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)