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, communiqu├ęs, 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.