ultimate compliment

No higher compliment can be paid to a poem than to have it typed out, folded, and then slipped into one’s breast pocket.


not a sandheap

S.H. Butcher, best known for his translations and commentary of Aristotle’s Poetics (New York, 1907)…wrote previously a survey entitled “Greek Literary Criticism” where he presented fully and clearly the significance of Phaedrus 264C*. After quoting the whole passage, Butcher says: “Here, observe, and for the first time, the law of internal unity is enunciated, as a primary condition of literary art—now commonplace, then a discovery...Organic as distinct from mechanical unity; not the homogeneous sameness of a sandheap, but a unity combined with variety, a unity vital and structural, implying mutual dependence of all the parts, such that if a part is displaced or removed, the whole is dislocated...From this point of view the unity and artistic beauty of a literary composition are found to reside in a pervasive harmony, a single animating and controlling principle.” (pp. 192-193)

[quoted from a delightful treatise on the subject of: Organic Unity In Ancient & Later Poetics (Southern Illinois U. Press, 1975) by G. N. Giordano Orsini]

*”Every discourse must be composed like, or in the likeness of, a living being, with a body of its own as it were, so as not to be headless or feetless, but to have a middle and members arranged in fitting relation to each other and to the whole.”


muse crossing

The sign said ‘Muse Next 10 Miles’. So I backed off the accelerator and kept my eyes peeled. (‘I have a feeling we’re not in Maine anymore, Toto.’)


running on empyrean

It’s easy to be a poet at twenty and one can run on language adrenaline well into one’s thirties. But being a poet at fifty, sixty, and beyond, takes an Apollonian stamina.


underlined for naught

After so many years I turn to this page again without an inkling of what attracted me to underline a certain passage.


skin-deep cover

In the last thirty years, in terms of graphic appeal, the covers of poetry books have made a quantum leap. The insides of the books are much the same as they've been for centuries...with only the poet’s text, legibly laid out, to prove its case.


hard to see

Critics, like other people, see what they look for, not what is actually before them.

—George Bernard Shaw
Epigrams of Bernard Shaw (Haldeman-Julius Co., 1925)



Clearly a poem written by ear.



A perfect poem, like a god, would possess aseity.


nothing pinned

Without end one can opine about poetry while almost nothing can be proven.


no taxation without publication

The poetry tax: poetry manuscript contest fees.


verb verve

About adjectives: all fine prose is based on verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’s “Eve of Saint Agnes.” A line like:

   The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass.

is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement—the limping, trembling, and freezing is going on before your own eyes.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald (in a letter to his daughter, Frances, quoted in The Crack-Up.)


loved beyond reason

One’s last poem is loved beyond all reason.


emerging market

In the waning days of 2008, with the economy in disarray, venture capitalists were taking a hard look at poetry as a possible growth sector. Now you know things are really getting bad.


out of the animal darkness

While excavating archaeological sites in Egypt, some of the few remaining fragments of Sappho’s poetry we have were discovered as stuffing inside a mummified crocodile. Isn’t that an apt analogy for where all poems come from, arising by chance from an obscure animal darkness?


irritable reaching

One should be capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without an irritable reaching after fragments and illogic. [Apologies to John Keats]


micro to macro

The poem as microcosm is lens onto the macrocosm.


never complete

There may be volumes titled ‘Collected Poems’ but there is no such thing as a ‘Complete Poems’.


rivers of poetry

The rivers of poetry flow everywhere, and they do not necessarily converge. [31]

—Elias Canetti, Notes & Notations (Noonday Press, 1994), translated by H.F. Broch de Rothermann


thankful for small things

The word ‘elver’ (immature eel) was introduced to me by Theodore Roethke’s poetry. I have never used the word in a poem, but I’m thankful to know it all the same.