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 rĂªves

(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)