compelling subject or profound emotion? Silence should be a satisfying alternative to the poet who hasn’t any reason to write.


clarity, clarity

Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful
        thing in the world,
A limited, limiting clarity

I have not and never did have any motive of poetry
But to achieve clarity

—George Oppen, from “Route”


first love in translation

We fall hard for the first translations of a poet's work that we encounter; and most of the other/later translations we come across strike us as pale or somehow inferior.


simple lay

They may call it a simple lay, and yet the words won’t lie still.


arbitrary & capricious linebreak

A casual survey of contemporary poetry would lead one to believe that the decision of how/where to break the poetic line is either arbitrary or idiosyncratic. There is much workshop talk but little real theory or even practical guidelines to rely on when considering the linebreak. One could say that the linebreak is arbitrary and capricious as they put it in the law.


hate the approximate

He was a poet and hated the approximate.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge


wide and close up

A poet’s vision is always wide-angle yet with a high degree of acuity.


dictionary thumper

Poet, be a dictionary-thumping fundamentalist!


an anthology's function

An anthology is for finding a few representative poems by minor poets. Large collected and selected poems are the go-to source for the bigger names. Do you read Ginsberg or Creeley in an anthology? Perhaps just a quick check of the contents page to see which poems were chosen. But generally we skip the big names in favor of sampling those poets whose work is less familiar or less widely available.


a blurb is about

A blurb is about the blurb-writer and not about the book.


nobly disheveled

Any bright young man can be taught to be artful. It is impossible to teach taste, but you can teach most anybody caution. It is always the lesser artists who are artful, they must learn their trade by rote. They must be careful never to make false steps, never to speak out of a carefully synthesized character. The greatest poetry is nobly disheveled. At least it never shows the scars of taking care.

—Kenneth Rexroth, introduction to D.H. Lawrence: Selected Poems


roaring loom of time

I would steal Spinoza’s image of the “roaring loom of time’ and state that this is what a great poem eventually becomes.


barbarian poets

Going back to the Greek meaning of the word ‘barbarian’ (those who speak a language other than Greek), we can see that all poets are ‘barbarians’ because they speak a different language from the main tribe or polis. The difference can range from a matter of dialect or inflection to a speech that is radically different in terms of word sounds, meanings, syntax, and diction.


simultaneous tapestry

In a poem the lines strain to weave themselves into a simultaneous tapestry of experience.


unselfish act

Translation is the most unselfish act in literature, and must be so.



Whether you listen to a piece of music, or a poem, or look at a picture on a jug, or a piece of sculpture, what matters about it is not what it has in common with others of its kind, but what is singularly its own.

—Basil Bunting, The Codex


command economy

Poetry publishing is a decentralized command economy. Demand is not considered in production.



He wore a bandoleer filled with pencils and pens. Always ready for a good write.


prose mind

It’s not possible to read poetry with a prose mind.


pressured speech

The poem as pressured speech.


undoing the damage of haste

Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't.

—Theodore Roethke, On Poetry and Craft: Selected Prose of Theodore Roethke


art deco ditties

If not for his philosophical and aesthetic interests, Wallace Stevens might have composed only art deco ditties.



The words in the line were merely placeholders, entities deployed without the efficacy of language.


original or aboriginal

The poet too often grasps for the original, when s/he should be attempting to reach back into the mind’s aboriginal state.


spectacle of speech

The poem as spectacle of speech.


half-done or whole


In poetry, too, all that is whole might only be half-done, and yet all half-done might actually be a whole.

(Literary Aphorisms, 1797-1800)

—Friedrich Schlegel, Dialogue on Poetry & Literary Aphorisms, Behler & Struc, trans., Penn. State U. Press, 1968


mind bridge

The image is a mind bridge back to experience.


Plato knew us

Plato knew us to be those idle liars composing idylls upon our lyres.


poetic fecundity

The poet struggles to stay ahead of the poetic fecundity of slang and idiom.


not plague or pandemic

Poetry is not an art form for the mass-media age. It doesn’t create instant hysteria as does a plague or pandemic. Poetry travels quietly and slowly, gradually infecting that portion of the populace predisposed to its life-altering influence.


the mark left is poetry

We forget so easily everything we read.
The mark left is poetry, causes changes in
movement of life.

(entry March 5th, 1963)

Aim for a whole new way of using language. There should be
no artificial abbreviations (of sentences, etc.) in poetry.
Closer to the mind it comes out how? Or the mind closer
to the poem, comes out with its own good poetry.

(entry March 15th, 1963)

I don’t want to force my mind to be clever or force
it to poetry.
What are those other poets talking about.
Is language for speaking or writing,
using or making

(entry August 11th, 1963)

--Joanne Kyger, Strange Big Moon, The Japan and India Journals: 1960-1964,
North Atlantic Book, 2000


poem's test

Test for a poem: No words needed to introduce it and none would help explain it.


content over concept

A poem of concept is generally lesser in weight than a poem of content.


poet's poet

Every poet is a poet’s poet. The audience for serious poetry being comprised largely of other poets.


critic's test

I’m an able critic because I’ve written a sufficient amount of bad poetry.


fig leaf poetry

Le vers alexandrin n’est souvent qu’un cache-sottise.

The alexandrine is most often a fig leaf over stupidity.

—Stendahl (Henri Beyle, 1783-1842), Racine et Shakespeare.


lyric nodes, inert matrix

The epic or long poem consists of coruscating lyric nodes locked within an essentially inert matrix.


falling silent

Fall silent so as to gather strength, summoning the power to speak.


the published poem

To publish is to acknowledge the social function and use of poetry.


hard reading

Poetry is hard reading.


specific point-to-point vividness

Much of his [Stefan Zweig’s] prose rhythm is poetic in the raw sense of being laid out with the specific point-to-point vividness of verse. Often you will find Zweig writing a clause that could match to a line by Rilke.

--Clive James, “Stefan Zweig,” Cultural Amnesia

(I first encountered Zweig’s incredibly lucid prose in his book Erasmus of Rotterdam…I can only imagine how well he reads in German.)


existence elucidated

Poetry is existence elucidated by means of the imagination.


proving ground

The public reading as the proving ground for the poem.


basic formal constraint

The basic formal constraint in contemporary poetry is the width (8.5’’) and length (11”) of a standard-size sheet of paper, along with its typical margin widths.


first and final line

Write each line as though it was the first and final line of the poem.


two kinds of poetry

Great writers must find their distinctive voice, and you can hear Robinson's in "Reuben Bright" (1897). He uses simple rhetoric, the emotion compressed in spare language. As the poet Winfield Townley Scott observed in his notebooks, there are basically two kinds of poetry. One is represented by Hart Crane's line "The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise," the other by Robinson's "And he was all alone there when he died." One is a magic gesture of language, the other "a commentary on human life so concentrated as to give off considerable pressure." The greatest poets combine the two, Scott believed: Shakespeare often, Robinson himself now and then.

—Scott Donaldson, Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life (Columbia University Press. © 2007)


tome is tomb

For a poet, tome is tomb.


shelved and thus held dear

After I read the book, I put it in my small library; shelved and thus held dear. Could the author ask for any other tribute?


with a dog's ears

It’s well known that dogs can hear sounds inaudible to human ears. A good reader can sense words and phrases not present in the poem but only adumbrated by their absence.


secular prayer

The poem as secular prayer.


enter at your own risk

Poetry is not a fiefdom or a private domain. It is a city whose gates stand wide; which has never exactly welcomed its newcomers but has always found room for them.

—Eavan Boland, Ronald Duncan Lecture, 1994


iambs on the march

The jackbooted iambs are marching again in their ranks of five.


strains at its tether

The line strains at its tether: Can you sense the tug of a line that has reached its optimal length?


threadbare cloth

A poem of abstractions is a threadbare cloth.


not silence but white noise

Some have called the empty space around the words a kind of silence. But it's the white noise of all the words trying to enter the poem, words clamoring to be heard, text struggling to make itself visible.


It's Chinatown

Sometimes when faced with difficult or complex poetry, the detective’s words to Jake Gittes at the end of the movie Chinatown come to mind: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."


drenched in words

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked with them to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. When they come . . . they come as things in themselves; it is a matter of felicitous juggling!; and no amount of will or emotion can help the thing a bit.

—Hart Crane,The Letters of Hart Crane, November 26, 1921


meaning over matter and sound

The materiality of text is slight. The acoustic effects of language are dismal compared to those of music. Thus, no one is much interested in words devoid of their meanings.


cheap gunsel

Certain critics are like cheap gunsels: A guy who when he can’t talk his way out of a sticky situation, reaches too quickly for his 'canon', and just starts blasting away with ‘Shakespeare’ or ‘Milton’.


audacious yet convincing

The metaphor/simile should open with audacity causing disbelief and close convincingly with a felt truth.


resists demystification

Much to a critic’s dismay, true poetry resists all manner of demystification.


apt rather than exact

In a poem, the expression may be apt rather than exact.


poet's first obligation

Poetry’s freedom resembles, thus, as Plato pointed out, the freedom of a child, and the freedom of play, and the freedom of dreams. It is none of these. It is the freedom of the creative spirit.

And because poetry is born in this root life where the powers of the soul are active in common, poetry implies an essential requirement of totality or integrity. Poetry is the fruit neither of the intellect alone, nor of the imagination alone. Nay more, it proceeds from the totality of man, sense, imagination, intellect, love, desire, instinct, blood and spirit together. And the first obligation imposed on the poet is to consent to be brought back to the hidden place, near the center of the soul, where the totality exists in the state of a creative source.

—Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition In Art & Poetry (Pantheon Books, 1953)


words working against the poem

In an odd way the words are often working against the poem.


too late for that last line

You expected that that last line would save all it followed?


mission of art

It is the mission of art to remind man that he is human.

—Ben Shahn (quoted in Karsh, 50 Year Retrospective, photographer Yousuf Karsh)


multitudinous yet unified

The poem was multitudinous in aspect, yet unified in its effect.


expert at excerpts

A critic can be judged by the expertness of his/her excerpting.


anchor word

Look for an anchor word in each line of the poem. If a line lacks a word of significant weight, then that line is not advancing the poem.


reanimates remembrance

Imagery reanimates remembrance.


sonic stitching

Meter: the sonic stitching that holds fast the seam of the line.


language in extremis

The poem as language in extremis.



The poem was ‘kaleidosonic’.


everything for depth & height

One complaint lodged against Sappho—it is lodged against Emily Dickinson too, and that tells us something about the complaint—is that her range is narrow. Even if the charge could be proved correct, and it cannot, we would want to remember that lyric poetry cares very little for breadth and width, everything for depth and height. Whatever the mysterious criteria for great European lyric may be, compression, intensity of feeling, and complexity and subtlety of reflection are surely high among them.

—W.R. Johnson, The Idea of the Lyric, U. of California Press, 1982 (p. 48)


poetry is hypertext

A great poem is hypertext into the universal & eternal.


Ars Poetica Library (work in progress)

A Glossary of Literary Terms, M.H.Abrams, Literary Reference, Holt Rinehart Winston 1988 * Selected Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire, Guillaume Apollinaire (R. Shattuck, trans.), Poetry Essays, New Directions 1971 * The Poetics, Aristotle, Poetry Essays, Various Editions * Essays Literary & Critical by Matthew Arnold, Matthew Arnold, Poetry Essays, JM Dent & Son 1906 * Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction, Derek Attridge, Formalism, Metrics, Cambridge U. Press 1996 * The Dyer's Hand, W.H. Auden, Poetry Essays, Vintage 1989 * Forewords & Afterwords, W.H. Auden, Poetry Essays, Vintage 1989 * Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Erich Auerbach, Literary Criticism, Doubleday Anchor Books 1957 * The Poetics of Reverie, Gaston Bachelard, Philosophy/Aesthetics, Beacon Press 1971 * The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard (Maria Jolas, trans.), Philosophy/Aesthetics, Beacon Press 1969 * Onward: Contemporary Poetry & Poetics, Peter Baker ed., Poetry Essays, Peter Lang Publishing 1996 * An Owen Barfield Reader, Owen Barfield, Poetry Criticism, Wesleyan U. Press 1999 * The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters, Tony Barnstone & Chou Ping, trans., Poetry Essays, Shambhala 1996 * The Making of the Auden Canon , Jos. Warren Beach, Poetry Criticism, Russell & Russell 1971 * Illuminations, Walter Benjamin, Literary Criticism, Schoken Books 1978 * Reflections, Walter Benjamin (Peter Demetz, ed.), Literary Criticism, Schoken Books 1978 * Content's Dream, Charles Bernstein, Poetry Essays, Sun & Moon 1986 * A Poetics, Charles Bernstein, Poetry Essays, Harvard U. Press 1992 * Anxiety of Influence (2nd edition), Harold Bloom, Literary Criticism, Oxford U. Press 1987 * Leaping Poetry, Robert Bly, Poetry Essay & Anthology * News of the Universe, Robert Bly, Poetry Essays & Anthology, Sierra Club Books 1980 * A Poet's Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art & Vocation, Louise Bogan (Robt. Phelps & Ruth Limmer, eds.), Poetry Essays, McGraw Hill 1970 * Object Lessons, Eavan Boland, Poetry Essays, Norton 1995 * The Act and the Place of Poetry, Yves Bonnefoy, Poetry Essays, U. of Chicago Press 1989 * Borges Selected Non-Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges, Poetry & Writing, Penguin 2000 * Borges On Writing, Jorge Luis Borges (di Giovanni, Macshane, Halpern, interviewers), Interviews, Ecco Press 1972 * In the Blue Pharmacy: Essays on Poetry and Other Transformations, Marianne Boruch,Poetry Essays, Trinity U. Press 2005 * Yeats at Work, Curtis Bradford, ed., Poetry Manuscript Analysis, Southern Illinois Univ. Press 1965 * The Well-Wrought Urn, Cleanth Brooks, Poetry Criticism, Harvest Books 1956 * The Main of Light: On the Concept of Poetry, Justus Buchler, Philosophy, Oxford 1974 * The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, Kenneth Burke, Essays: Poetry, Philosophy, Vintage 1941 * A Phlosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke (J. T. Boulton, ed.), Philosophy/Aesthetics, U. of Notre Dame Press 1968 * Selected Essays & Reviews, Hayden Carruth, Poetry Essays, Copper Canyon 1996 * Language and Myth, Ernst Cassirer, Philosophy, Dover 1953 * How Does A Poem Mean, John Ciardi, Poetry Essays, Houghton Mifflin 1959 * Biographia Literaria, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Literary Essays, Various Editions The Language of Criticism & the Structure of Poetry, R.S. Crane, Literary Criticism, U. of Toronto 1953* Selected Writing of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, editor, Poetry Essays, New Directions 1966 * Poetry & Literature: An Introduction to Its Criticism and History, Benedetto Croce (Giovanni Gullace, trans.), Literary Criticism, S. Illinois U. Press 1981 * The Problem of Style, J.V. Cunningham, Literary Essays, Fawcett Publications 1966 * Poetry As Persuasion, Carl Dennis, Poetry Essays, U. of Georgia Press 2001Poetry in our Time, Babette Deutsch, Poetry Criticism, Columbia U. Press 1952 * Art as Experience, John Dewey, Philosophy, Perigree Books 1980 * Sorties, James Dickey, Poetry Essays, LSU Press 1971 * Walking Light, Stephen Dunn, Poetry Essays, Boa Editions 2001 * The Use of Poetry & the Use of Criticism, T.S. Eliot, Poetry Criticism, Faber & Faber 1933 * The Modern Tradition, Richard Ellman & Chas. Fieldelson, Jr., eds., Literary, Cultural & Art Essays,Oxford 1965 * Complete Essays & Other Writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poetry Essays & Philosophy, Modern Library 1950 * Seven Types of Ambiguity, William Empson, Poetry Criticism, New Directions 1966 * Expansive Poetry: Essays on the New Narrative and New Formalism, Frederick Feirstein, ed., Poetry Essays, Story Line Press 1989 * The Ghost of Meter: Culture & Prosody in American Free Verse, Annie Finch, Formalism/Metrics, U. of Michigan Press 2000 * An Exaltation of Forms, Annie Finch & Katherine Varnes, eds., Formalism/Metrics, U. of Michigan Press 2002 * Romantic Criticism 1800-1850, R.A. Foakes, ed., Poetry Essays. Arnold Publishers 1968 * A Field Guide to Contemporary Poetics Stuart Friebert, David Walker & David Young, eds., Poetry Essays, Oberlin College Press 1997 * Robert Frost on Writing, Robert Frost (Elaine Barry, editor), Poetry Essays, Rutgers 1973 * Selected Prose of Robert Frost, Robert Frost (H. Cox & E.C. Lathem, eds.), Collier Books 1968 * Feeling As A Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry, Alice Fulton, Poetry Essays, Graywolf Press 1999 * Poetic Meter & Poetic Form (revised edition), Paul Fussell, Formalism/Metrics, Random House 1979 * The Poet's Work: 29 Masters of the 20th Century Poetry on the Origin and Practice of Their Art, Reginald Gibbons, ed., Poetry Essays, Houghton Mifflin 1979 * Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry, Dana Gioia, David Mason & Meg Schoerke, eds., Poetics, McGraw Hill 2003 * Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry & American Culture, Dana Gioia, Poetry Essays, Graywolf Press 1992 * Proofs & Theories, Louise Glück,Poetry Essays. Ecco Press 1994 * The Collected Works: Essays on Art & Literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (John Gearey, editor), Essays: Art & Poetry, Princeton U. Press 1986 * The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Robert Graves, Poetry Essay, Farrar Straus Giroux 1966 * Oxford Addresses on Poetry, Robert Graves, Poetry Essays, Doubleday 1962 * The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers, Allen R. Grossman (Mark Halliday, interviewer), Poetics, Johns Hopkins U. Press 1991 * Of Manywhere-at-Once, Bob Grumman, Poetry Essays * New Expansive Poetry, R.S. Gwynn, ed., Poetry Essays, Story Line Press 1995 * Goatfoot Milktongue Twinbird: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry, 1970-76, Donald Hall, Poetry Essays, U. of Michigan Press 1978 * Poetry & Ambition, Donald Hall, Poetry Essays, U. of Michigan Press 1988 * Twentieth Century Pleasures, Robert Hass, Poetry Essays, Ecco Press 1984 * Robert Hayden: Collected Prose, Robert Hayden (F. Glaysher, ed.; foreword by Wm. Meredith), Literary Essays, U. of Michigan Press 1984 * Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-78, Seamus Heaney, Poetry Essays, Farrar Straus Giroux 1980 * The Redress of Poetry. Seamus Heaney, Poetry Essays, Farrar Straus Giroux 1995 * Poetry, Language, Thought, Martin Heidegger (trans. by Albert Hofstadter), Philosophy, Harper Colophon Books 1975 * Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, W.N. Herbert & Matthew Hollis, eds., Poetry Essays, Bloodaxe Books 2000 * Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Jane Hirshfield, Poetry Essays, HarperCollins 1997 * Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form, Philip Hobsbaum, Formalism/ Metrics, Routledge 1999 * Essentials Of Literary Criticism, Philip Hobsbaum, Poetry Criticism, 1983 * Tradition and Experiment in English Poetry, Philip Hobsbaum. Poetry Criticism 1979 * Rhyme's Reason, John Hollander, Formalism/Metrics, Yale U. Press 1981 * My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe, Poetry Criticism, North Atlantic Books 1985 * Donald Justice in Conversation, Philip Hoy, interviewer, Interviews * The Triggering Town, Richard Hugo, Poetry Essays, Norton 1979 * Speculations: Essays on Humanism & Philsophy of Art, T.E. Hulme, Philosophy Essays, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1987 * The Auden Generation, Samuel Hynes, Poetry Criticism, Princeton U. Press 1982 * The Failure of Poetry, The Promise of Language, Laura (Riding) Jackson (John Nolan, ed.), Poetry Essays, U. of Michigan 2007 * The Instant of Knowing, Josephine Jacobsen, Poetry Essay, Library of Congress (pamphlet) * The Reaper Essays, Mark Jarman & Robert McDowell, Poetry Essays, Story Line Press 1996 * Kipling, Auden & Company: Essays & Reviews 1935-1964, Randall Jarrell, Poetry Essays & Reviews, Farrar Straus Giroux 1980 * Poetry and The Age, Randall Jarrell, Poetry Essays & Reviews. Vintage 1959 * The Complete Perfectionist: A Poetics of Work, Juan Ramon Jiménez (Christopher Maurer, trans. & ed.), Poetry Aphorisms, Doubleday 1997 * Donald Justice Reader, Donald Justice, Poetry Essays, University Press of New England 2003 * The Pound Era, Hugh Kenner, Poetry Criticism, U. of California 1971 * The Romantic Image, Frank Kermode, Literary Criticism, Vintage 1964 * The Poetry of Criticism: Horace Epistles II and Ars Poetica, Rpss S. Kirkpatrick, Poetry Criticism, U. of Alberta Press 1990 * Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800-1950, Melissa Kwasny, ed., Poetry Essays, Wesleyan U. Press 2004 * Feeling and Form, Susanne K.Langer, Philosophy/Aesthetics , Chas. Scribners 1953 * Paul Valéry: An Anthology, James Lawler, editor, Art & Literary Essays, Routledge 1977 * Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, L.T. Lemon & M.J. Reis, trans., Literary Criticism, U. of Nebraska Press 1965 * Light Up the Cave, Denise Levertov, Poetry New Directions New & Selected Essays, Denise Levertov, Poetry Essays, New Directions 1992 * Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats & Modernism, James Logenbach, Poetry Criticism, Oxford 1998 * On the Sublime, Loginius, Aesthetics, Various Editions * In Search of Duende, Federico Garcia Lorca (N. T. DiGiovanni & C. Maurer, trans.), Essays, New Directions 1999 * Poetry & Experience, Archibald MacLeish, Poetry Essays, Houghton Mifflin 1960 * Creative Intuition in Art & Poetry, Jacques Maritain, Poetry & Art Essays, Pantheon 1953 * Versification: A Short Introduction, James McAuley, Formalism/Metrics. Michigan State U. Press 1966 * Worlds into Words: Understanding Modern Poems, Diane Middlebrook, Poetry Criticism, Norton 1980 * The Witness of Poetry, Czeslaw Milosz, Poetry Essays, Harvard U. Press 1983 * Selected Essays of Eugenio Montale, Eugenio Montale (Jonathan Galassi, trans.), Poetry Essays, Ecco 1982 * Predilections: literary essays, Marianne Moore, Poetry Essays, Viking Press 1955 * The Bedford Glossary of Critical & Literary Terms, Ross Murfin & Supryia M. Ray, Literary Reference, Bedford 1997 * Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy/Aesthetics, Modern Library 2000 * Rules for the Dance: Handbook for Writing & Reading Metrical Verse, Mary Oliver, Formalism/Metrics, Mariner Books 1998 * A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver, Poetry Reference, Harvest Books 1994 * The Other Voice, Octavio Paz, Poetry Essays, Harvest Books 1992 * The Bow & the Lyre, Octavio Paz, U. of Texas Press 1973 * Poetics of Inderterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage, Majorie Perloff, Poetry Criticism, Princeton U. Press 1981 * The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide, Robert Pinsky, Formalism/Metrics, Farrar Straus Giroux 1998 * Poetry And The World, Robert Pinsky, Poetry Criticism, Ecco Press 1988 * Selected Prose: 1909-1965, Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, New Directions * ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound, Poetry Essays, New Directions 1934 * Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound, Poetry Essays, New Directions Literary Essays Ezra Pound, Poetry Essays, New Directions * The Imagist Poem, William Pratt, ed., Poetry Criticism, Dutton * The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics (3rd Edition), Alex Preminger, ed., Poetry Reference, Princeton U. Press 1993 * Like a Writer, Francine Prose, Writing Essays * Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe, Peter Quatermain, Poetry Criticism, Cambridge 1992 * Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau, Writing Essay in Versions of Single Story, New Directions 1981 * Assays, Kenneth Rexroth, Poetry & Literary Essays, New Directions 1961 * American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Kenneth Rexroth, Poetry Essays, Continuum Book 1973 * Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1986, Adrienne Rich, Poetry Essays, Norton 1986 * On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978, Adrienne Rich, Poetry Essays, Norton 1979 * What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, Adrienne Rich, Poetry Essays, Norton 1993 * Practical Criticism, I. A. Richards, Literary Criticism, Harvest Books 1956 * Letters on Cezanne, Rainer Maria Rilke (ed. Clara Rilke; trans. by Joel Agee), Art Essays, Fromme International 1985 * Where Silence Reigns: Selected Prose, Rainer Maria Rilke (G. Craig Houston, trans.), Poetry Essays, New Directions 1978 * Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (M. D. Herter, trans.), Poetry Essays, Norton 1934 * Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke 1943-1963, Theodore Roethke (David Wagoner, ed.), Poet's Journal, Doubleday 1972 * On the Poet and His Craft: Selected Prose, Theodore Roethke (Ralph J. Mills, ed.), Poetry Essays, U. of Washington Press 1965 * The Dream of the Marsh Wren, Patiann Rogers, Poetry Essays, Milkweed Editions 1999 * The Modern Poetic Sequence, M.L.Rosenthal & Sally M. Gall, U. of Oxford Press 1983 * The Life of Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser, Poetry Essays, Paris Press 1996The World of Poetry: Poets & Critics on the Art & Function of Poetry, Clive Sansom, ed., Poetry Quotes, Phoenix House 1959 * Naïve & Sentimental Poetry - On the Sublime, Friedrich von Schiller, Philosophy, Poetry, Aesthetics, Frederick Ungar Publishing 1966 * Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, Friedrich Schlegel (trans. by Behler & Struc), Poetics, Penn. St. Univ. Press 1968 * John Dryden on Dramatic Poetry and other critical essays, George Watson, ed., Poetry Essays, J.M. Dent & Sons 1962 * Lives of the Poets, Michael Schmidt, Poetry Bios and Commentary, Vintage 2000 * Schopenhauer: Essays & Aphorisms, Arthur Schopenhauer (RJ Hollingdale, trans.), Philosophy Penguin 1970 * A Poet's Journal: Days of 1945-1951, George Seferis, Poet's Journal, Belknap (Harvard U. Press) 1974 * Prose Keys to Modern Poetry, Karl Shapiro, ed., Poetry Essays, U. of Nebraska Press 1962 * A Defence of Poetry, Sir Philip Sidney, Poetry Essay, Various Editions Leopardi and the Theory of Poetry, G. Singh, Literary Criticism. U. of Kentucky Press 1964 * A Poet's Notebook, Edith Sitwell, Poetry Quotes, Macmillan & Co. 1944 * De/Compositions, W.S. Snodgrass, Poetry Praxis, Graywolf Press 2001 * The Making of a Poem, Stephen Spender, Poetry Essays, Norton 1962 * House That Jack Built: Cthe Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, Jack Spicer (ed. Peter Gizzi), Poetry Essays, Wesleyan U. Press 1998 * Where The Angels Come Toward Us, David St. John, Poetry Essays, White Pine Press 1995 * Appreciation: Painting, Poetry and Prose, Leo Stein, Art Essays, Random House 1947 * Writing the Australian Crawl, William Stafford, Poetry Essays, U. of Michigan Press 1978 * Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt Against Meter, Timonthy Steele, Poetry Essays, U. of Arkansas Press 1990 * How Writing is Written: Volume II of the Previously Uncollected Writings, Gertrude Stein (Robert Bartlett Haas, ed.), Essays, Black Sparrow Press 1974 * The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality & the Imagination, Wallace Stevens, Poetry Essays, Vintage 1951 * Sur Plusiers Beaux Sujects: Wallace Stevens' Commonplace Books, Wallace Stevens (Milton Bates, ed.), Poet's Commonplace Book, Stanford U. Press 1989 * Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, Susan Stewart, Poetry Essays, University of Chicago Press 2002 * Theories & Documents of Contemporary Art: A Source Book of Artist's Writings, Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, eds., Art Essays U. of California 1996 * The Three Perfections: Chinese Painting, Poetry, and Calligraphy, Michael Sullivan, Poetry & Art, George Braziller 1999 * The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (3rd Edition), Lewis Turco, Formalism/Metrics, U. of New England Press 2000 * 45 Contemporary Poems: The Creative Process, Albeta Turner, Poetry Praxis, Longman 1985 * Lives of the Poets: The Story of One Thousand Years of English & American Poetry, Louis Untermeyer, Short Biographical Essays, Replica Books 1999 * Introduction to Poetry: Commentaries on Thirty Poems, Mark Van Doren, Poetry Essays, Hill & Wang 1968 * Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari (E. L. Seeley, trans.), Artist Biographies, Noonday 1957 * Soul Says, Helen Vendler, Literary Criticism, Harvard U. Press 1995 * Words Chosen Out of Desire, Helen Vendler, Literary Criticism, U. of Tenn. Press 1984 * Telling It Slant: Avant Garde Poetics in the 1990s, Mark Wallace, Poetry Essays, U. of Alabama Press 2001 * Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, Eliot Weinberger & Octavio Paz, editors, Poetry Essay, Moyer Bell 1987 * Concepts of Criticism, René Wellek, Literary Criticism, Yale U. Press 1963 * The Embodiment of Knowledge, William Carlos William, Poetry Essays, New Directions 1974 * Selected Essays of William Carlos. Williams William Carlos, Poetry Essays, New Directions 1969 * In Defense of Reason, Yvor Winters, Poetry Essays, U. of Denver Press 1937 * The Japanese Haiku, Kenneth Yasuda, Poetry Criticism, Chas. E. Tuttle 1957 * Essays & Introductions, W. B. Yeats, Literary Essays,Collier Books 1961 * A Defence of Ardor, Adam Zagajewski (Clare Cavanaugh, trans.), Poetry and Art Essays, Farrar Straus Giroux 2004 * Multum in Parvo: an essay in poetic imagination, Carl Zigrosser, Poetry Essays, George Braziller 1965 * Lyrical Philosophy, Jan Zwicky, Poetry, Philosophy, U. of Toronto Press 1992 * Wisdom & Metaphor, Jan Zwicky, Poetry, Philosophy, Gaspereau Press 2003


I want to be left alone

Like Garbo, it's only the famous poet who wants to be left alone, who thinks poetry should be hiding itself in some secret bower where only the initiated need know where to find it.


definition refuted

Let your next poem openly refute your last definition of poetry.


good story

A good story can't be told badly.


uncomfortably suited

A poem is uncomfortably suited within any circumference of understanding.


voice and style

'Voice', as an attribute, is often ridiculed because it is mistaken for a poetic technique. But voice is nothing more than style inflected by one's favored themes and subject matter. And not unlike the word 'style', voice is used too often and used in place of the hard work of describing the characteristics of the writing under consideration.


don't turn your back on them

As poets we love words and won’t turn our backs on them. As poets we trust words but we don’t turn our backs on them.


pure or purple

Pure poetry so often flirts with the purple.


see into and overhear

The poet sees and sees into, hears and overhears.



If you analyze well your most poetic impressions and imaginings—the ones that most exalt you and pull you outside of yourself and of the real world—you would find that they and the pleasure they cause (at least after childhood) consist totally or chiefly in remembrance.

—Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone dei pensieri



Poet, be a word-breeder!


bookmark lost

A pity, but I couldn’t bear to go back into those pages even to save my favorite bookmark.


many rooms

The poem has many rooms, corridors, and closets.


a new york school poet

A New York School poet seems convinced his random musings and casual observations are more interesting than your (the reader's) stray thoughts, sightings and overhearings.


locked within the dictionary

I saw the poem locked within the dictionary, and I cut away until it was set free. (after Michelangelo)


always astonished

I was a poet animated by philosophy, not a philosopher with poetic faculties. I loved to admire the beauty of things, to trace the imperceptible through the minute the poetic soul of the universe.

—Fernando Pessoa, Always Astonished (City Lights Books, 1988), translated by Edwin Honig


my best professors

My best professors were proprietors of used bookshops.


'surrhetorical' poetry

The poetry of Gertrude Stein could be called ‘surrhetorical’.


yard-sale poetry

Yard-sale poetry: The page casually arrayed with things from someone’s life.


one reader

A book with one reader: the person who proofread it.


what is the good of critiquing a forest

I have a friend who has an early Leaves of Grass edition and
inscribed on the flyleaf, in Whitman's hand, is this quote:

"We critique a palace or a cathedral, but what is the good of critiquing a


lexical magic

The poem as lexical magic.


knot of language

And a tidy well-tied knot of language it was.


form's nadir

Form’s nadir: A trivial form like the acrostic.


that damn line again

[F]requently in the course of delivering himself of a poem, a poet will find himself in possession of a lyric bauble—a line as smooth as velvet to the ear, as pretty as a feather to the eye, yet a line definitely out of plumb with the frame of the poem. What to do with a trinket like this is always troubling to a poet, who is naturally grateful to his Muse for small favors. Usually he just drops the shining object into the body of the poem somewhere and hopes it won’t look too giddy.

—E. B. White, “Unzip the Veil,” ONE MAN’S MEAT, p146


title exceeding

The poem exhausted itself trying to keep up with the promise of its title.


they aren't avant-garde

Those who have to claim to be avant-garde, aren't.


critical path through the poem

No unnecessary or inert nodes of words: Solve for and find the critical path through the poem.


substitution of terms

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

—Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929)

The safest general characterization of the European poetical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Homer.


a poem that travels light

I dream of a poem so brief and memorable, so engaging and spirited, that it will forever elude print—it will travel light from mouth to mind, mind to mouth, without ever being pinned to a page as text.


gathering storm of whispers

All the whispers gathered round and rose into crescendo.


a tidepool

A poem should be like a tidepool: A small window of water filled with wondrous things, a flux of colors and textures, giving one a glimpse into the immensity of the sea.


living in poetry

That’s what I shall call living in poetry: prolonging the real not by the fantastic, the marvelous, images of paradise, but by trying to live what is concrete in its true dimension, living one’s daily life in what one might call, perhaps, the epic of the real.

To define the verb to live would be a whole philosophy. And nothing at all.

We can amuse ourselves defining poetry, but we do not define sensations.

Living in Poetry: Interviews with Guillevic,translated from the French by Maureen Smith(The Dedalus Press, 1999) p. 11


without forensic criticism

It doesn’t take forensic criticism to tell if the poem was written in blood.


overburdening fruit

Like the limbs of an orchard tree, you could see the strain in the lines and almost hear them creak with the overburdening fruit of so many adjectives.


act of disbelief

In contemporary society to write a poem is an act of disbelief.


poetry in its street clothes

Prose poem: The language of poetry in its street clothes.


effigy and shadow

Every real effigy has a shadow which is its double; and art must falter and fail from the moment the sculptor believes he has liberated the kind of shadow whose very existence will destroy his repose.

—Antonin Artaud, preface to The Theatre and its Double, translated by Mary Caroline Richards


slip it under the tongue

Short poem: So easy to slip under the tongue, to smuggle into silence.


perpetual emotion machine

To think of the poem as a perpetual emotion machine.


the tongue refuses to lie still

Reading the poem silently my tongue refused to lie still in my mouth.


to lose your notebook

To lose your notebook feels as though a vital organ has been taken from your body.


sound of a blindman's cane striking

Just back from Germany, I thought I'd post something by a German poet...

I write poems to orient myself in reality. I view them as trigonometric points or buoys that mark a course in an unknown area. Only through writing do things take on reality for me. Reality is my goal, not my presupposition. First, I must establish it.
Let us use the word “definition” for these trigonometric signs. Such definitions are not only useful for the writer but it is absolutely necessary that he set them up. In each good line of poetry I hear the cane of the blindman striking: I am on secure ground now.

—Gunter Eich, "Some Remarks on 'Literature and Reality',”
Valuable Nail: Selected Poems of Gunter Eich,
Oberlin College Press, 1981, translated by Stuart Freibert