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.