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.