obscure science

The science in the poem was used superficially as metaphor; which is to say that only a handful of people in the world could understand the underlying concept. So it is that the obscurity of the poet is the obscurity of the scientist.


document runner

Poet, be a courier to eternity.


mind music

Only semantic connection can create the ‘music of thought’.


unsure reader

Some poets read their poems flawlessly, with gusto and verve. Others read with hesitancy and uncertainty, stumbling over words, as though the poem was still composing itself. I respect the poet who reads with suspicion of what has been written.


highest ideality

[T]he function of poetry, like that of science, can only be fulfilled by the conception of harmonies that become clearer as they grow richer. As the chance note that comes to be supported by a melody becomes in that melody determinate and necessary, and as the melody, when woven into a harmony, is explicated in that harmony and fixed beyond recall; so the single emotion, the fortuitous dream, launched by the poet into the world of recognizable and immortal forms, looks in that world for its ideal supports and affinities. It must find them or else be blown back among the ghosts. The highest ideality is the comprehension of the real. Poetry is not at its best when it depicts a further possible experience, but when it initiates us, by feigning something which as an experience is impossible, into the meaning of the experience which we have actually had.

—George Santayana, “The Elements and Function of Poetry,” Aesthetics and the Arts (McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1968), edited by Lee A. Jacobus


mind weld

The psychic acetylene that fuses one thing to another.


surrounding material

Generally there is a third more material than is needed in the first draft. Think of a model airplane kit: The wing, once separated from the surrounding material, is all the wing needed to lift the aircraft.


all bow down

The sovereign line.


aggregating grandeur

A parade, a pageant, a triumph, as the poem proceeded.


real relationship

Classified ad for print-on-demand (POD) poetry book: “Lonely file in cyberspace seeks physical relationship with illusory reader.”


emphasis needed

[Hopkins’] inventiveness worked…in the main line which the adjectival poets had established. Keats’s carved, wing’d, hid, faded, unseen, moss’d, became Hopkins’ carved, winged, dogged, cursed, freckled, fetched, plumed, in all a somewhat rarer lot; and Keats’s eager-eyed, hot-blooded, half-anguished, deep-delved, purple-stained, wild-ridged, became Hopkins’ more complicated and special carrier-witted, scroll-leaved, whirl-wind-swivelled, else-minded, heart-forsook, care-coiled, bell-swarmed, dapple-dawn-drawn, no-man-fathomed, five-lived, rarest-veined. The change is not one, as far as I can see, toward greater metaphysical farfetchedness but rather is an intensification of quality statement, an emphasis on the special perceivable nature of things, the physical sense of whirlwind, leaf, care, bell qualities. Emphasis is just what Hopkins said, in his early essay on “Poetic Diction,” the accented past participle is good for. Poetry needs more emphasis of all sorts he said there, more 18th Century liveliness, more 19th Century vividness to make mere flat “Parnassian” descriptiveness come alive.
Hopkins, like Ruskin, was a notebook sketcher and painter, by nature as by convention a wordpainter. When he was in a hurry and had little to say of the day that was closing, if it were fine he often wrote Fine in his Journal, but often Bright.

—Josephine Miles, “The Sweet and Lovely Language,” Gerard Manley Hopkins by the Kenyon Critics (New Directions, 1945)


not utilitarian

Poetry as impractical language.


music and muscle

It was a poem with many tongue holds.


humble thing

Poet, be proud of that humble thing you have made from the poor material we call language.


blood trail

A poem that left a blood trail back to the poet.


close sailing

You cannot say it all, in poetry. Where you cannot say it all, you are stinted irremediably in how seriously you can speak. There is that something of lightness in the poetic presentation of themes, be they of the uttermost of inspiring seriousness. The verbal versatility that bejewels the process of poem-making, by requisition, produces an almost continual close sailing to the wind of word-play. The use of metaphor, its tempting relief to the mind so often at a loss for the immediate right provision for the fixed, patterned, poetic word-course, becomes a chronic virtue of permitted caprice of statement.

—Laura (Riding) Jackson, ”Reading for the University of Florida Library (1975),” from “The Failure of Poetry: Selection from the Manuscripts,” edited by John Nolan (Chelsea #69, 2000).


not a matter of modulation

A poem that could be whispered just as well as shouted.


duly noted

By the novelty of his work, the poet had secured for himself a footnote in any overview of literature of the times. For some poets, I’m afraid, that’s all they aspire to.


traveling call

If one could be called for ‘traveling’ in metrical poetry, he would have been called for steps.


low bar

Of all the arts, poetry has the least barrier to entry, which is part of its attraction. One of the problems with poetry is that the barrier to entry is so low.


telltale childlike qualities

“Like a woman,” said Rilke, without fearing that the comparison would demean him. He has been called the poet of the child and the woman. He understood us better than the sensualists. It has been said that he who gets too close to an object ceases to see it. The memory of his own childhood helped him to love children. Does not the hardening that ruins us come when we forget this? Rilke remembered the child with marvelous tenderness, and this freed him from the monstrous condition of being entirely adult, absolute man or woman, without the golden fringe of telltale childlike qualities, without the elvish sands of a five-year old explorer swirling in the chambers of an old heart.

—Gabriela Mistral, “An Invitation to the Work of Rainer Maria Rilke”, A Gabriela Mistral Reader (White Pine Press, 1993), translated by Maria Giachetti and edited by Marjorie Agosin


uncommon speech

The poem as the spectacular vernacular.


cover up

Poems are not buttressed for being pressed between glossy covers.


sound sleeper

Inured by clamor and din, sometimes it is the nearly silent things that startle and wake us.