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.