tabula rasa reader

If you're averse to a particular kind of poetry, set aside your aesthetic predilections, if you are in sympathy with a particular kind of poetry, set aside your artistic competitiveness, and read the work on its own terms, with due care and attention.


revolution of dreams

Because the mechanistic imagery I had used so far had begun to horrify me, and certainly contradicted in intent and almost in coloration what I wanted to do next, it suggests that a new imagery must be found, less like a crustacean’s shell. But to change one’s images is like trying to revolutionize one’s dreams. It can’t be done overnight. Nor can it be effected by will. I find one entry reading: “Something seems to have been broken in me last year, like a spring breaking…What broke…is perhaps the sense that you can build your life by choice. Now I think you build it out of necessities—and that is all you can do is answer these necessities in the decentest way possible…I am trying to learn to lead a decent life and not want to be a great person and, at the same time, know what I have the human right to draw the line at.”

—Jane Cooper, “Nothing Has Been Used in the Manufacture of This Poetry That Could Have Been Used in the Manufacture of Bread,” essay in The Flashboat: Poems Collected and Reclaimed (Norton, 2000)


go then

If it’s too difficult for you, don’t bother reading poetry. It’s not like we’ll miss a little less audience.


accidental poem

The titles on the contents page formed a poem that could be read with interest.


breaker of words

Poet, be a cowboy in the rodeo of words. Ride them but let their wildness show.


broken beauty

A test for beauty: Could it be beautiful broken into pieces…or fallen into a state of ruin?


balance of terror

A poem rests, barely, on a single line
a kind of balance of terror
humans must hold out their arms
and endure this balance—
a moment’s dizziness
will tilt your whole life

—Tamura Ryuichi, the opening stanza of “Perhaps a Great Poem,” Tamura Ryuichi: On the Life & Work of a 20th Century Master, edited by Takako Lento & Wayne Miller (Pleiades Press, 2011)


trick of the trade

Set out only a few chairs for the poetry reading. This will condense the audience into a tight cluster, and if more chairs must be set up before the start of the reading, it will feel like an overflow event.


until the name alone would suffice

The length of a poet’s bio is in inverse relationship to the size of her/his reputation.


exit solo

Sad as it is to say, a great poet of love is dying alone. [Berkeley, CA]


empty cage

The poem was a finely constructed cage, but the door was unclasped and the bird within had flown.


spaces between

What is important is what cannot be said, the white space between the words.

—Max Frisch

(Quote encountered in Marco Breuer's Line of Sight installation at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.)


standing room only

Even though they are comfortably seated, one should read to his/her audience as though they were being forced to stand for the entire proceeding.


allegience at large

The poem as a flag for no nation.


supply-side economics

Often it seems we are producing more & more poetry books (in print & digital media) yet we’re failing to increase readership for this mass of material.


from poetry expect poetry

How little divides us finally from Longinus and his classic work on the sublime, written in the early years of our era. The literary encyclopedia reminds us that the sublime is not a formal feature of a work and can’t be defined by way of rhetorical categories. It is instead “a spark that leaps from the soul of the writer to the soul of the reader.” Has so much really changed? Don’t we still wait greedily for that spark?

Surely we don’t go to poetry for sarcasm or irony, for critical distance, learned dialectics or clever jokes. These worthy qualities and forms perform splendidly in their proper place—in an essay, a scholarly tract, a broadside in an opposition newspaper. In poetry, though, we seek the vision, the fire, the flame that accompanies spiritual revelation. In short, from poetry we expect poetry.

—Adam Zagajewski, title essay, A Defense of Ardor (FSG, 2002), translated by Clare Cavanaugh


palace or cell

Being locked inside one language, I’m glad that English is a sprawling palace, its rooms furnished with things collected from many nations, and not a small prison cell, spare and well-swept.


framed for attention

Art begins by framing for attention. The framing can be physical of course, as in the traditional picture frame or mural, or in sculpture the negative space around the object provides a frame, or the art may be framed in the sense of being captured on film/video, or it may be framed by the venue in which it takes place as in installation art or performance art, even landscape/cityscape art is framed for presentation to a random passer-by. Art that is framed asks for and awaits our attention, which is to say it seeks audience, however small or insular, and ultimately art, thus framed, seeks appreciation. And it is appreciation, by even a small group, that closes the circle and makes art of what was proffered by the framing.


as in chess

Will the first line be a quiet opening or a gambit?


landmarks in passing

A critic who was like a literary tour guide; a bit too glib when more glamour was called for.