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'.