limits of spoken word

Tough emcee: He once grabbed a skin-head poet by the short hairs and dragged the guy away from an open mike.


in front of the poet

In front of a new, genuine poet, you always experience the paradoxical and wonderful feeling that all of a sudden you understand a language so far unknown to you.

—Lucian Blaga (Romanian philosopher and poet, 1895-1951), The √Član of the Island, 1946

from A Blaga Anthology on CD, Dr R.T. Allen


book ruins

I awoke one day shadowed by the ruins of stacked books.


that word

A word you want to build a poem around.


load-bearing wall

Think of each line as a load-bearing wall: If the wrong one is broken through during revision, the whole structure of the poem collapses.



The zeitgeist is expressed more clearly by the obscure many than by the acclaimed few. It is within the ordinary gossip and buzz, within the thousands of unacclaimed poems, that poetry takes shapes. [295]

—Alice Fulton, “A Poetry of Inconvenient Knowledge,” Feeling as a Formal Language (Graywolf Press, 1999)


crowd of words

In order to reach the poetry, to the crowding words I say, “Make way, make way.”


workshop character

The Ventriloquist’s Dummy: The person who practically hops up on the workshop leader’s lap, saying what he/she expects the workshop leader would want her/him to say about the poem.


moving parts

A poem of many moving parts.


thought experiment

The poem as ‘thought experiment’.


linebreak ache

Linebreak ache: experiencing a poet execute one of those overly clever linebreaks meant to call maximum attention to syntactic meaning or a word within a word.


extraordinary ordinary

"Astonishing" is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We're astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we've grown accustomed to. Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events." ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world.

—Wislawa Szymborska (her acceptance address for the Nobel Prize in Literature)


writing and writing about

To write about poetry, I must be writing poetry.


good shepherd

Poet, be a good shepherd of words! Tend them well, lead them watchfully into the bright pasture of the page.


effortless poetry

It’s hard to get over the effrontery of a poem when obviously so little effort went into its making.


too late now

A poem I should have encountered when I was seventeen.


surface phenomena

But to fool one’s self that definitions are being reached by merely referring frequently to skyscrapers, radio antennae, steam whistles, or other surface phenomena of our time is merely to paint a photograph.

—Hart Crane, “General Aims and Theories”


jewel box

The sonnet is poetry’s jewel box.


fall line

Find the fall line through the poem.

(In memory of my nephew. RIP WW)


looking in all the wrong places

You have to get away from the anthologies. You have to find the poems less easily found/bound.