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)