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)