skeleton of things

“Words are the skeleton of things and for that reason last longer than things do” is one of the unpublished “greguerias,” or aphorisms, of Spanish writer Ramon Gomez de la Serna, out of the 400 that Prof. Laurie-Anne Laget discovered and has now published in a book.


Also noted at All Aphorisms, All The Time, James Geary's blog.


I think I'll go on.


the close

In sales, when the close is spoken, we say the next one to speak loses. Don’t speak past your last line.


secret passage

Always there is a secret passageway behind the bookcase.


colored lights

A line should be a string of colored lights.


the cant in cantos

In certain sections Ezra Pound really put the cant into The Cantos.


critical ICU

A poem not viable but for an elaborate apparatus of critical life support.


found vispo

Those odd diagrams and schematics one encounters in various science and how-to books are a kind of ‘found visual poetry’.


obscure, original, or quaint

His rhapsodies are but rough notes—the stenographic memoranda of poems—memoranda which, because they were not all-sufficient for his own intelligence, he cared not to be at the trouble of writing out in full for mankind. In all his work we find no conception thoroughly wrought. For this reason he is the most fatiguing of poets. Yet he wearies in saying too little rather than too much. What, in him, seems the diffuseness of one idea, is the conglomerate concision of many: and this species of concision it is, which renders him obscure. With such a man, to imitate was out of the question. It would have served no purpose; for he spoke to his own spirit alone, which would have comprehended no alien tongue. Thus he was profoundly original. His quaintness arose from intuitive perception of that truth to which Bacon alone has given distinct utterance—“There is no exquisite Beauty which has not some strangeness in its proportions.” But whether obscure, original, or quaint, Shelley had no affectations. He was at all times sincere.

—Edgar Allan Poe, “Shelley and the Poetic Abandon,” The Unknown Poe (City Lights Books, 1980)


signal / noise

Only when the noise is organized in a pleasing fashion will we allow it to overwhelm the signal.


pauca sed bona

A poet, middle-aged, stated in his bio that he was ‘the author of over 30 collections’. Yet he was virtually unknown even in the rather small world of poetry. Would that he’d authored over 50 collections made a whit of difference to his reputation?


inertial queue

The poem was like being in a long snaking queue at a government office, each word hardly moving forward, and at the end getting to a window only to be told you don’t have the right form to transact your business.


eloquent silence

the pause—that impressive silence, that eloquent silence, that geometrically progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where no combination of words howsoever felicitous could accomplish it.

—Mark Twain (from the autobiography)


long and lost

Those long lines ramble forward, forgetful or lost in thought, bumping their heads on the right margin and falling over.



Those short lines that strain to make more of what little there is.


earth prayer

The nature lyric as prayer for the earth.


self shelved

Note to self: Don’t get photographed with a background of books. Too obvious.


trunk you kept your life in

I hear you're driving
someone else's car now...
She said you came and
took your stuff away -
All the poetry, and the trunk
you kept your life in -
I knew that it would
come to that someday...
Like a sad hallucination,
when I opened up my eyes,
the train had passed the station,
and you were trapped inside...
Yet I never wonder where you went,
I only wonder why

Lyrics to "Caroline" by Concrete Blonde


complement not condition

Meter as complement to content, not as necessary condition.



Composted almost as soon as it was composed.


straddling two worlds of the word

The letterpress printer had a beautiful website.


materially mired

The poem that was too much thinking about language and not enough thinking through language.


wring free

Imagine the brain as a sopping sponge of words. The poet tries to wring free enough drops to streak the page.


what one cannot know

In every note of his music Stravinsky celebrates the unknowability, the darkness, that lies at the heart of nature, asserting through his intuitive and even partly unconscious perception…a fact that is becoming more and more apparent in our own time…To know that there are things that one cannot, and even need not, know is to be able to live once more in a world of rich and varied meaning.

—Christopher Small, Music—Society—Education (1977)


hidden in plain sight

Possessed of an imagination that could turn creation into recognition.


no let up

Avant-garde energy is always to be admired.



The poetry book that the poet could hardly give away now goes for thousands on eBay.


not text

Please don’t ever refer to one of my poems as a ‘text’...it was always about more than that.


death mask

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

—Walter Benjamin, "One-Way Street," translated by Edmund Jephcott, Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926, M. Bullock and M. W. Jennings, eds. (Belknap Press, 1996)



A major problem among contemporary poets: They are not embarrassed by the extravagant claims made by the blurbs that grace the back covers of their slim volumes.


mind the gap

The personal lyric is an attempt to fill the gap left by oneself in one's picture of the world which Merleau-Ponty suggests can never be filled.


tin pan alley

The internet is poetry’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’. Some great songs will come out of that electronic cacophony.


demand purity

There is something priggish about these young men of the school of Ingres. They seem to think it highly meritorious to have joined the ranks of “serious painting.“ This is one of the party watch-words. I said to Demay that a great number of talented artists had never done anything worthwhile because they surrounded themselves with a mass of prejudices, or had them thrust upon them by the fashion of the moment. It is the same with their famous word beauty which, everyone says, is the chief aim of the arts. But if beauty were the only aim, what would become of men like Rubens and Rembrandt and all the northern temperaments, generally speaking, who prefer other qualities? Demand purity, in other words.

—Eugène Delacroix, The Journal (9.II.1847)


awakened from a coma

A poem that awakens one from the coma of the commonplace.


escape literature

Poetry always trying to slip the grasp of literature.


adagia to design

Marjorie Perloff delivered the 2009 Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash lecture at the Hartford Public Library last Saturday night. Her talk was entitled: "Beyond Adagia: Eccentric Design in Wallace Stevens' Poetry."

“Poetry is a pheasant disappearing in the brush.” —Wallace Stevens, Adagia


strain the sonnet

The subject of a sonnet should strain the ambit of the form.


time to trim one's sails

When writing a poem, to start another page should be like raising another sheet on a schooner. There should be wind for it. Otherwise it’s best to trim one’s sails (or to revise, one might say).


stealing home

A last line that feels like a base runner stealing home.


word built

Word by word the poem built its case.


meanwhile elsewhere

He was a New York School poet stuck in Peoria: An I-don’t-do-this & I-don’t-do-that-either poet.


duly noted

A poem that annotated itself as it went along.


relative scale

A great poet from a small country. A minor poet from a large country.


sonic code

The poem as sonic coding.


no longer, not yet

My poetry doesn’t change from place to place—it changes with the years. It’s very important to be one’s age. You get ideas you have to turn down—‘I’m sorry, no longer’; ‘I’m sorry, not yet’.

—W. H. Auden, quoted in Words and Their Masters by Israel Shenker, with photographs by Jill Krementz (Doubleday & Co., 1974)



The program hired a masthead name not a poet, and certainly not a teacher.


purple and paisley

Purple in description and paisley in design.


no layoff

Poet’s Work

     advised me:
          Learn a trade

I learned
     to sit at a desk
          and condense

No layoff
     from this

—Lorine Niedecker, Home/World


and not &

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry: Sounds somewhat warmed-over. It's not Blast or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, that's for sure. Academic style manuals perhaps ruled against use of the ampersand in the title.


zukofsky quoted at length

Departing from my usual brevity, today I've quoted (below) at length from the works of Louis Zukofsky. But doing so in a white typeface may prove difficult to read. For this I apologize.


—Louis Zukofsky


sweet slime

The line left a slime trail of syrupy poeticisms.



Poet, be a tagger of the walls of silence.


one poem, one life

To write a poem that would save a stranger’s life.


specific gravity

In poems words will naturally increase in semantic specific gravity.


train wreck

Train wreck critic.


not by image alone

The image is the magic lantern which lights up the poets in their darkness. But images aren’t alone. There are passages between them which also must be poetry.

—Jules Supervielle,”Thinking About a Poetics”
Mid-Century French Poets, edited by Wallace Fowlie (Grove Press, 1955)


tactically tactless

Political poems are bound to be impolite.


muybridge rhythms

One can learn poetic rhythms from Muybridge’s photographic sequences.


youth must be swerved

Pay attention to whatever the young poets are doing. Paying too much attention to what the young poets are doing.


shifty and suspicious

Develop a healthy distrust of metaphor. [See Georg Christoph Lichtenberg on this point. He thought a good metaphor was something even the constabulary should keep an eye on.]


not there yet

Grateful that literature hasn’t bored me into actually reading any Kenny Goldsmith.


paper profit

Poetry is paper profit, there for the taking anytime.


drip pause drip pause...

Leaky faucets have meter too.


court of judgment

Poetry 'tis a court
Of judgment on the soul.

—Henrik Ibsen, Lyrical Poems by Henrik Ibsen (Elkin Mathews, 1902, selected and translated by R. A. Streatfeild)



The worst of our poets refer to themselves as ‘wordsmiths’.



In composing a parody one tars oneself as the lesser poet.


unsound combination

A win by an unsound combination, however showy, fills me with artistic horror.

Wilhelm Steinitz



A text prickly with quotable passages.


without stops

The poem as ‘elevator pitch’ in free fall from the seventieth floor of one’s emotions.


end game

Another famous poet dying alone, unnoticed.


lost word of god

Honor your poet, one of
Moses’ shattered commandments.

—Gerald Stern, Not God After All (Autumn House Press, 2004)


perfect circle, perfect couplet

If in poetry there was an analog to Vasari’s story about Giotto’s perfect circle, would it be the ability to compose a perfect pentameter couplet as epigram on any given subject? ("Perfetto come la 'O' di Giotto", the Italian meaning: "As perfect as Giotto's circle".)



A line too far.


supreme fiction

With apologies to Stevens, it’s criticism that is the ‘supreme fiction’.


solved by substitution of terms

The essential feature of mathematical creativity is the exploration, under the pressure of powerful implosive forces, of difficult problems for whose validity and importance the explorer is eventually held bound by. The reality is the physical world."
— Alfred W. Adler, “Reflections: Mathematics and Creativity”, New Yorker (1972)

The essential feature of poetic creativity is the exploration, under the pressure of powerful implosive forces (the emotions), of difficult problems from whose validity and importance the explorer is eventually released. The reality is the physical world.



Poems coming often half-heard from a radio turned down low in an adjoining room.



Vegetal and adjectival, the kudzu description overwhelmed the passages.


can't touch this

A book so critically bulletproof, I checked to see if the cover had been made of Kevlar.


novelistic scope

I want to portray every situation in life, every type of physiognomy, every kind of male and female character, every way of living, every profession, every social stratum, every French province, childhood, the prime of life and old age, politics, law and war—nothing is to be omitted. When this has been done and the story of the human heart revealed thread by thread, social history displayed in all its branches, the foundations will have been laid. I have no wish to describe episodes that have their springs in the imagination. My theme is that which actually happens everywhere.

—Honoré Balzac, quoted in Stefan Zweig’s Balzac (translated by Willam and Dorothy Rose, Viking Press, 1946)


via vox

He read often at open mikes, considering them form and venue for ephemeral aural publication.


bad floorboard

The line was mushy like a rotten floorboard that could give way at any moment.


positively negatively incapable

I’m afraid not only am I capable of ‘irritable reaching after’, but at times I’m prone to some agitated flailing about.


ars poetica library - v2009

In early 2007, I began compiling a list of poetry-related essays and criticism. Having a large collection of essays and criticism in my own library and with a wish-list at hand to add to my personal holdings, I was off to a good start. In compiling the first version my obsessive compulsive tendencies served me well and the list grew steadily over a couple week period. But it soon became apparent that I would exhaust my resources rather quickly and I knew that other poets would know of more books than I was unaware of. At that point I queried the New Poetry List members for help, with only one requirement: No poetry books per se could be suggested; the books suggested had to related to ‘poetics’ (whether guidebooks/essays/criticism/aphorisms) or more broadly they could be books about art-making or philosophy that might inform the practice of making poems. More good suggestions poured in from the list members. Some duplicating titles I had, but many new ones were suggested. I sorted and culled the additional suggestions and finalized a first version in March of 2007. The first version of the list is posted here.

At first I referred to this list of books as the ‘poet’s ideal library’, with the idea being that such a library, stocked with these titles, would be of interest and of use to many practicing poets. After it became clear that no one list could be comprehensive enough to cover all interests, nor focused enough for those of a particular sensibility, I scrapped the ‘ideal library’ and substituted the broader and more open name of "Ars Poetica Library.” I also made it clear that this list was to be thought of as a ‘work-in-progress’. A list that could be added to and refined as time permitted.

In the last two years books were added, and more titles were suggested to me by various poets, and new books have been published in the intervening period as well. Last weekend I tidied up the new version of the list and dubbed it the Ars Poetica Library – 2009 Edition.

The list of course tilts heavily to the contemporary, and that could be improved upon. So the work goes. And your suggestions are welcomed. My thanks to Anny Ballardini for posting it on her Poets' Corner website.



Poetry perforce.


bad break-up

A metaphor going through a messy divorce in my mind.


thought / breath

In poetry the sentence fragment operates as a unit of thought or breath.


brief compass

Just as two poems don’t make a single narrative (at best they are related by links between characters or similar elements), so two or more poems don’t make a narrative or formal structure (except as one poem requires another to complete it). The poet’s ambition should be satisfied—as mine in is this collection [Lavorare stanca]—if each poem, in its own brief compass, manages to create a structure of its own.

—Cesare Pavese, “The Poet’s Craft”
Hard Labor, translated by Wm. Arrowsmith (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1979)


reordering the mess

A rearranged bad poem is a bad poem rearranged. (Thinking of some of Ted Berrigan's sonnets.)


caged beasts

The words pace like beasts in their cage of form.


sic n stet

Poetry is a copy-editor’s nightmare: One haunted by visions of ‘sic’ and ‘stet’.



As an autodidact I found I was flunking out.


the secrets

The Secrets of Poetry

Very long ago when the exquisite celadon bowl
that was the mikado’s favorite cup got broken,
no one in Japan had the skill and courage
to mend it. So the pieces were taken back
to China with a plea to the emperor
that it be repaired. When the bowl returned,
it was held together with heavy iron staples.
The letter with it said they could not make it
more perfect. Which turns out to be true.

—Linda Gregg, All of it Singing: New & Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2008)


i'll pass on that

I think at times that had my personal history and relationships been neglectful, chaotic or ugly, I may have written some better poems. No thanks.


above earth

Poetry as the language of the floating world.


rant timeless

Rant on, but rant timeless, as though you know there is no real end to the struggle or that all the struggles are really one.


no artifact apart

The poem is by-product of existence. It has no value as artifact unless connected to a life.


made new by translation

And so, via such stints of translation, the pleasures of writing have time and again returned to me. With ears for a new sound, with eyes rinsed clear of shady habit, I could hear a line I’d never written and see a beauty further than I’d known. I suppose that‘s all that a new poem is, to a poet: a cadence that was always on the wind but only just now heard as a music; an object always to hand but only just now lifted into the sunshine where it shows the eye a shape and shapeliness it had not seen to use.

—Donald Revell, The Art of Attention (Graywolf Press, 2007)


before ink

Before it is ink the poem is always beautiful. After, it’s often a stain on the page.


shooting blanks

you can’t      make
        it      more of
a poem      just by adding      space


publish and perish

For poets it’s more a matter of publish and perish.


density is it

Though not spatial, density of language is a primary dimension of poetry.


carrying the record

But all the greatest landscapes have been painted indoors, and often long after the first impressions were gathered. In a dim cellar the Dutch and Italian master recreated the gleaming ice of a Netherlands carnival or the lustrous sunshine of Venice or the Campagna. Here, then, is required a formidable memory of the visual kind. Not only do we develop our powers of observation, but also those of carrying the record—of carrying it through an extraneous medium and of reproducing it, hours, days, or even months after the scene has vanished or the sunlight died. [p. 29]

—Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime (McGraw-Hill, 1950; Cornerstone Library reprint, 1965; previously printed in Amid These Storms, Scribners, 1932)


warm up

Still practicing your scales in those first few lines?



I realize I’m reading a book that should never have gone out of print.


reverse engineering

Spent all day reverse engineering a great poem. Still the poetic ghost in the machine never showed itself.


many tongued within one

The dream of being polyglot within one language.


different planet or new word

“Wait,” Usnelli said, “wait.” “Wait for what?” she said. “What could be more beautiful than this?” He, distrustful (by nature and through his literary education) of emotions and words already the property of others, accustomed more to discovering hidden and spurious beauties than those that were evident and indisputable, was still nervous and tense. Happiness, for Usnelli, was a suspended condition, to be lived holding your breath. Ever since he began loving Delia, he had seen his cautious, sparing relationship with the world endangered; but he wished to renounce nothing, either of himself or of the happiness that opened before him. Now he was on guard, as if every degree of perfection that nature achieved around him—a decanting of the blue of the water, a languishing of the coast’s green into gray, the glint of a fish’s fin at the very spot where the sea’s expanse was smoothest—were only heralding another, higher, degree, and so on to the point where the invisible line of the horizon would part like an oyster revealing all of a sudden a different planet or a new word. … She slipped over the side of the dinghy, let go, swam in that underground lake, and her body at times seemed white (as if that light stripped it of any color of its own) and at times blue as that screen of water. Usnelli had stopped rowing; he was still holding his breath. For him, being in love with Delia had always been like this, as in the mirror of this cavern: in a world beyond words. For that matter, in all his poems he had never written a verse of love: not one. “Come closer,” Delia said. As she swam, she had taken off the scrap of clothing covering her bosom; she threw it into the dinghy. “Just a minute.” She also undid the piece of cloth tied at her hips and handed it to Usnelli. Now she was naked. The whiter skin of her bosom and hips was hardly distinct, because her whole person gave off that pale-blue glow… … Usnelli, in the boat, was all eyes. He understood that what life was now giving him was something not everyone has the privilege of looking at open-eyed, as if at the most dazzling core of the sun. And in the core of this sun was silence. Nothing that was there at this moment could be translated into anything else, perhaps not even into a memory. —Italo Calvino, “The Adventure of a Poet,” Difficult Loves (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1984), translated from the Italian by William Weaver, Archibald Colquhoun and Peggy Wright.


without clangor or flash

A poem that arrested attention effortlessly.


word hoarder

I collect words, long lists of words that delight me, or words that might be useful, words of interest harvested from the writings of others, collected into an idiosyncratic lexicon.



From the title the poem fell off quickly.


against entropy

A poem is language organized to resist entropy.


through the palace wall

There is a hole in the palace wall.
A good poem is like that!

You never know what you might see.

—Tukaram (11th C., India)
Quoted in Robert McDowell’s Poetry As Spiritual Practice


my loss

The languages I don’t know laugh at me. I would crawl on hands and knees to be in their company. (In today’s mail arrived a book I'd ordered. It carried the English title MODERN FRENCH POETS ON POETRY. Beautifully organized, but replete with great swaths of the untranslated French from many renowned French poets. I felt like putting my head down in the book and weeping for my loss.


against guidebooks

Do we need another guidebook to tell poets what blank verse is or how many stresses are in a pentameter line? Because most poets can’t access the sources of their art, they write books that lapse into nomenclature and technical know-how. The best books about poetry, however strained and inarticulate, are those that try to explain what it takes to create a poem from the experiences of one’s life within the world in which one lives.


low-responsibility MFA

The low-responsibility MFA program

In these stressful times for young adults there is a need for a new kind of MFA program. The low-responsibility MFA program puts the student in control his/her MFA experience. Students are encouraged but not required to fall into a curriculum that involves any or none of the following pursuits—
  • Getting a Tattoo: A Life-Long Accomplishment & Balancing One’s Piercings for Less Neck Pain

  • The Tardy Muse: Strategies for Killing Time While Waiting for Inspiration

  • Couch-Surfing Across America in the Kerouac Style

  • Libraries Are Labyrinths: Getting Lost in the Stacks for Fun (Bring a Snack)

  • Thrift-Store Safari: Developing A Good Eye for Bargains in Black

  • Go Green Ghost: No Car, No House, Means Minimal Environmental Impact (Carbon in Pencils is Okay)

  • Portrait of An Artist: Mastering the Slouch, the Pout, and the Ability to Stare Into Space for Hours on End

  • Weekly Playshops: The antiWorkshop for Playing With Words (Location & Time to Be Announced When The Spirit Moves)
Teachers and assigned mentors will keep their distance so as not to stifle the free-wheeling creativity of their students. Students will self-report their progress toward a degree and upon completion of their variable terms of study will optionally present ‘some ideas that they had for poems’ to the director. The director is authorized to grant degrees liberally and without prejudice in respect of the diversity of student experiences and the efforts they have not undertaken.

Tuition will be billed directly to a parental or guardian credit card. Sorry no refunds for early withdrawal or student’s inability to attend because there is no way to tell whether any student is around or not. Note: This school complies fully with ‘non-interference policy’ of The Federation.



Always something reckless in the language of a great poem.


poetry invented

If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger. And from that need, from the relationships within ourselves and among ourselves as we went on living, and from every other expression of man’s nature, poetry would be—I cannot say invented or discovered—poetry would be derived.

—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (Wm. Morrow & Co., 1974)


weight of the pieces

One should be able to infer from the fragments an important whole. Like the Elgin Marbles, one can sense the grandeur of the greater whole from which the pieces came.


like water into light

The poem as osmosis mosaic.


arguments with the masters

Mr. Wordsworth, I’m less interested in emotion recollected in tranquility and more inclined to emotion collected into a full ecstatic trance.


no favor to the reader

One of those breathless hyperbolic introductions that no poet could or should have to read up to.


bodying forth

We body forth our ideals in personal acts, either alone or with others in society. We body forth felt experience in a poem’s image and sound. We body forth our inner residence in the architecture of our homes and common buildings. We body forth our struggles and our revelations in the space of theatre. That is what form is: the bodying forth. The bodying forth of the living vessel in the shapes of clay.

—M.C. Richards, Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (Wesleyan U. Press, 1969) [n.b.: M.C. stands for 'Mary Caroline']


second generation

His poems were like Frank O’Hara’s except he didn’t work for MOMA and hang out with cool, cutting-edge artists in one of the most dynamic cities in the world.


not a pretty sight

Representation that sears the gauze onto reality.


one step ahead

Trust that the reader gets what you’re after just before you do.


military parade

Why do all those regular stanzas remind me of a military parade?


after heraklitas

One can’t wade into the same line of poetry twice.


at the back of the mind

Muse poetry is composed at the back of the mind: an unaccountable product of a trance in which the emotions of love, fear, anger, or grief are profoundly engaged, though at the same time powerfully disciplined; in which intuitive thought reigns supralogically, and personal rhythm subdues metre to its purposes. The effect on the readers of Muse poetry, which its opposite poles of ecstasy and melancholia, is what the French call a frisson, and the Scots call a ‘grue’—meaning the shudder provoked by fearful or supernatural experiences.

—Robert Graves, “The Dedicated Poet,” Oxford Addresses on Poetry (Doubleday & Co., 1962)


too thinned

A poem pared to air.


house slippers

The lines padded along in soft iambs as though written in house slippers.


years of mystical thinking

So much mysticism surrounds ‘the linebreak’ in free verse poetics.


storied song

A lyric clad in narrative.


prose poem

Prose poem: A poem comfortable with the right margin.


empire of chimeras

Horace was not one of these who believe that the caprice of the poet suffers no law above itself. In modern times, Young sounded the tocsin of Pseudo-Romanticism, when he declared that “in the fairy-land of fancy genius may wander wild; there it has a creative power, and may reign arbitrarily over its own empire of chimeras.” The poet, indeed, can create a world of his own, and, if he is endowed with the true genius of the poet, can insure our belief in his creation. But, even the poet must not offend our sense of congruity by endeavouring to unite things that are essentially incompatible. Horace would have no sympathy with the false Romanticism which could bring into being a world of chimeras having no conceivable relation with existing experience. Such things he would regard as the fevered dreams of a diseased imagination. He would thus look askance at the riot of imagination, and the unfettered play of emotion, which many regard as the divine prerogative of poets.

In a later passage of the Ars Poetica, he seems to go still further, when he insists that the poet’s fictions be “proxima veris.” [435-436]

—J. F. D’Alton, Roman Literary Theory & Criticism (Russell & Russell, 1962)


no middleground

A metaphor that wouldn’t meet halfway.


kitchen sink songs

Just another kitchen-sink Cantos.


experience shaped

Experience shaped expression. Too much poetry is written from the realm of reading.



Critic without a cause.


what mattered

It was not important that [the poems] survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

—Wallace Stevens, from “The Planet On The Table”


shadow presence

Metaphor: from the shadow of a thing emerges another thing long hidden.


sink hole

A line that stepped unsurely over its caesura.



His ideal reader died.


free radical

In chemistry the ‘radical’ (e.g., an atom without a paired electron) tends to be very reactive. We try to find certain words that have an unpaired electron, so to speak, that will attract and create the reaction that is metaphor, two things binding as they react to (and against) one another and if not creating a chemical reaction per se, creating a strong mental or emotional response in us.


not what is seen

The underside of a leaf
Cool in shadow
Sublimely unemphatic
Smiling of innocence

The frailest stems
Quivering in light
Bend and break
In silence

This poem like the paintings, is not really about nature. It is not what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind.

—Agnes Martin, "Notes," Writings / Schriften (Kunstmuseum Winterthur / Edition Cantz, 1992) edited by Herausgegeben von Dieter Schwarz


no compromise

To not compromise the poetry through the fit and finish of composition.


welcoming community

The heckler at the poetry reading was invited to come back next week to enter the slam.


small chevalier

Lowering one’s flimsy lance, charging uphill at the literary windmill of the great poet’s reputation. But no one’s inside anyway, and you look small due to scale.


dazzle draft

Unable to see beyond the dazzle of the first draft.


concealed criticism

When one speaks of criticism, one is generally thinking of prose. But, when we speak of Arnold’s criticism, it is necessary to widen the scope of one’s observation; for he was never more essentially a critic than when he concealed the true character of his method in the guise of poetry. Even if we decline to accept his strange judgment that all poetry “is at bottom a criticism of life,” still we must perceive that, as a matter of fact, many of his own poems are as essentially critical as his Essays or his Lectures.

—G.W.E. Russell, Matthew Arnold (Chas. Scribner’s Sons, 1904)


oh too pleased

A reader a little oh too pleased with his poetry.


hit it

From the first line the poem was pedal down.


orator extraordinaire

Slam poet, be a superhero whose power is oratory.


sharp salient

A poem spiked on the salient of a single line.


few or many

There are poets who readily have a few poems that speak for them, that make their reputations, and then there are those poets who exist only in oeuvre, only after reading the body of work can one see fully their achievement.


weather report

There is a weather report in almost every folk poem. The sun is shining; it was snowing; the wind was blowing…The folk poet knows that it’s wise to immediately establish the connection between the personal and the cosmic.

—Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks (Ausable Press, 2008)


cease and desestina

A cease and desestina order had to be issued against the rime-crazed poet.


post-facto ticket

Poetry readings are often free admission. When you buy the poet’s book on the way out, it’s sort of like purchasing a post facto ticket.


fit for song

A poem that would have to dumb itself down before it could become a song.


holy icon

An image with the aura of a holy icon.



       When the Chinese made
a circle of stones on the top of their wells
one would be a little skewed to make the circle
look more round. Irregularity is the secret
of music and to the voice of great poetry.

—Jack Gilbert
from “The Secret,” The Dance Most of All (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)


acceptable poem

My poem was accepted. It’s perfectly acceptable, if unexceptional. The poem has mastered the secret handshake and matches well with editorial tastes. The poem thus conforms to the fashions of the times, securing its acceptability into the good company of its fellow poems. In other words, my poem goes along to get along.


only poetry

When everything is stripped away, as after a disaster, and one is left with nothing but language, then, then one has poetry.


lost count of

How many poems have I lost to alcohol or sloth?


against is all

They who can’t define their art other than in antithesis.


to incite a caring

One can say anything to language. This is why it is a listener, closer to us than any silence or any god. Yet its very openness often signifies indifference. (The indifference of language is continually solicited and employed in bulletins, legal records, communiqués, files.) Poetry addresses language in such a way as to close this indifference and to incite a caring.

—John Berger, “The Hour of Poetry,” Selected Essays (Vintage, 2001)


far too puny

Language was far too puny for his great theology:
But, oh! His thought strode through those words
Bright as the conquering Christ…

—Thomas Merton, from “Duns Scotus,” The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions, 1980)


creative writing

The creative writing professor crafted lovely glowing introductions for the famous visiting writers.


sweet spiel

Poet, be a salesperson with a sweet spiel and a hard close.



Ruled notebook: Frustrated, I turn it on its side and begin to write. The words hanging on the bars of the cage, biding their time for a jailbreak.


what books are made of

Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt plura mala, quae legis hic: aliter non fit, Avite, liber.

Here you'll read some good things, some so-so, and a number of bad. There’s not another way, Avitus, to make a book.

—Martial, Epigrammata, XV, 16


singing in between

In the lyric even the interstices sing.


one look

A poet gazes the world in the glance of a single line.


low-yield process

The refining into language of what was raw imagination.



What some call craft I’d call a taking care.


poet game

I watched my country turn into
a coast-to-coast strip mall
and I cried out in a song:
if we could do all that in thirty years,
then please tell me you all -
why does good change take so long?
Why does the color of your skin
or who you choose to love
still lead to such anger and pain?
And why do I think it's any help
for me to still dream of
playing the poet game?

—Greg Brown, "The Poet Game" (Red House Records, 1994)


everyone's doing it

Everyone reads fiction but everyone writes poetry.



The lyric obeys no rules: emotions unleashing the language from the laws of usage and semantic convention.


fragile lines

As though written on tissue paper the poem felt as if it could come apart at any moment.


usual suspect

The poet had opportunity and motif.


strange terms

Chiefly because our pauper-speech must find
Strange terms to fit the strangeness of the thing;
Yet worth of thine and the expected joy
Of thy sweet friendship do persuade me on
To bear all toil and wake the clear nights through,
Seeking with what of words and what of song
I may at last most gloriously uncloud
For thee the light beyond, wherewith to view
The core of being at the centre hid.

—Titus Lucretius Carus, “Of The Nature Of Things”
(translation by Wm. Ellery Leonard)


language algebra

The line was language algebra: a formula devoid of the phenomenal.


skin deep

A test for a line of poetry: Could you live with these words as a tattoo?


organizing principle

A word array that must ultimately well up as speech.


ruined beauty

Classicism achieves its beauty as it is abraded and rubbed away, when it falls into ruin.

the bird, the flower, the tree

Intuition can only operate by an immediate contact with the thing. In poetry what in logic are called subjective and objective are united. There is no observer and thing observed, both are one; the poet is the bird, the flower, the tree, the Pope (Browning in “The Ring and the Book”), the ship (Coleridge in “The Ancient Mariner”), and anything else to which he is able to join himself. And if this union does not take place there can be no poetry.

—Michael Oakeshott, “Philosophy, Poetry and Reality”, What is History? (Imprint Academic, 2004)


to preserve the pure

To try to hold oneself apart from the institutional inertia and those internecine critical forces that beset the pure spirit of what poetry is.


handmade kite

Write the poem on a handmade kite. Let the kite be lifted high & far in the wind…then cut the string.


Horace inscription

“Decant your wine” (I.11) but
always “cherish the golden mean.” (II.10)

After his reading of The Odes of Horace (The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2008), the above was inscribed to me by the translator Jeffrey H. Kaimowitz.


overheard in nature

A poem overheard in nature.


crow words

Insolent as crows the letters perched there on the ruled lines of the notebook.


nonpareil line

The nonpareil line annuls all before it. So you must strike the others, and start over.


tradition not by habit

As an architect I try to be guided not by habit but by a conscious sense of the past—by precedent, thoroughly considered. The historical comparisons chosen are part of a continuous tradition relevant to my concerns. When Eliot writes about tradition, his comments are equally relevant to architecture, notwithstanding the more obvious changes in architectural methods due to technological innovations. “In English writing,” Eliot says, “we seldom speak of tradition…Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to a work approved, of some pleasing archeological reconstruction…Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in blind or timid adherence to its successes, ‘tradition’ should positively be discouraged…Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor…”

—Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (The Museum of Modern Art, 1966)



I’ve never felt there was a reason to explain my love for poetry.


recasts experience

The poetic image that forever recasts one’s experience of reality.


order of the day

Only this: Ever try to avoid the obvious.


letterpress to the rescue

There is nothing like seeing a display of fine letterpress books and broadsheets, the simple & elegant designs, the almost palpable fonts, the textures and muted colors of the beautiful papers, to restore one’s faith in poetry in its purest sense. Even slight discolorations at the edges of pages, or the fading of some of the text, reminds you of what it was that first drew you to the art of poetry.


like cams

The words like cams rising to do their work as the line turns in the mind.


pressed into service

Small press poetry publishing: socialized self-publication.


boule de neige

Perhaps poetry, or at least lyric poetry, may be characterized by the two central illusions that define the nature of a boule de neige: the still moment disturbed into being (a wash of images across the reader’s eye), and the following slow contraction of time as consciousness settles back into place (for what does the snowfall signify, except the poignant rhythms of a dreaming mind?).

Looking back, I suspect it’s a similar experience of time that first attracted me to poetry, and I doubt if over the years the original attraction has changed very much. What I loved then, I love now, is that aura of heightened animation with which poetry tends to surround itself (the syllables of a line of verse like the snowfall of the boule de neige)—as if, not the atmosphere, but the subject itself were momentarily stirred to life. As if the mind might actually sustain that life.

—Sherod Santos, “An Art of Poetry: Postscript to Abandoned Railway Station’,“ What Will Suffice: Contemporary American Poets on the Art of Poetry (Gibbs-Smith, 1995), edited by Christopher Buckley and Christopher Merrill


Bernoulli's principle

If a fluid is flowing horizontally and along a section of a streamline, where the speed increases it can only be because the fluid on that section has moved from a region of higher pressure to a region of lower pressure; and if its speed decreases, it can only be because it has moved from a region of lower pressure to a region of higher pressure. Consequently, within a fluid flowing horizontally, the highest speed occurs where the pressure is lowest, and the lowest speed occurs where the pressure is highest. (cited from Wikipedia)
A line of poetry obeys this dynamic.


never mind

Laughable now to think that surrealists, like Breton, believed ‘automatic writing’ was actually possible.


visibly bad

The New Yorker always publishes crappy poems until it publishes yours.


beginning and end

To write each line as though it was both the first and the final line of the poem.


blurbs in the bag

What are the odds? Spots for four blurbs on the back of a book of poems, and all are positively glowing. How lucky is that?



The first notion I had that writing is not the registration of one’s comings and goings came with my reading, at about eighteen, of Stevens’s “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” in some anthology. What I remember of that poem is the thrill of the word “chocolate” muscular and solitary on the page. This was not chocolate, but a manifestation of the poet’s arrogant appropriation of anything. The word virtually sailed free of all connections.

—Gilbert Sorrentino, “Writing and Writers: Disjecta Membra,” Something Said (Dalkey Archive Press, 2001)


lean and well-seen

Poetry as the laconic iconic.



Sometimes the poet must extrapolate from the poem’s known vocabulary to find the word or words needed to complete the line.


paradox of the one-off

When a work is sui generis it becomes less useful as a model to latter poets. It’s too tight a box, leaving no elbow room for the followers, marking as merely derivative all their attempts to creatively employ its attributes.


winter view

Winter View

If this were a rooftop
covered with snow,
these words
would be
bird tracks
of a poem.

William Michaelian, Winter Poems (Cosmopsis Books, 2007)


trust too much

You trust your art too much.


without words

The terror and promise of a fresh notebook.


trace elements

Trace elements of your first poem present in your last.


free as in free of

Free verse poetics is based on the immediacy and robust resources of prose itself. By eschewing both traditional/formalist artifices (regular meter and/or rime scheme) and the typographically disjointed arrays of projective verse, free verse avoids the verbal distraction of excessive mediation and visual display.


Tolstoy as the fox

If we may recall once again our divisions of artists into foxes and hedgehogs: Tolstoy perceived reality in its multiplicity, as a collection of separate entities round and into which he saw with a clarity and penetration scarcely ever equaled, but he believed only in one vast unitary whole. No author who has ever lived has shown such powers of insight into the variety of life—the differences, the contrasts, the collisions of persons and things and situations, each apprehended in its absolute uniqueness and conveyed with a degree of directness and a precision of concrete imagery to be found in no other writer. No one has ever excelled Tolstoy in expressing the specific flavour, the exact quality of a feeling—the degree of its ‘oscillation’, the ebb and flow, the minute movements[…]—the inner and outer texture and ‘feel’ of a look, a thought, a pang of sentiment, no less than of a specific situation, of an entire period, of the lives of individuals, families, communities, entire nations. The celebrated lifelikeness of every object and every person in [Tolstoy’s] world derives from this astonishing capacity of presenting every ingredient of it in its fullest individual essence, in all its many dimensions, as it were: never as a mere datum, however vivid, within some stream of consciousness, with blurred edges, an outline, a shadow, an impressionistic representation...but always as a solid object, seen simultaneously from near and far, in natural, unaltering daylight, from all possible angles of vision, set in an absolutely specific context in time and space—an event fully present to the senses or the imagination in all its facets, with every nuance sharply and firmly articulated.

—Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox”


skiffle language

The poem as ‘skiffle’ language: scrounged, improvised, vagrant.


no brakes

Blew right through that line break.


in the desert of theory

Listen hard enough and you can hear prophet poets chanting, singing, raving out in the desert of theory. Nothing out there was created to hear them.


unnecessary elective surgery

How often when we revise are we performing elaborate cosmetic surgery on a corpse?


first, second and third poetry

The first poetry is always written by sailors and farmers who sing with the wind in their teeth. The second poetry is written by scholars and students, wine drinkers who have learned to know a good thing. The third poetry is sometimes never written; but when it is, it is written by those who have brought nature and art into one thing.

Walter Anderson (1903-1965), American painter, writer and naturalist.


typographical f/x

All that typographical f/x without an engaging text.


word clouds

All poems begin as ‘word clouds’ in the mind.


water-boarded into silence

You have to snatch a poet off the street, hastily escort him to an undisclosed location, and then water-board him, in order to make him stop spouting poetry.


creative dynamic

As imagination tests mimesis, in turn mimesis bests imagination.


wordum wrixlan

Together with alliteration and formulaic phrasing, Old English poetry used patterns of repetition, echo, and interlacement to create powerfully resonant blocks of verse. There is an aesthetic quality to this poetry, a quality of intricate word weaving that moves the reader, or the listener, through the narrative or descriptive moment. In fact, one of the expressions used for making poetry in Old English was wordum wrixlan—to weave together words. There was a fabric of language for the Anglo-Saxons, a patterning of sounds and sense that matched the intricate patterning of their visual arts: serpentine designs and complex interlocking geometric forms in manuscript illumination or in metalwork are the visual equivalent of the interlocking patterns of the verse.

—Seth Lerer, “Caedmon Learns to Sing,” Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language (Columbia University Press, 2007)


ghost in the machine

Poetry: software written in a programming language for the human soul.


power phrase

The rhetorical power of a single phrase comprised of a short Anglo-Saxon word and a long Latinate word.


unfounded sounds

No reason but for sound they should have entered my mind together: The Clash’s “London Calling” and Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.”


break silence

A poem that could make a Cistercian break silence.


so over

The moment it was a movement it was over.


spot in the iris

263. Imagine someone pointing to a spot in the iris in a face by Rembrandt and saying, “the wall in my room should be painted this colour.”

—Ludwig Wittgenstein
Remarks on Colour, edited by G.E.M. Anscombe.
Translated by Linda L. McAlister & Margarete Schättle.
(U. of California Press)


good shave

Faced with scraggly and unkempt poetry one is tempted to reach for Ockham’s razor to give it a good shave.


desperate struggle

The poem is a desperate struggle between release and resolve.



Caught between a block and a blank place.



The commonplace observed closely from an odd angle.


not a luxury

I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean—in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

—Audre Lorde, “Poetry Is Not A Luxury,” Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics (U. of Arkansas Press, 2005), edited by Deborah Brown, Annie Finch and Maxim Kumin


word horde

Poet, be a great Khan of language, gathering your word horde just over the horizon of consciousness.


purified speech

A form of purified speech that is not a prayer.


beautiful labyrinth

In 2004 Raymond Danowski donated 75,000 volumes of poetry to the Emory University library. Reports at the time said the collection would fill several tractor-trailers. I want to get lost in those stacks someday and not come out of that beautiful labyrinth for about a year.


ink or pixels

In ink or pixels, it’s all the same.


café captive

The poet did his writing in a café and there, too, he read his work aloud.


purity and economy

Nothing on the page had the purity and economy of the whole number tucked away along the lower margin.


not obscure but a blur

[Browning] is something too much the reverse of obscure; he is too brilliant and subtle for the ready reader of a ready writer to follow with any certainty the track of an intelligence which moves with such incessant rapidity, or even to realize with what spider-like swiftness and sagacity his building spirit leaps and lightens to and fro and backward and forward as it lives along the animated line of its labor, springs from thread to thread and darts from centre to circumference of the glittering and quivering web of living thought woven from the inexhaustible stores of his perception and kindled from the inexhaustible fire of his imagination. He never thinks but at full speed; and the rate of his thought is to that of another man’s as the speed of a railway to that of a wagon or the speed of a telegraph to that of a railway It is hopeless to enjoy the charm or to apprehend the gist of his writing except with a mind thoroughly alert, an attention awake to all points, a spirit open and ready to be kindled by the contact…

—Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Browning’s obscurity,” 1875, reprinted Swinburne as Critic edited by Clyde K. Hyder (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972)


all true translations

I read three translations of the poem, and all in their own way were perfectly true.


needed a Nietzsche

Whether poetics needed a Nietzsche or not, it got one in the form of Ezra Pound.


original vispo

Certainly the first visual poetry arose by accident in palimpsest.


semantic drift

Poetry is the wind behind semantic drift.


thought for a new year

Poets are always ready to talk about the difficulties of their art. I want to say something about its rewards and joys. The poem comes in the form of a blessing—"like rapture breaking on the mind," as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.

—Stanley Kunitz, from the preface to Passing Through (Norton, 1995)