simple place

His hermitage…looked much the same as Merton left it, we were told. The back room held a narrow bed and a small stack of books, with three cassocks hanging in an alcove. The kitchen, which is only a wide place in the hall, held a sink, hot-plate, small refrigerator, and the only framed item in the place—a certificate from the Vatican conferring upon him the designation “Hermit.” His front room held the writing table, bookcase, rocking chair, and those large unadorned windows with the generous view of the woods and the cart-path meandering into the distance.

—Frederick Smock, Pax Intrantibus: A Meditation on the Poetry of Thomas Merton (Broadstone Books, 2007), p. 27


wave line

The poetic line lifts, rolls and crashes upon reason’s rocks.


reading with your lips moving

A poem that entered your mind through the eyes, yet instantly caused you to mouth the words.


night of the red pens

For godsake, don’t ever let your poetry workshop devolve into a coven of copy editors.


no hope for poetry now

My poetry impeded by the happiness and hope which pervades my spirit.


no fifth leg

Emerson loved language as much as any poet does, but he understood that reality is larger than language. If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does the dog have? The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it one. “All language,” says Emerson in “The Poet,” “is vehicular and transitive, and is good, as horses and ferries are, for conveyance, not as farms and houses are, for homestead.” Emerson did care for language—a great deal—but he always insisted that words do not exist as things in themselves, but stand for things which are finally more real than the words.

—Robert D. Richardson, First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process (U. of Iowa Press, 2009)


reader subverts author

The poet spends an inordinate time arranging and ordering the poems in the collection, and then I just crack it open and start reading here & there.


drawn near

A metaphor implied solely by textual proximity.



An accidental occasional poem.


poet's song

Folk singers: poets who can play the guitar.


no word for that

[Valéry’s] horror of philosophic jargon is so convincing, so contagious, that one shares it forever after, so that one can no longer read a serious philosopher except with suspicion or distaste, henceforth rejecting any falsely mysterious or learned term. Most philosophy boils down to a crime of lèse-langage, a crime against the Word. Any professional expression—any profession of the schools—must be proscribed and identified with a misdemeanor. Anyone who, in order to settle a difficulty or solve a problem, invents a high-sounding, pretentious word, indeed a word at all, is unconsciously dishonest. In a letter to F. Brunot, Valéry once wrote, “It takes more intelligence to do without a word than to introduce one.”

—E.M. Cioran,“Valéry Facing His Idols,” Anathemas and Admirations (Quartet Books, Ltd, 1992), translated by Richard Howard.


words overflowing

The poem as a waterfall of words.


a lot on top

The title was a little over the top…but that's where it should reside.


unseasonal verse

It's a good idea to write a poem about the first of May in November or December, when you feel a desperate need for May.

—Vladimir Mayakovsky, How Are Verses Made? (1926)


selling short

The poor poet kept trying to sell out.


poets inside and out

The monastic poet half-dreaming at his desk in the attic stirred by the street poet declaiming from the stoop to passersby.


language control

To control loosely or to too loosely control or to lose control?


driving force

The repeated phrases gave the poem the hum of a good engine.


perpetually present

If the art of concentrating in a particular way is the discipline necessary for poetry to reveal itself, memory exercised in a particular way is the natural gift of poetic genius. The poet, above all else, is a person who never forgets certain sense-impressions which he has experienced and which he can re-live again and again as though with all their original freshness.
A memory once clearly stated ceases to be a memory, it becomes perpetually present, because every time we experience something which recalls it, the clear and lucid original experience imposes its formal beauty on the new experiences. It is thus no longer memory but an experience lived through again and again.

—Stephen Spender, The Making Of A Poem (W.W. Norton & Co., 1962)


napoleon of your lines

Poet, be a field marshal who will not let his lines be outflanked.


upper case, higher place

The poem’s title was a hieratic headline.


no advancing back

The avant-gardist tries to piece together a lineage/heritage; but one thinks that the forebears he has cited would deny any heirs just as they'd denied ancestors.


quick and dirty crit

His criticism was a slapdash midrash.


modest and secret complexity

The fate of a writer is strange. He begins his career by being a baroque writer, pompously baroque, and after many years, he might attain if the stars are favorable, not simplicity, which is nothing, but rather a modest and secret complexity.

—Jorge Luis Borges, “Prologue,” The Self and The Other (1964)


catch the prevailing wind

His poems are raised sails that never fail to catch the Zeitgeist. [Thinking of Billy Collins.]


in both mode and mood

A poem in a minor key.


alien arts allied

The best poems make use of the arts of bricklaying and flower arrangement.


money of fools

For words are wise men's counters, they do but reckon with them; but they are the money of fools.

—Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan


just that one

The canon proves that one’s renown can be made by one poem.


nothing new here

He put down his pen and folded his hands because he wasn’t bringing anything ‘new to the tablet’.


if need be

Craft is art inflected by function.


voice overlord

They called her ‘confessional’ in order to silence her. [Thinking of Plath.]


no work of art at all

I was constantly watching the work of my father and mother, and the other professional painters who frequented their home, and constantly trying to imitate them; so that I learnt to think of a picture not as a finished product exposed for the admiration of virtuosi, but as the visible record, lying about the house, of an attempt to solve a definite problem in painting, so far as the attempt has gone. I learnt what some critics and aestheticians never know to the end of their lives, that no ‘work of art’ is ever finished, so that in that sense of the phrase there is no ‘work of art’ at all. Work ceases upon the picture or manuscript not because it is finished, but because sending-in day is at hand, or because the printer is clamorous for copy.

—R.G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford Univ. Press, 1958)


magic in creation

Revision is difficult because all the magic is there in the first draft.


making do

Translation is as necessary as it is impossible.


not much there

For good or for bad, poets keep proving you can write a poem about almost nothing at all.


in situ

Poems come from place.


imperfect paradise

"The imperfect is our paradise."

—Wallace Stevens, "The Poems of Our Climate"

Joan Richardson delivered an excellent talk last night for 15th Annual Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash entitled "Wallace Stevens' Radiant and Productive Atmosphere." A tracing of how the poet came to translate faith into his "supreme fiction.

The talk was based on an essay in Richardson's A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein.


akin to poetry

Philosophy is akin to poetry, and both of them seek to express that ultimate good sense which we term civilization. In each there is reference to form beyond the direct meanings of words. Poetry allies itself to metre, philosophy to mathematic pattern.

—Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (Macmillan, 1938)


perfect to a point

A kind of craft that respects the means of imperfection.


relative scale

Each poet but a small part of the art.


known quantity

“You have a gift for irony,” I said to the young poet; then added, “I know whereof I speak.”


brick shithouse

A rock-solid block of words.


poem wins again

poem v. email; poem v. grocery list; poem v. recipe; poem v. washing instructions tab; poem v. job application; poem v. annual report; poem v. diner menu; poem v. text message; poem v. shooting script; poem vs. ingredients label; poem v. new great american novel; poem v. highway sign; poem v. last will & testament; poem v. prayer; poem v. headstone...


do you want to do

Actually, what I am consuming so happily is an absence: a paradox anything but paradoxical, if we remember that Mallarmé made it the very principle of poetry: “I say: a flower and…musically there rises the fragrant idea itself, the one missing from all bouquets.”

The fifth subject is the subject of production: the one who wants to re-produce the canvas. Thus this morning, December 31, 1978, it is still dark, it is raining, everything is still when I sit down at my worktable again. I look at Hérodiade (1960), and I really have nothing to say about it, except the same platitude: I like it. But suddenly something new appears, a desire: the desire to do the same thing: to go to another table (not the one where I write), to choose colors and to paint, to draw. Ultimately the question of painting is: “Do you want to do a Twombly?”

—Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms (U. of California Press, 1991), translated by Richard Howard


otherwise unavailable

One never to be seen at another poet’s reading.


ore words

Like Mallarmé he mistakenly thought poems were mined from the dictionary.


blurb exuberance

"On the nose, this explodes with intense aromas of freshly sliced granadilla joined by notes of lemon curd. Hints of geranium and just mowed lawn, with suggestions of asparagus braised with tarragon, rise from the glass to add intrigue and complexity to the top notes."

Aren’t most blurbs like the descriptions of wine?


strong contrast

A bauble image. A burned retina image.


sacred disorder

The worn-out ideas of old-fashioned poetry played an important part in my alchemy of the word.

I got used to elementary hallucination: I could very precisely see a mosque instead of a factory, a drum corps of angels, horse carts on the highways of the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake; monsters and mysteries; a vaudeville's title filled me with awe.

And so I explained my magical sophistries by turning words into visions!

At last, I began to consider my mind's disorder a sacred thing.

—Arthur Rimbaud, “Alchemy of the Word,” Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell, 1873), translated by Paul Schmidt (Harper & Row, 1976)


short shelf life

A poem full of fad words, some already starting to fade.


dream stream

Poetry: the dream that reality can’t break.


let's get lost

Poets are a little too liable to let their poems get lost.


book byways

I trust that in my haphazard scholarship I’ll be reading books others are not.


two originals

Every poem that works as a poem is original. And original has two meanings: it means a return to the origin, the first which engendered everything that followed; and it means that which has never occurred before. In poetry, and in the poetry alone, the two senses are united in such a way that they are no longer contradictory.

—John Berger, The Sense of Sight (Vintage International, 1985)


memory poems

I know a few poems by heart. And I feel a few in my gut.


words gone astray

A poetry that threatened the language with the prospect of a new dialect.


emergent poems

Blaahn…blaahn…blaahn…This has been a test of the Emergency Poetry Broadcast Network. Had this had been a real disaster poetry would begin broadcasting constantly from this station.


having words

Poetry is in a running argument with the lingua franca.


metaphor making truth

The pure adventurousness of making metaphors and poems is a condition that must be felt to be believed. I remember how tremendously excited I was when I first formulated to myself the proposition that the poet is not to be limited by the literal truth: that he is not trying to tell the truth: he is trying to make it.

—James Dickey, “Metaphor as Pure Adventure,” Sorties (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1971)


know the worth of each word

A poet is a language miser. That is, he spends each word carefully, thoughtfully.


make something of yourself

Why do so many poets interpret the charge ‘Write what you know’ as ‘Tell me your life story’? ‘Writing’ is not telling. And to ‘know’ involves more than one’s experience.


aphoristic ambitions

Every couplet aspires to aphorism (or epigram). [Thinking of Alexander Pope.]


preempt the prompt

Writing that comes from ‘prompts’ is not going to be important.


particular within universal

Seeing that nearly all the words to be found in the dictionary stand for universals, it is strange that hardly anybody except students of philosophy ever realizes that there are such things as universals. We do not naturally dwell upon those words in a sentence which do not stand for particulars; and if we are forced to dwell upon a word which stands for a universal, we naturally think of it as standing for some one of the particulars that come under the universal.

—Bertand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford Univ. Press, 1959)


blossom in the mind

As I read the poem I could feel the lines unfurl, flowering within the lobes of my brain.


carry forward

Each line carries the memory of the one before.


eclipse event

Metaphor like an eclipse where one object passes over and interposes itself between the observer and the other object, and then a shadow (lunar eclipse) or corona (solar eclipse) appears.


not in the game

Shun those who would make of poetry a word game.



A poem bears information whether as a meaning-making entity or as pure experience. When we revise a poem we are often tempted to cut things (eliminate information) after our first reading of the poem which seem to be extraneous or superfluous in retrospect. And yet we can never wipe the mind’s slate clean and experience the poem the way we did in our first reading of it. Certain things may be cut from the poem which will always inform our reading of that poem. These elements remain in the mind even after being deleted from the text. But how will the next ‘first-time reader’ of the poem experience it without these elements? That is the nagging question faced during revision.


solitary lakes

Somewhere there they wait for unwritten poems like solitary lakes that no one sees.

—Anna Kamienska, In That Great River: A Notebook, selected and translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh


exhausted enjambment

The prose poem’s ascendency coincided with the exhaustion of the enjambment as a resource for free verse.


veer with verve

The best criticism veers easily back and forth between text and aesthetic assertions.


no beat

Meter was not his métier.


ping pong poet

Another career-track poet careening from reading gigs to writers conferences.


emotion is a verb

Emotion is our greatest primary affectual mode, moving from recollections in tranquility to meditations in emergency, and to speak of emotion as a noun is misleading. It is a verb: feeling, constantly moving, negotiating between the obligation to and liberty from the world, the medium, and instinctual biological as well as philosophical need. Feeling. The preservation of being is an imaginative act.

—Dean Young, The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction (Graywolf Press, 2010)


uneven line

The incommensurable line that distracts as it attracts.


not for free

A critic who had to buy the books he reviewed. No publisher would send him review copies. [Thinking of William Logan.]



Seek immediate medical attention for an extended metaphor lasting more than four lines.


all titled poets

All poets have MFAs…now what?


idiot thing

To retrieve [important] subject matter will always mean going out into the “objective” world, sitting “down close to the idiot thing”* and then discovering a rhetoric sufficient to treat of it. The enlarged content, which is the fuel for poetry will, in the hands of our best poets, dictate this rhetoric.

—Jonathan Holden, The Fate of American Poetry (Univ. of Georgia Press, 1991)

*excerpt from Scott Cairns’ poem “Harbor Seals” which is featured in the essay.


outside or inside

Do you trust the ‘pure critic’ who doesn’t write in the genre he/she criticizes; or do you put more weight behind the words of the ‘practicing critic’ who may be a bit too cozy in the genre?


exchange value

A poor country whose only currency was words, and thereby poetry was held dear.


title bias

Flipping to the contents page, perusing the titles, how many wonderful poems have I passed over only because they’re saddled with inert or homely titles?


poet without a career

I care most for those poets who don’t care about Poetry. [Thinking of Jack Gilbert.]


with a spoon

With so much music and delicious diction on the tongue, you wanted to read the poem with a spoon. Or to hear it read aloud...because the ear is a kind of spoon.


original image

The original is original and that is that; the image is image and that is that; the two are radically other. But this makes nonsense of an image; it could not be an image without relation to an original, even granted that they are not identical. What is the character of that relation, and how does it effect how we speak of the two “sides” in original communication? We try to fix the original univocally, and we end up making the relation of original and image equivocal; and then not only do claims about the image also become equivocal, but also those made about the original.

—William Desmond, Art, Origins, Otherness: Between Philosophy and Art (State U. of New York Press, 2003)


each one save one

I’m comforted by the thought that if I’m ever put under government surveillance the agent who follows me, who monitors my phone calls, who reads my emails and tracks my web-surfing, who searches through the papers in my recycle bin, will learn a lot about poetry. In fact, after two-years on my case, the agent could be awarded an honorary MFA in Poetry.


instead of reviews

I’m sorry your book was not reviewed, but those were some nice blurbs you got.


keen eyed

A good critical reader is like an osprey dropping from the sky to seize with its talons that one careless word lolling at the poem's surface.


thus sprach zenith

Poetry is the apotheosis of speech.


downhill from there

Tripped over that first line and the whole poem was a slo-mo pratfall after that.


deep song

It is rightly called “deep” song, he tells us, because it is “deeper than all the wells and all the seas that surround the world, much deeper than the present heart that creates it and the voice that sings it, because it is almost infinite. It comes from distant races, crossing the cemetery of the years…” Beneath the verses a question throbs, he says, a terrible question without an answer. Life is seen through an impenetrable veil, as if through the eyes of an ancient sibyl or an Andalusian sphinx.

—Edward F. Stanton (quoting Federico Garcia Lorca), Tragic Myth: Lorca and Cante Jondo (Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1978)


page and stage

The perfect combination of page poet and stage poet.

[National Poetry Slam this week in St. Paul.]


make it now

Avant-gardists frequently mistake the word ‘new’ for a value descriptor when it is merely a temporal marker.


prime directive

If MFA programs in creative writing did nothing else creating life-long readers would be a worthy accomplishment.


no other words

As soon as a writer types the phrase ‘in other words’, he should immediately delete that phrase and the whole passage it referred to. One doesn’t translate within the language.


silken line

A poet often does more and better than he is aware at the time, and seems at last to know as little about it as a silkworm knows about the fineness of its thread.

—Walter Savage Landor, The Pentameron: and other imaginary conversations (1889)


what's in a name

If I could steal another poet’s name, I’d lift Walter Savage Landor. Just saying that name makes me feel like I'm about to write a major poem.


shape in space

A poem should have a physique, an armature; it should cut a figure.


intransigent matter

A poet intent on breaking down the most unpoetic material: To yield gold from the least promising ore, in that way the poet is not unlike the alchemist working with intransigent matter.


live free or die

Full-time poets live for free residencies: A long-term house sit or caretaker position, an artist colony invitation, all ideal. But even a squat in an abandoned building will do in a pinch.


selfish sin

The personal idiosyncrasies that creep into a work of art are not essential; in fact, the more we have to cope with these peculiarities, the less is it a question of art. What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. The personal aspect is a limitation—and even a sin—in realm of art.

—Carl Gustav Jung, “The Poet”


verse tweezers

A couplet: verse tweezers used to present an image or a thought held in its squeeze of rhyme.


word museum

Already the poem was becoming a word museum.


no box for that

It seems a thing must first have a category before it can be criticized.


rogue editors

Breaking News [July 21, 2010]: Rogue poetry editors at The Paris Review accepted scads of hideously unpublishable poems. So much bad poetry was accepted that a replacement editor and turnaround specialist known as “Chainsaw Robyn” had to be called in to clean up the mess. One assistant editor at The Paris Review was reported to have said, “It’s just scandalous; I can’t find a single poem by one of my friends among these previously accepted submissions.”


by rights justify

A prose poem justifies itself by resorting to the right margin.


hot hand

A good poem is perhaps just a winning streak of lines.


image of note

                  Then is blown,
Cooling the air with shaded petal-waves,
The great sound-blossom of a temple bell.

—Mary McNeil Fenollosa (1865-1954), “Midsummer in Tokio," Out of the Nest: A Flight of Verses (Little, Brown, 1899)


flip turn

Constraint of the verse line: With each flip-turn, a swimmer gains power pushing off from the pool wall.


hand built

Quote found today at the Ken Matsuzaki exhibit at Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston:

I spent twenty years throwing on the wheel, but eventually I left it to hand-build, one-by-one, the forms I had in my heart. I began to think that it was important to first know what I wanted to make and only then worry about developing the techniques by which to achieve it.

—Ken Matsuzaki, Burning Tradition: Ceramics by Ken Matsuzaki, exhibit catalogue Pucker Gallery in Boston, June 2008, translated by Andrew L. Maske


more than nine

Poetry has been killed so many times it has passed cats for number of lives.


better not best

Her poetry wasn’t hard to like; but it was difficult to admire. [Thinking of Kay Ryan]


poetic leap

The poet must not cross an interval with a step when he can cross it with a leap.

—Joseph Joubert, Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts, trans. by Katharine Lyttelton, quoted in The World in a Phrase (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005) by James Geary


word farm

Poet, be a word farmer.


stylist on ice

A great stylist must have a substantive substrate. It’s not thin ice upon which she carves those elaborate figures, executes those flawless axels.


birds of a feather

An exultation of skylarks, a murder of crows, a workshop of poets…


floating window

The lyric is a floating window at large in the world, stopping here or there long enough to frame a scene, to allow a certain action to unfold within its constrained vista.


immovable attitude

I have an attitude now that is immovable. I shall remain outside of the world, beyond the temporal, beyond all the organizations of the world. I only believe in poetry.

—Anaïs Nin, August 22, 1936, Fire: From "A Journal of Love, " The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1934-1937 (Mariner Books, 1996)


new old poet laureate

When the famous poet got the call from the Library of Congress, he said something like, "You know I'm honored to be asked. But you also know I've gotten pretty much every prize and award that matters in my long career. You need to pick somebody a generation or two younger than me. Might I suggest these worthy poets______________."

Only a fantasy for how one could gracefully decline an honor one deserved but didn't need.


think again

I hear they’ve been ‘rethinking poetics’. I hope this isn’t going to be an annual event.


darwinian word

Emerson opined that words are ‘fossil poetry’. But the trick is to naturally select those Darwinian words which will manage to stay out of the fossil record.


te-hee to he-haw

His work provoked a wide range of emotion, from a slight smile to a full guffaw.


breakout book

A poet who believed one book would make all the difference.


backyard poetry

August 6, Saturday afternoon. A thunder storm in Brooklyn after days of heat and humidity. I lie on my bed enjoying it, noticing the rain running down the bark of the tree outside my window. Charles [Reznikoff] would have enjoyed that. Backyard poetry, he wrote a lot of it. Backyard but not sentimental: the trees, the bark, the oblong light in the darkness scrupulously observed. That is what the Objectivists had in common. (Though Charles once told me that all they had in common when they first met was the state of being unpublished and an admiration for the dos and don’ts that Ezra Pound was publishing in Poetry magazine.)

—Harvey Shapiro, “Remembering Charles Reznikoff,” Charles Reznikoff: Man and Poet (National Poetry Foundation, 1984) edited by Milton Hindus


crafted carelessness

One felt a crafted carelessness that made it difficult to surrender to those odd collocations of imagery and outright tonal collisions.



People may have a differing opinions about these simple instruments that turn a football stadium into a hive of sound, but there is hardly a word more fun to say than ‘vuvuzelas’, and hardly a better one-word poem during this time of the FIFA World Cup.


by net or gaff

You’re gonna need a net or gaff to land that last line.


always fashion fails

It took only a decade for ‘impure forms’ to begin to bore.


attack syntax

A syntax that will not impede the speed of thought.


center will not hold

Without poets, without artists, men would soon weary of nature's monotony. The sublime idea men have of the universe would collapse with dizzying speed. The order which we find in nature, and which is only an effect of art, would at once vanish. Everything would break up in chaos. There would be no seasons, no civilization, no thought, no humanity; even life would give way, and the impotent void would reign everywhere.

—Guillaume Apollinaire, "On Painting," The Cubist Painters (1913)


all for one

Let’s all be avant-garde together.


broken wing

Each line flopped over like a broken wing, as the poem kept trying to fly.


mental matter

To a conceptualist it’s not about the act/art; it’s about the thinking about the act/art.


blurb substitute

Instead of blurbs, print this on the back of the book: “What are you looking for back here? Embarrassingly extravagant endorsements, conviviality, cronyism? Crack open the book and read a couple poems.”


no return point

From a certain point on, there is no more turning back. That is the point that must be reached.

—Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms (Schocken Books, 2006), translated by Michael Hofmann



Writing that breeds readers.



A linebreak like the horizon is a visual illusion, yet becomes important aurally.


old maps

They come to poetry expecting much. And for a time language itself delivers all: They write some good poems, garner a little attention; a few poems accepted for journals, a chapbook, perhaps a full collection comes out. They are ours in ars poetica. But then the disappointments begin to mount. The taste of success is found to be exactly that. And they are gone, faded back into the general populace, with a few poems tucked away in a folder somewhere, old maps from their travels through the unforgiving country called poetry.


woven basket

Line after line the poem intricately woven of sound and rhetoric, a beautiful basket that could hold anything or nothing at all.


well ordered

A semantic Mandarin, in his poems all the words knew their place in the household.



If, according to an old saying, it is a fact that the aim and the nature and even the essence of true art is its suitability (caput artis decere) then indeed Gregorian art takes first place—one unique and noble thought is expressed in the form which is most appropriate and most adequate to the thought itself. But there is more to it: over and above this first quality of suitability, we discover others of broader and higher significance. It soon becomes evident that this form of art, far more than any other, is impregnated, saturated, with truth itself, and that falsehood, or even fiction and vain pretense, are foreign to it and have no place in it. And so the circle of perfect requirements is complete, and in a perhaps unique combination the true, the beautiful and the good meet, and this sublime trinity, which is absent from so many works of art—not excluding the greatest—becomes a living reality in a chapel where humble monks sing and pray on their knees.

—Camille Bellaigue ,“Le Chant Grégorian à l’Abbaye de Solesmes”
Les Epoques de la Musique
(Delagrave, 1909)


comfortable bubble

A reader who never ventured out of the comfortable bubble of the contemporary.


luddite moment

With all the talk about how new technologies (twitter, facebook, blogs, youtube, ebooks, podcasts, etc.) are changing poetry, I can’t help but think that perhaps poetry’s future may be better served by delivering poems via carrier pigeons and bottles tossed into the sea.


word dreamed before

Every word ought to be dreamed
before becoming poem.

—Roberto Juarroz, opening lines of “Tenth.12,” Vertical Poetry: Recent Poems, translated by Mary Crow (White Pine Press, 1992)


beast and pest

The critic’s minor biting at a major poet’s work reminded me of a fly at the ear of a water buffalo. The beast flicks its ear once and while, but is otherwise untroubled by this fly. [re: David Orr on Robert Hass' The Apple Trees at Olema: New & Selected Poems in The New York Times Book Review, May 2010]



Pound, being too ready with a dictum, may have betrayed some of the dictator within him.


rewritten in realtime

I woke from the dream of the poem and rewrote it in language of the real.


pardon my french

Glad I don’t have to do artist shit all the time.


radiant sightlines

The poem as an exploded panopticon.


less a thing

Poetry, whose material is language, is perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it...Of all things of thought, poetry is the closest to thought, and a poem is less a thing than any other work of art.

—Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), The Human Condition (1958)


collective cry

In the readers arose a collective cri de Coeur.


just two more

In [American] football games they have a two-minute warning. At readings the poet will often give the audience the ‘just two more’ warning.


magna cum libri

He was a graduate of that shabby academy called a used bookshop.


armor plated

The poem was beyond opaque; the lines like overlapping armor plates.


low dose

Prose poetry: low-dose prose.


rather than

I like elements which are hybrid rather than “pure,” compromising rather than “clean,” distorted rather than “straightforward,” ambiguous rather than “articulated,” perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as “interesting,” conventional rather than “designed,” accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non-sequitur and proclaim the duality.

I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning; for the implicit function as well as the explicit function. I prefer “both-and” to “either-or.”

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


stray birds

A couple of days ago I found a copy of Tagore’s Stray Birds in a bin at the grocery store. Cost: 25 cents.

(n.b.: this two-bits was written a few years ago, but I post it today to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore.)


troubled sleep

Artists should be anxious about their art. The worst artists sleep like babies content with whatever marks they’ve made.


state of the art

Reading audience at a local college: Several faculty from the English Department, two dozen of their students impressed into attendance. Locals: me.


suffocating title

Your title was so apt and explanatory, it was like a pillow smothering the poem lying in its bed.


reading material

“Nice bibliography.”: Inadvertent insult to an academic book.


lost count

When I turned back to reread the line, I was surprised to find it had fewer words than I’d remembered.


erotics of art

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.

The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art—and, by analogy, our own experience—more, rather than less, real to us. The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.

In place of hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.

—Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation” (1964)


scorn the collector

Only scorn for the collector who acquires a book he would never have read when it first came out but purchases now because of its rarity and material value.


cracks in the wall

cracks in the walls
black spells
flayed phrases
unfortunate poems

Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972) from "Los Pequeños Cantos," translated by John Martone, from Damn The Cæsars (Vol. 5, 2009)



Even though unreciprocated, my love of poetry remains absolute, pure.


sea wrack

The tideline on a beach as model for a line of poetry.


don't flatter yourself

The theorist who puts ‘capitalism’ and ‘poetry’ in the same sentence (paragraph or book) is clearly delusional. Capitalism doesn’t concern itself with non-monetary enterprises.


long poem logistics

In most long poems the poet outruns his supply lines.


reading ratio

I’ve started thousands of books, but have only finished hundreds.


substitution of terms

Painting is a philosophical enterprise that doesn’t always involve paint.

—Howard Halle, "Photo-unrealism," Time Out New York, December 30, 1999-January 6, 2000, 55-56, quoted in Douglas Fogle, Painting at the Edge of the World, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2001, 18. [n.b.: I first encountered this quote on the wall of an exhibit at Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, some years ago.]

Poetry is a philosophical enterprise that doesn't always involve the poetic line.


rococo musings

A poet much too much impressed by his rococo musings. (Thinking of John Ashbery.)


time stain

A poem tainted by its times.


image of note

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

—Tony Hoagland, from "A Color of the Sky," What Narcissism Means to Me (Graywolf Press, 2003)



Not a small press, an intermittent press.


self proof

First the lyric poet must prove to herself the efficacy of her utterance. No one will be won over by an uncommitted voice.


long hall

A poem with a long, elaborately decorated foyer.



all in

Poet, methodically stack your lines, then push all in.


discarded word

The word the rhetoricians rejected has become the poem’s cornerstone. (after Psalm 118:22)


dysfunctional workshop

The Dysfunctional Workshop: Dramatis Personae

Paula Tico: Even in your poem about your dead cat she felt you failed to see the complicity of or to indict global capitalism for its insidious influence on the pet food industry.

Dick Tum: He cannot critique a poem without dragging out an old saw. He folds his arms, leans back in his chair and intones “I think it was Coleridge who said, ‘best words in the best order’, and in this poem…,” or “William Carlos Williams famously had it, ‘No ideas but in things’, and your poem is full of…”

Polly Wanzakraker: She practically sits on the workshop leader’s shoulder and repeats verbatim what he/she has just said.

Ed Itur: He always reads with a red pen in his hand. The only thing he has to say about your poem is that you spelled ‘feign’ wrong or your last line is a sentence fragment.

Buzz Cutt: When he clears his throat to speak you can hear a chainsaw starting up. His terse solution for every poem is to shave off the first 10 lines and to hack off the last 5 while you’re at it.

Di Gress: She’ll tease out one line after another that reminds her of a story or any topic she happens to be thinking about, which leads to that, then this, then that again…

Otis Grande: Praising you past embarrassment, he loves your poem, he loves everything you have written and everything you will ever write.

Ben Daredundat: He can always find one of his poems that your poem reminds him of and he’ll quote long passages of his poem to prove the point.

Art Istek: With his head down, scribbling furiously, he says little during workshop. Afterwards he hands back your poem almost blotted out with arrows and diagrams, the margins filled with elaborate graffiti. You save the copy in case he becomes famous one day.

[Feel free to add your own characters.]


ladder to earth

Poem like a ladder let down from heaven to earth.


inside / outside

What part of a poem's value inheres to the work itself, and how much has accrued by virtue of years of critical attention?


it's all poem

The poems are all telling me the same thing. “This is all a poem. You’re alive, get it?”


Ah, poetry. It’s such a pleasure to have something that does not demand to be understood, in a world where clearly there is already not one iota of understanding to spare.

Nick Piombino, Contradicta (Green Integer, 2010)


one nod is enough

A poet can ride for years on the least bit of attention or acknowledgement.


orphan line

Beautiful little orphan line, someday I’ll find a modest home for you, and you will make of it a mansion.


class action case

The critic is a masterful litigant, taking him/herself as an aggrieved party and from that singular example making a class action case for all readers.


free bird

At the poetry reading they were all holding up lighters and calling out for me to read “Free Bird,” as I went flapping through pages of my books to no avail.


daily record

Like a ship’s log while in port, poem after poem, quotidian entries of little import.


proper names

Now, I am a person who likes simple words. It is true, I had realised before this journey that there was much evil and injustice in the world that I had now left, but I had believed I could shake the foundations if I called things by their proper name. I knew such an enterprise meant returning to absolute naiveté. This naiveté I considered as a primal vision purified of the slag of centuries of hoary lies about the world.

—Paul Celan, "Edgar Jené and The Dream About The Dream," Collected Prose (Carcanet, 1986), translated by Rosmarie Waldrop


the 12 steps

The Poet's Twelve Steps

  • We admitted we were powerless over words—that our lives had become unmanageable.

  • Came to believe that a Poetry greater than ourselves could restore us to madness.

  • Made a decision to turn our wiles and our lives over to the care of Chaos as we misunderstood It.

  • Made a haphazard and fearful moral inventory of ourselves.

  • Disavowed to Chaos, to ourselves, and to another human reader the inexact nature of our wrongs.

  • Were entirely ready to have Chaos imbue all these defects of character.

  • Humbly asked Chaos to display our shortcomings.

  • Made a list of all readers we had to harm, and became willing to make mayhem upon them all.

  • Made direct mayhem upon such readers wherever possible, except when to do so would inure them or others.

  • Continued to lose personal inventory and when we were right promptly denied it.

  • Sought through poetry and criticism to improve our conscious contact with Chaos as we understood It, playing only for ignorance of Its Will for us and the poetry to carry that out.

  • Having had a poetic awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to mumble this message to readers, and to misapply these precepts in all our affectations.


utter limits

Wholly unafraid of writing about anything.


stick figures

There was no one behind the poem and no real people in the poem…thus the words reverted to groups of letters that began to look like so many stick figures.


line light

One can tell by the light in the lines whether a morning poet, an afternoon into evening poet, or an after midnight poet.


night rain

Sometimes at night I’ll awaken to rainfall on the roof tiles and I think of poets all over the world, their fingers tapping out words on the keys.


monotonous obstinacy

I feel sure of the fundamental and lasting unity of all that I have written or will write—and I am not talking of an autobiographical unity or unity of taste, which are trivialities—but of a unity of themes, vital interests, the monotonous obstinacy of one who feels sure that the very first day he has found the true world, the eternal world, and can do nothing but revolve around the great monolith and take off chunks and work at them and study them in every possible light.

—Cesare Pavese from “Work is Wearying,” quoted in The Smile of the Gods: A Thematic Study of Cesare Pavese’s Works (Cornell U. Press, 1968) by Gian-Paulo Biasin, translated by Yvonne Freccero.


silence of the iambs

After the mid-Twentieth Century free-verse slaughter, it was the silence of the iambs.


born blind

A young poet often can’t see clichés: One must be well-read to recognize well-worn words.


salvage operation

Poet, be a language salvager.


lost relative

My language skills are meager, still I don’t trust a translation without the original en face.

stylus sensor

I was trying to listen through my pen.


forced effort

For the poet, a forced effort seldom gives birth to anything but falsification. And it cannot be different for the thinker. Whatever good that was thought happened without effort. To sense the truth is the art of being still. [p. 31]

—Vilhelm Ekelund, The Second Light (North Point Press, 1986)


trained growth

Structure and language: trellis and vine.


narrative coming through

Certain stories are instant poetry: The words must simply get out of the way of the telling.


schoolyard scuffle

It was The School of Quietude vs. The Rest is Noise.


it's that simple

Subject enacted, language exacted.


no ambition at all

I shall never forget one autumn evening in the tiny office of T.S. Eliot at Faber and Faber’s the voice of the poet of the Quartets ending our conversation about Valéry: “He was so intelligent that he had no ambition at all.”

—George Seferis, in his preface to Igor Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music (Harvard Univ. Press, 1942)


got your backside covered

Blurbs are applied to the backsides of books because that's the place for butt-lickers.


dada dead end

Veered down a dada dead end.


poem not diploma

At the end of an MFA in Poetry, they shouldn’t give you a diploma. They should hand you a framed copy of the one poem you’re willing to call an emblem of your literary merit.


template theory

He had a template theory to drop over any text.


here yet be dragons

here yet be dragons

so many languages have fallen
off the edge of the world
into the dragon’s mouth. some

where there be monsters whose teeth
are sharp and sparkle with lost

people. lost poems. who
among us can imagine ourselves
unimagined? who

among us can speak with so fragile
tongue and remain proud?

—Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)
Blessing the Boats, New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (Boa Editions, 2000)


armed to the teeth

Poet, come armed to the teeth with words when confronting the page.

The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of interjections, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. These figures take no account of entries with senses for different parts of speech (such as noun and adjective).

This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.

[quoted from AskOxford.com]


syntactic scar

A syntactic inversion in a poem is like a language scar. Most are crude reminders of a severe wound, but like scars some do have a strange attraction.


loose ends

A poetry made from language’s loose ends.



I estimate it would take a stadium seating about 100,000 to contain all the contemporary poets*. What a compelling cacophony it would be if they all stood at once and began to recite their poems.

*US only, actively publishing/performing


prison release

There comes a point always, in painting a picture, when it becomes a prison; I long to get away from it, to be quit of it forever, yet the only release, with a clear conscience, must come from carrying it thru.

—Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield’s Journals, The Poetry of Place, edited by J. Benjamin Townsend (State University of New York Press, 1993)


protracted block

Stalked by a man from Porlock.


the bear fishing

When I think of Charles Olson’s poetics I think of how a bear fishes for salmon during the spawning run. There is a lot splashing about, paws swiping at the rushing waters, headlong lunging into the shallows, but some nice fish do get caught.


gray crowd

If MFA programs are attracting so many eager young poets, why is it that the audience at so many poetry readings is filled with graying elders?


deep divide

Controversies about the smallest of poems (e.g. Saroyan’s ‘lighght’) tell one a lot about the deep divide in poetic sensibility.



Language was not only a means of communication for new ideas, it was also a repository for the history of progress. In an article on Languages which Turgot had projected for the Enclyclopédie but which, like so many of his plans, never came to fruition, he intended to show that throughout the ages language was an index of the stadial development of nations, since words were invented only when there were ideas demanding utterance. The mere existence of certain words was witness to a complex civilization.

[…Turgot:] “The study of language, if well done, would perhaps be the best of logics. In analyzing, in comparing words of which they are fashioned, in tracing from the beginning the different meanings which they acquired, in following the thread of ideas, we will see through which stages, through which metamorphoses men passed….This kind of experimental metaphysics would be one and the same time the history of the human mind and the history of the progress of its thoughts, always fitted to the needs which gave birth to them. Languages are at once their expression and their measure.”

[…] Like Vico, Turgot’s fragments also recognized a stage of human consciousness which was so primitive that man could only give voice to his ideas in myth, in metaphor, in pictorial images. And for Turgot, as for Hume, there is a manifest superiority in the abstract attitude over the concrete. Turgot was ultimately led by his worship of reason to prefer purest mathematical abstraction over all forms of knowledge and to look upon the metaphors and images in which the ancients communicated their ideas as a sort of baby-talk, expressive perhaps, but a form which had to be outgrown. Eighteenth-century French thinkers like Turgot were conscious of the death of the poetic spirit in their society, and they did not regret it.

—Frank E. Manuel, “Turgot, Barone De L’Aulne,” The Prophets of Paris (Harvard U. Press, 1962, pp30-32)


canon echo

Can one’s writing ever get far enough away to escape the canon’s echo?


at sea

A poem at sea apart from its sequence.


the dead

Why does opening the Norton Anthology always feel like lifting a coffin lid?


hanging pause

At the end of a poetry reading there is that hanging pause before the plausive moment.



It wasn’t clear if his talent was that of a critic or a propagandist.


spiritual control

The image is a method of asserting or reasserting spiritual control over the material.

—C. Day Lewis, The Poetic Image


facio fugit

A style compelling as fashion but about as durable.



A poem marred by the precision of its grammar.


famous poet

“I’d like to introduce you to the famous poet, X Y,” he said. “Ah,” she replied, “his lack of reputation shadows him.”



A cowlick line that wouldn’t be combed flat.


no substance but itself

All these poems where it is merely the Poem that is the question—a whole poetry with no other substance than itself! What would we say of a prayer whose object was religion?

—E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born, translated by Richard Howard (Arcade Publishing, 1998)


image indigestion

A poem so full of images it was burping haiku.



faith healer

Poet, be a faith-healer to those ailing and wayward ears!


poetry bubble

When the poetry bubble burst it caused an economic yawn.


look back and over

Time, in fact, effects that for a fine poem which distance performs for a fine view. When we look at a magnificent city from some height that is above and beyond it, we are sufficiently removed to lose sight of its little alleys, blind lanes, and paltry habitations; we can discover nothing but its lofty spires, monuments, and towers, its palaces and its sanctuaries. And so it is with a poem, when we look back upon it through a long interval of time. We have been in the habit of hearing only the finest passages, because these only are repeated; the flats and failings we either have not read, or do not remember. The finest passages of Milton, or of Shakespeare, can be rehearsed by many who have never waded through all the pages of either. Dacier observed that Homer was a thousand years more beautiful than Virgil, as if Calliope traced the etymology of her name to her wrinkles, rather than her dimples. Voltaire carried this opinion so far, that he seems to infer that distance of time might make a poet still more interesting by making him invisible; for he asserts that the reputation of Dante will continually be growing greater and greater, because there is nobody now that reads him. This sentiment must be a source of great consolation to many of our modern poets, who have already lived to see themselves at this point of greatness, and may in some sort be said to have survived their own apotheosis.

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon: or, Many things in few words
(London: Williams Tegg. 1866)


language proof

A poem that no translation could dilute.


recycled criticism

It was evident by the critic’s writing that everything he knew he’d learned.


protean word

A protean word that seemingly changed its definition and even its pronunciation before one’s eyes and ears.


more snow


I wish I could stop thinking of Robert
Frost whenever it snows.

—Joanne Kyger
About Now: Collected Poems (National Poetry Foundation, 2007)


getting comfortable

The poem plopped itself down in an overstuffed sofa in the folds of my brain, and made itself at home.



Words restless in their cellblock of form.


type cast

A poet started a press. The poet became a press. There was no poet other than the press.


coat of arms

There were so many symbols in the poem it might have been mistaken for a coat of arms.