in praise of vague

The Italian poet Leopardi believed vagueness was an essential characteristic of poetry, allowing the mind "to wander in the realm of the vague and indeterminate, in the realm of those childlike ideas which are born out of the ignorance of the whole."

See G. Singh's comprehensive study of Leopardi and the Theory of Poetry:"It is because the poet is attracted to the vague and indefinite, more than what is clear, concrete, and precise, that his language, even when it does not contain a full-fledged image or simile or metaphor, does to a certain extent partake of the character of an image or a symbol, both saying and suggesting something much more than what it commonly would outside of poetry." (Singh)


train window

Images in a poem flicker by in fleeting transit like things seen from a train window.


favorite number

A number that never fails to raise my spirits: 811 (Dewey Decimal System classification for Poetry).


new improved tide

Some people say Ezra Pound first said “Make it new.” I’m pretty sure that Proctor & Gamble had that slogan long before he did. There is the ring of ersatz capitalism in that ‘make it new’ dictum.


deep divide

The deepest divide in poetry is between the authentic impulse and the crafted artifice.


little spells

...modern poetry has replaced the “big spell” with a lot of “little spells,” each work pulling us in a different direction and these directions tending to cancel off one another, as with the conflicting interests of a parliament. (“Magic & Religion”)

—Kenneth Burke,The Philosophy of Literary Form (Vintage 1957)


recast line

Sometimes you have to recast and recast the line like a fly fisherman over a stream of sullen trout. Ever hopeful that on one perfect presentation the line will suddenly draw taut.


no sense of decency

Often after reading a famous poet’s blurb on the back of a poetry book, the attorney Joseph Welsh’s well-known rebuke of Senator Joseph McCarthy comes to mind: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”


prime movers

Are the words being moved around by you, or are they moving you around?


theme park

The poem was a theme park for words.


line relationship

Finally, no particular line is valuable except inasmuch as it performs a dramatic function in relationship to other lines in a particular poem: one kind of line ending becomes powerful because of its relationship to other kinds of line endings.

—James Longenbach, The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf 2008)


basic misunderstanding

Bad poetry begins with a misunderstanding of what poetry is.


fewer better

I need to read fewer poems better.



serious style

Striving for a style so substantive it’s content.


announce themselves

There are poets who announce themselves by how they dress. There are poets who announce themselves by the inventive ways they spell their names. And then there are poets who announce themselves with only a few words at the outset of a poem.


three-dimensional almost

At one point in The Orchards of Syon (XXIII) I say ‘I write / to astonish myself’. This self-astonishment is achieved when, by some process I can’t fathom, common words are moved, or move themselves, into clusters of meaning so intense that they seem to stand up from the page, three-dimensional almost.

—Geoffrey Hill, Don’t Ask Me What I Mean,
edited by Clare Brown and Don Paterson (Picador, 2003)



It was a reading full of wannaBeats, but the magic of a specific time can't be reclaimed by declaiming in a similar style.


cathedral and scaffolding

The poem was like a cathedral covered by scaffolding. There was beauty and wonder underneath but it could not be seen for all the critical attention.