no things but in ideas

Mallarmé famously admonished Degas by saying that poems are not made of ideas, they are made of words. In turn the conceptualists have refuted Mallarmé by making poems out of ideas.


sign of the times

The young poet came up to the open mike holding nothing. At first I thought she must be a slam poet who had committed her work to memory. Then she took out her iphone/droid and she started reading from the device.


obedience not invention

Now I believe that much of the work on the poem called “Ghost Ship” amounted to obedience, not invention: obedience, that is, to the preexistent poetry of the ordinary word. To cure—to have a care for—poetry is to keep its elements, the words on the tongue, the symbols of our acts, alive—by suspicion, and attention.

—Mary Kinzie, "The Cure of Poetry," The Cure of Poetry in the Age of Prose: Moral Essays on the Poet’s Calling (U. of Chicago Press, 1993)


chin up

A first line so strong that one can feel the whole poem straining to get its chin up over the bar.


make your mark

After the reading, the poet was asked to sign a copy of his book, the remainder mark clearly visible along the edge of its pages.


lazy man's load

The line was trying to carry a ‘lazy man’s load’ of allusions.


ingredients label

I’m in favor a federal legislation mandating an Ingredients Label on the back of all poetry books in lieu of blurbs. The most frequently used words could be listed: ‘Moon: 13; Cow: 11; Grass: 8; Light: 6; all others 5 or less instances'. And each text would be analyzed for content: ‘Poeticisms: 14%; Imagery: 11%; Tropes: 7%; Internal Rhyme: 2.7% ; and other rhetorical or quasi-poetic matter and filler'.


closed to some

So many poems are shaped like doors; and some really are.


poetry in its own way

I am perfectly willing to admit that it is not the best or the most poetical form of poetry, and that it is very far indeed from the forms that I myself like best. But one of the cries which a critic should never be tired of uttering, whether in the streets or in the wilderness, is that nothing is bad merely because it is different from another thing which is good, and that in this world there is no equality or fixed standard to which everything must be cut down or stretched out. The best rhetorical poetry of the eighteenth century is not the best poetry, but it is poetry in its own way, exhibiting the glow, the rush, the passion, which strict prose cannot, and which poetry can, give.

—George Saintsbury, “Eighteenth Century Poetry,” A Saintsbury Miscellany (Oxford U. Press, 1947)



Poetry books are made thin so you can slip one under your true love’s door.


never enough

Why are so many poets unhappy with poetry?



voices carry

The human voice will carry any poem a little farther than its text.


summons to the mountain

Let the canon come to me.


sacrilege change

[Charles] Lamb then came to Oxbridge perhaps a hundred years ago. Certainly he wrote an essay—the name escapes me—about the manuscript of one of Milton’s poems which he saw here. It was Lycidas perhaps, and Lamb wrote how it shocked him to think it possible that any word in Lycidas could have been different from what it is. To think of Milton changing words in that poem seemed to him a sort of sacrilege. This led me to remember what I could of Lycidas and to amuse myself with guessing which word it could have been that Milton had altered, and why. —Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)


my odd book club

Being a book reader and not a collector, I have never minded that readers before me have marked the pages. As long as they are not too demonstrative, to the point of occluding the text, with their underlinings, checkmarks and margin notes, then I’m happy to have shared a book with other minds, some still living and others long dead.


memory or imagination

Poetry torn/born between the urge to memorialize and the desire to imagine.


theory poets

Those theory people who have infiltrated poetry without the ability to feel.


more or less clearly

Robinson will not say anything in such a way as to make the responsibility for choice his own rather than the reader’s. He will simply render the situation and leave us to judge it, for all of Robinson’s poems presuppose an outside world of critics and judges, of ourselves, people who see and observe more or less clearly.

—Louis A. Coxe, “E. A. Robinson: The Lost Tradition,” Appreciation of E. A. Robinson (Colby College Press, 1969)


now what

You get credit for getting there first. But then one must find a way forward.