confident strut

Poet, stride the line like a model walks a runway.


with one word

Leaning in a corner of the room, I saw the word “reconciliation” painted in neat letters on a board. I start to worry about my brain when I experience a single word as a self-contained poem.


skeleton showing

In traditional Japanese architecture some of the skeleton of the structure is left exposed, and the same is true of a good poem.


not one or whole

Few great medieval buildings are homogeneous, since they are the work of many generations of artists. This is widely recognized by historians, although theoreticians of culture have innocently pointed to the conglomerate cathedral of Chartres as a model of stylistic unity, in contrast to the heterogeneous character of stylelessness of the arts of modern society. In the past it was not felt necessary to restore a damaged work or to complete an unfinished one in the style of the original. Hence the strange juxtapositions of styles within some medieval objects. It should be said, however, that some styles, by virtue of their open, irregular forms, can tolerate the unfinished and heterogeneous better than others.

--Meyer Schapiro, “Style.” The Problem of Style (Fawcett Publications, 1966) edited by J.V. Cunningham.


necessary influence

The young poet worried that if he read too much of X, his work would become overly influenced by X. He should be so lucky.


novel distilled

The poem as a novel distilled to its essential paragraph.


gifts waiting to be filled

Because people know I write, I’m often gifted with a nice blank notebook. Now so many of them line one bookshelf near my desk…all full of unmarked pages, asking that I mar them with my words.



not refined but final

So active, so positive is the inspiration of this poetry that the question of outside influences does not even arise. Unamumo is probably the Spanish contemporary poet whose manner owes least, if anything at all, to modern developments of poetry such as those which take their source in Baudelaire and Verlaine. These over-sensitive and over-refined artists have no doubt enriched the sensuous, the formal, the sentimental, even the intellectual aspects of verse with an admirable variety of exquisite shades, lacking which most poetry seems old-fashioned to the fastidious palate of modern men. Unamuno is too genuine a representative of the spiritual and masculine variety of Spanish genius, ever impervious to French, and generally, to intellectual, influences, to be affected by the esthetic excellence of this art. Yet, for all his disregard of the modern resources which it adds to the poetic craft, Unamuno loses none of his modernity. He is indeed more than modern. When, as he often does, he strikes the true poetic note, he is outside time. His appeal is not in complexity but in strength. He is not refined: he is final.

—Salvador de Madariaga, introduction to Miguel de Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life (McMillian, 1921)


house and city

If the poem is the house, the book is the city.


new you know

One would think innovative and experimental work would be self-evident, but it seems necessary for some writers to describe their work that way.


slave song

By the time you have ended labor upon your poem, to your ears it should be as though a slave song.


poems not compensation enough

As much as I might admire their poetry, when I read the biographies of certain poets who lived sad or bad lives, I think I’d rather be a happy person than a poet.


while scrubbing the floor

One’s best things are more than likely to come in the midst of floor scrubbing.

—Wallace Stevens, Letters of Wallace Stevens (Knopf, 1966, p. 450)


beauty be

The whole project of 'aesthetics' is in many ways about defining beauty. The problem is not ‘the trying to define’; the problem is thinking there is a fixed immutable definition upon which all will settle and all debate will cease. It's all the 'talk about' that creates its own kind of value.


noise one can't ignore

Like one’s conscience, political poetry is that little nagging voice in the back of society’s head.


rime on time

In the worst use of form you’ll find you’re reading ahead to see what the next rhyming word will be.


cornerstone word

Upon this word I will build my poem. (after Matthew 16:13)


sensuous sounds

A poem so lascivious with its sounds I felt my earlobes being fondled.


write it, live it

You give up too easily on literature’s power to alter lives.


fear of falling

With white knuckles the letters of the poem clung to the page, fearing they’d be knocked off the anthology page at any moment.


not lost in spectacle

…it’s notable that the making of and participation in poetry is so independent of high technology. A good sound system at a reading is of course a great advantage. Poetry readings can now be heard on tape, radio, recorded on video. But poetry would get lost in an immense technological performance scene. What poetry can give has to be given through language and voice, not through effects of lighting, sound, superimposed film images, nor as mere adjunct to spectacle.

—Adrienne Rich, “Someone is Writing a Poem,” What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (W.W. Norton, 1993)


war never over

Every so often a seemingly sensible person will try to raise again that tired argument that ‘free verse is not poetry’ because free verse lacks regular meter and/or rime. These people are like those few Japanese soldiers who were left stranded for years on remote Pacific islands, unaware that many years before Japan had surrendered, they were still prepared to fight, ready emerge from their dugouts and caves in the jungle to wage a war that was long over.

[See description of holdouts.]


poverty without poetry

When I think of all ways in which chance led me to poetry, and I think of how easily I may have missed this art, no matter my occasional frustrations and even exasperations with my own writing, I know my life would be so much poorer without poetry, and I’m thankful down to my core for poetry.


going low

Reading bad poetry helps you understand all of what it takes to make one good poem.


vital organs

Certain words pulse like organs in the poem’s body.


work song

As one labors through revision one listens for the echo of the original inspiration.


that stance

Too personal, too political, too plain…I loved—and love—his [Etheridge Knight’s] work because of the overwhelming passion, the variety of form, and the exact appropriateness of the language. I almost didn’t realize the nervousness, the “calm hysteria” of the poems, their unity of voice, and their overwhelming political stance. It’s almost as if the poet—and his poems—were so grounded, so authentic, that I took that stance for granted. Thus spoke Etheridge; thus was Etheridge. I almost took for granted the magnificent art.

—Gerald Stern, “Etheridge Knight,” Stealing History (Trinity Univ. Press, 2012)


uncommon readers

Most of the avant-garde’s audience consists of mainstream poets. Because they're the only ones who can meet the work at least halfway.


shipping lines

The good ship poem sailed on.


not open for business

The first line was like one of those ne’er-do-wells loitering mid-morning in front of the liquor store waiting for the doors to open.


jack gilbert

They Will Put My Body Into the Ground

They will put my body into the ground.
Chemistry will have its way for a time,
and then large beetles will come.
After that, the small beetles. Then
the disassembling. After that, the Puccini
will dwindle the way light goes
from the sea. Even Pittsburgh will
vanish, leaving a greed tough as winter.

—Jack Gilbert, Monolithos: Poems 1962 and 1982

[My friend Jack Gilbert (1925-2012) passed away this morning in Berkeley CA.]


silent witness

Is my reticence regarding certain subjects equivalent to a resistance to the truth?


oblique reference

No poet ever travelled in search of beauty. No poet ever looked at a scene and cried ‘Wonderful’. Memorable beauty comes at us obliquely while we are going about our troubled business.
The pursuit of beauty is one of the defects of the tourist’s point of view. The tourist is in a hurry; he demands quick returns of the picturesque and the obvious. But for all that, it is possible even when we pursue beauty or happiness to come upon oblique references to it. The job is to recognize them in the hurry.

—Patrick Kavanagh, title essay of A Poet’s Country (The Lilliput Press, 2003), edited by Antoinette Quinn


welding torch song

A poem welded together by word sounds.


cleaning house

The anthologist was guilty of aesthetic cleansing.


remember this

Regard those recurring memories. They are trying to tell you something.


poet in the sun

Last night was the Seventeenth Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash at Hartford Public Library. Jay Parini delivered a vibrant and flowing talk taking us through about six of Stevens' poems, making a case for how Stevens uses a poetic 'code', with certain words representing maker/poet, reality, imagination. Parini traced how this poetic code was present in Stevens' poetry since the very beginning.

A poem Parini made note of was the concluding section of "Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction," in which these lines appear...

    Soldier, there is a war between the mind
    And sky, between thought and day and night. It is
    For that the poet is always in the sun,

    Patches the moon together in his room
    To his Virgilian cadences, up down,
    Up down. It is a war that never ends.


sewn into

Poet, write so that the words are stitched to the page.


wild in ordered manner

Stevie [Smith] probably did read too much for her own happiness, but for her poetry the result was a well of association sunk through centuries. She also read a great deal outside of English, particularly in French, and especially Racine, whose decorous example helped inspire the finely calibrated play of tone which permitted her to run wild in an ordered manner.

—Clive James, “Stevie Smith: Not Drowning but Waving,” As Of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002 (Norton, 2003)



Too much of a stoic to be a poet.


play ball

Baseball seems to be the sport favored by poets, especially in San Francisco.


closely held

A poem of one's own: its only reader the one who composed it.


before one

Egoless he came to poetry.


broken pieces

As we manipulate everyday words, we forget that they are fragments of ancient and eternal stories, that we are building our houses with broken pieces of sculptures and ruined statues of gods as the barbarians did.

—Bruno Schulz's "Letters and Other Writings," Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, a Biographical Portrait (Norton, 2002) by Jerzy Ficowski, translated by Theodosia Robertson.

See Art of Bruno Schulz.


gift or grit

When we admire an artist’s work, we weigh: What part gift, what part grit?


simple concept

The conceptual poem: Concept recognized. Next, please.


that ends it

The last line was a ‘walk off’ home run.


no know

And yet after my knowing "ah-ha,"
the poem retains
an everlasting je ne sais quoi.


and action

The poem enacts its prose script.


for a single word

The scene is a cliche
But the cliche is a reality


The desire to know
what it is that affects me


Ich warte immer nur
auf ein Wort
Wenn das wort gesagt ist
ist es mir schon genug

[I always wait
just for a single word
When the word has been said
that is good enough]


When the music and the
scratches are part of the
same thing

Peter Schmidt, selections from The Thoughts Behind The Thoughts (Mindmade Books, 2012)


inexhaustible window

In the frame of any one window there are a million poems.


melted celluloid

When it comes to composing an image cinema is both resource and reliquary.


sales quotas

One way to cut back on the superfluous poetry books being published would be to make it a rule that you have to sell 75% of the print run before you can publish another title. For print-on-demand books, the rule would be you must sell 250 copies (not counting extended family) before you can perpetrate another title.


stumbled upon

The images of a haiku should seem stumbled upon, encountered by happenstance; never as composed or arranged as though a set design.


never sure of arrival

Today I still love, even foolishly, the signs and wonders, felt presences or nearnesses of meaning, where we must follow, in trust, having no more sure a guarantee of our arrival than does the adventurer in a fairy or hero tale.

—Robert Duncan, Fictive Certainties (New Directions, 1985) p. 46


down to the underword

Poet, sometimes you must go down to and return with the ‘underword’.


straight line

Aphorism: a verse that won’t be turned.


step it up

Poetry books are thin. But I’ve found that for certain poets they function as lifts. After publishing, the poet stands a little taller, the poet strides forth with more confidence.


curious result

Overly concerned with trying to innovate he created only a curiosity.


poetry doesn't need you

Poetry doesn’t need you to coax out its meanings or to tease out its
     strategies or to unpack its bags.


Poetry doesn’t need you to vibrate or widen your mindscope or
     suckle your cowsack or snuff up your hornblow or sweat out
     your insides or dredge up your backwash or kick in your
     facecloth or chisel your eyeteeth or sink into quicksand.

—Ken Cormier, two sections from “Poetry Doesn’t Need You,” The Tragedy in My Neighborhood (Dead Academics Press, 2011)


more perfect union

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States contains an expression that should be a guide to revision: “in order to form a more perfect union...”


the persauder

He could close the deal with one poem at an open mike.


moral motive

Writing a political poem is more of a moral obligation and less often a matter of choice.


lowering the canon

A common ploy of weak critics who are unable to prevail by the force of their arguments: They’ll close their essays by lowering a big gun from the canon, firing off the name of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton,…


praise haze

Why would one want to read the blurbs before the book? Like putting on colored glasses before entering the museum gallery. Like trying to hear the orchestra with the whine of air conditioning units on the hall’s roof.


carried far

The poet’s speech begins     a great way off.
The poet is     carried far away by speech

—Marina Tsvetayeva, opening of “The Poet,” Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva (E.P. Dutton, 1989), translated by Elaine Feinstein


stepping in

Free verse put prose into prosody.


yuk yuk

A poet who wanted to entertain: After the reading you remembered that you laughed. But that was all you remembered.


shift happens

After reading a great poem, something like a Kuhnian ‘paradigm shift’ occurs within the mind. Once you have read the poem your thought patterns are forever altered, your psychic response to events is deflected in an entirely new direction. The page is turned utterly, irrecoverably, so to speak. You will never again be the person you were in the minutes, hours, days and years before you encountered that poem.



Plato would banish the poets from the ideal polis, but the worthy poets would have already exiled themselves, even if still living therein, from the mores and norms of that populace.


specific gravity

What does a writer of prose learn from poetry? The dependence of a word’s specific gravity on context, focused thinking, omission of the self-evident, the dangers that lurk with an elevated state of mind.


[Marina Tsvetaeva] never has enough space: either in a poem or in prose. Even her most scholarly-sounding essays are always like elbows protruding from a small room. A poem is constructed on the principle of the complex sentence, prose consists of grammatical enjambments…

—Joseph Brodsky, “A Poet and Prose,” Less Than One: Selected Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986)


big thing in a small place

A big exuberant review in a small obscure journal.


difficult language

It may not be poetry’s difficulty that puts off some readers, rather it may be that most people don’t recognize poetry as an art because it uses only the simple means of language.


militant stanza

If a single stanza stands its ground, then perhaps the whole poem will hold the field.



The wide application of the word ‘poetics’ to a variety of arts and across many human endeavors gives some credence to poetry’s claim on being the ur-art.


walls of sound

Poet, be a sound housebuilder.


poetry put on the spot

The poem [“We Are Seven”] also stages the transcription of voice that is poetry, lays it out in front of us so that we might count ourselves as implicated within its iteration. I think this is what Wordsworth wanted to achieve in the writing of poetry, and what led to his instruction to the poet in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads that he descend from his supposed height and “express himself as other men express themselves.” It also suggests that the transcription of these words into poetry, or what might be called the work of figuration, in some strange way neuters the power of the figurative act; at least it sets up the uneasy thought that poetry may be unable to answer the need it speaks and shows. This is equivalent to the demand that poetry reveal or acknowledge its own power; to ask of poetry the source of that power given that the words from which it is made are nothing more than reflections, echoes, transcriptions.

—Peter de Bolla, Art Matters (Harvard Univ. Press, 2001, p. 116)


lockstep formalist

He was one of those formalists you could visualize dressed in a black uniform, a real GestaPo.



Translation is possible because ‘poemness’, abstracted from the medium of a particular language, is a lingua franca that carries over and through race, nation, and time.


now what

The poem was a fine slideshow of images. But at the end it was as though someone couldn’t bring up the house lights, and as you sat there in the dark, you thought, “How appropriate.”


surprise poem

You pulled down the roller blind surprised to find a poem written on it.


figure / ground

Were there not a different aesthetic sensibility by which we could contrast our own, then how would we set our art apart? We can fight the background, but we shouldn’t wish it away. It is the necessary contrast, and we should respect it as such.


we recognize it

Nor does our Poet, unless he be a charlatan, pretend to bring home some hieratic message above the understanding of his fellows: for he is an interpreter, and the interpreter’s success depends upon hitting his hearer’s intelligence. Failing that, he misses everything and is null. To put it another way—at the base of all Literature, of all Poetry, as of all Theology, stands one rock: the very highest Universal Truth is something so absolutely simple that a child can understand it. This is what Emerson means when he tells us that the great writers never seem to condescend...
The message, then, which one Poet brings home, is no esoteric one: as Johnson said of Gray’s Elegy, “it abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo.” It exalts us through the best in us, by telling it, not as anything new or strange, but so as we recognize it.

—Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (pen name ‘Q’), “Poetry”


wayward words

A poet always ready to be led wayward by words.


wasting silence

I’ve heard it said that ‘architecture is the art of wasting space beautifully’. I don’t know who to attribute that remark to; though it may be a misquote of something Philip Johnson once said. In any case, it’s a wry remark and it makes me think that “Poetry is the art of wasting silence (or its material manifestation: the blank page) beautifully."


slog language

Long poem: a text of indeterminate length that will surely sorely try the most determined reader.


book that is a book

[I]t is inexact to speak of failure if we must qualify Mallarmé’s enterprise. A book that really would be a book: hidden beneath this seemingly tautological formula lies a true challenge, an outrageous demand, analogous with the infinite work or weaving, a demand that is always taken up again, which Proust took right into his death bed, “A book that really would be a book,” in one sense, is always impossible, for it would imply a “world that really would be a world,” a present that would be a present. The Book represents nothing other than that: “it is, the title of an interminable study and series of notes that I have here, under my hands, and which controls the deepest part of my soul,” as Mallarmé writes in a letter.

—Marc Froment-Meurice, Solitudes: from Rimbaud to Heidegger (State Univ. of New York Press, 1995) translated by Peter Walsh, foreword translated by Douglas Brick.


misdirection diction

When it came to reading the poem, the epigraph was an eloquent red herring.


sight impaired

His aesthetics developed like a cataract upon the eye; clouding, occluding, preventing him from seeing and recognizing real accomplishment by other modes.


well dry

Went to word well too often.


regard the strange

The foreign words stopped his eye and asked for due regard.


immortal form

Time stays, the canyon stays;
Their houses stay, split rock
Mortared with clay, and small.
And the shards, grey, plain or painted,
In the pale roseate dust reveal, conceal
The patterns of their days,
Speak of the pure form of the shattered pot.

We do not recreate, we rediscover
The immortal form, that, once created
Stands unchanged
In Time’s unchanging room.

—Janet Lewis, from “The Ancient Ones, Betátakin,” The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2000)

More about Janet Lewis.


fame by such means

Early on he planned on becoming a famous poet. Oh well.


stopping place

By etymology a ‘stanza’ means stopping place. So think twice before you go on with the poem from there.


self-enveloping space

This is all you need to know about the artist: Only her work hung on the walls of her home.


know enough to explain

A poet who had the audacity to speak about his creative process, even though he only dimly understood what was happening.


tempted by philosophy

The great danger which threatens us, poets tempted by philosophy, is that we should be drawn into explaining our aims instead of writing our work. Criticism judges us on our aphorisms, and not on our poems. We have been contaminated by German philosophy, saturated with commentaries on Hölderlin, and I need not so much as mention our familiarity with the pre-Socratics.

—Pierre Emmanuel, “Lines of Force in French Poetry,” lecture delivered March 1959 at the Library of Congress, collected in Literary Lectures (Library of Congress, 1973).


critical translation

With so much choice and bias in the process, translation becomes a form of criticism.


standing stone

The poem as standing stone amid the open field.


as if thief

The poet is the thief of neglected and undervalued things.


long not whole

If only one long poem was a poem whole.


less distracted

Japanese poetry does what poetry does everywhere: it intensifies and exalts experience. It is true that it concentrates practically exclusively on this function. The poetry of other peoples usually serves other functions too, some of them not particularly germane to the poetic experience. It is possible to claim that Japanese poetry is purer, more essentially poetic. Certainly it is less distracted by non-poetic considerations.

—Kenneth Rexroth, introduction to One Hundred Poems from the Japanese (New Directions, 1964). Translation by Kenneth Rexroth.



I have known many beautiful horizons and some have been lines of poetry.


only language to go on

The deep appeal of poetry as an art form comes from language (text/speech) being its only means.


voice shapes and pervades

‘Voice’ may be described as the way in which personality inevitably shapes and pervades language.


not explained away

Let me interpose here this axiom of criticism: by explaining the nature of a work of art, we do not explain it away. It is an entity of direct appeal; we do not, in the process of appreciation (no process but an immediate insight) unfold the process of creation.

—Herbert Read, Form in Modern Poetry (Sheed & Ward, 1933)


stare decisis

Some formalists are like those judges and legal scholars who are too enamored by stare decisis. Blindly in love with existing laws and tradition.


who me wow

The poem the poet writes and then can hardly recognize as his own.


magnetized fragments

Like iron filings the fragments aligned toward the magnetic pole of the theme.


gravitational force

Its atmosphere may be poetically alluring in and of itself, but content is the gravitational force of a great poem.


shaping music

As do the poets, Heraclitus follows language where it leads him, where he is receptive to its inward and autonomous authority, with somnambular yet acutely lucid trust. Hence his recurrent attempts to characterize, to make us party to the twilight zone between sleeping and waking. Day melts into night, night begetting day in subversion of the trenchant Mediterranean light. There is here no distinction between philosophic or scientific finding and poetic form. The springs of thought are identical in both (poiesis). Poetry betrays its daimon when it is too lazy or self-complacent to think deeply (Valéry’s astreindre). In turn, intellection falsifies the shaping music within itself when it forgets that it is poetry.

—George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan (New Directions, 2011)


higher fi

The only fidelity to truth the poem had was to sound.


instructive reading

Trust that the poem will teach you how to read it.


find it free

Free for the taking, the delight in reading a good poem that one knows only a handful of other people know exists in print.


against art books

Unless the poems are already in circulation and its a secondary publication, I have a visceral reaction against those poetry-art books that have to be handled with gloves and cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a limited & signed edition. I have an urge to violently dogear those pages, to intentionally spill coffee on such ‘projects’.


not so fast

The poem seemed pretty straightforward, then you started to translate it.


remember and forget

Louise deserted literature as soon as she realized that Jonas was interested only in painting. She dedicated herself at once to the visual arts, visiting museums and exhibitions, dragged Jonas to them though he didn’t quite understand what his contemporaries were painting and felt bothered in his artistic simplicity. Yet he rejoiced to be so well informed about everything that concerned his art. To be sure, the next day he forgot even the name of the painter whose works he had just seen. But Louise was right when she peremptorily reminded him of one of the certainties she had kept from her literary period, namely that in reality one never forgets anything. His star decidedly protected Jonas, who could thus, without suffering in his conscience, combine the certainties of remembering and the comforts of forgetting.

—Albert Camus, “The Artist at Work,” Exile and the Kingdom (Vintage Books, 1957), translated by Justin O’Brien


no pulse

Every line he wrote was a flatline.


wonk this way

He feared he was becoming a poetry wonk.


in the novel's shadow

A poet who must overcome the notoriety of his novels. [Thinking of Thomas Hardy.]


poet present

There are people who write and publish poetry, and there are poets. It’s never hard to tell the difference when in the presence of the latter.


fluid state

A line so fluent it flirted with invisibility.


working into my own, unknown

The first seven drawings are from a group that I made in 1915-1916 when I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my materials as a language—charcoal, pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, pastel and oil. The use of my materials wasn’t a problem for me. But what to say with them? I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what had already been done.

I realized that I had things in my head not like what I had been taught—not like what I had seen—shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to stop painting, to put away everything I had done, and to start to say the things that were my own.

This was one of the best times in my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing—no one interested—no one to say anything about it one way or another. I was alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown—no one to satisfy but myself.

—Georgia O’Keeffe, Some Memories of Drawings (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1988), edited by Doris Bry, first published as limited edition portfolio in 1974.


wrong from the gitgo

He was never going to write the right poetry.


slew of new

There seem to be an astounding number of innovative poets, all of them being ‘innovative’ all at once.


less to nothing more

A poem revised right out of existence.


linger lines

Compelled to linger among these lines.


strange engagement

Language is a part of us—but strange to us.

—Ian Hamilton Finlay, “Table Talk of Ian Hamilton Finlay,” Selections (U. of California Press, 2012)

Also see "Little Sparta".


from where

After all those years to still not know where poems come from.



they found you

Oh good, Simon Perchik and Lyn Lifshin have submitted work to your new journal. You’re really on the map now.


hero word

The hero in the poem is the word.


put to the test

Sartre, for example, wrote that I was the magus of phenomenology! I was delighted. It is true that I am sensitive to things, as Husserl says it—to things in themselves—but if I reacted that way, and a new school of young writers was needed to put this in its proper focus, in order for this to be partly understood today, if I confronted language with something neutral, something which had neither feelings nor ideas, I was doing it for man. If I placed language in front of something neutral, something which is not in itself poetic, it was simply to put it to the test. As simple as that…of course, I am sensitive to things, that’s clear, but I believe that in order to be a writer or any sort of artist, in any discipline, one has got to be sensitive to the exterior world, but also, and as much, one has got to be sensitive to the means of expression. My means of expression is language, and words the way they are; with their existence and their history, their semantical representation. And it is order to revitalize language that I place myself before something neutral, which is not yet poetical in it itself…

—Francis Ponge, in an 1972 interview, Francis Ponge: The Sun Placed in the Abyss (Sun, 1977), interview and translation by Serge Gavronsky.


early arrival

A poet commands a presence before the first word is spoken.


higher air

Poem as prayer rug. Poem as prayer flag. Poem as prayer air.


pun at his expense

He released a collected poems when a selected would do. But then, his work was always a little oeuvre the top.


too close

She began to think of him not as a critic but as a literary stalker.


expresses nothing

Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything because it expresses nothing. When it shows itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world.

—Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist”

n.b.: I was in San Francisco this week and went to see a major art exhibit at the Legion of Honor: "The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860–1900." The quote above was printed on the wall in the first room.


take a side

Ultimately, the poet must decide whether to side with the word or the world.


renga gang

The haiku poet was a known rengaleader.


audience to the rescue

After the luridly personal poems were read, the audience wasn’t sure what to do with their hands, whether they should be clapping or scooping up the mess.


fat book

[Richard Wilbur flipping through his book at the podium] I’ve written far too much. I have to hunt through fat books to find a poem. [Finding the poem] Ah, this one is good enough.

—Richard Wilbur, transcribed from a remark he made during his reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, June 2, 2012, Farmington CT.


not going anywhere

Poem: An array of words that won’t go away.


noble sentences

He [Carl Sandburg] worked for ten years on the Lincoln book. I know that at the end there was a kind of desperation that something might come between himself and getting it done. You can understand if you knew the labor of it. For example, Lincoln was assassinated on a Friday night and he read 300 American sermons delivered the following Sunday—just to search into how the country felt. So you can see behind each sentence in that Lincoln book there was search, search, testing for accuracy and truth into the past then distilling all that chaotic ocean into clear, musical, noble sentences.

Another letter says: “I have reached 2 o’clock in afternoon of Lincoln’s last day…”

—Brenda Ueland, “Carl Sandburg,” Strength To Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings (Holy Cow! Press, 1993)


consistent diction

Poetic diction is prose (or should be).


impedes of necessity

In a line of poetry the language always trammels thought.


right out of the box

Evidently a poem within the first few lines.


background glow

The words backlit by the whole of literary history.


paid poet

He was a poet who got paid.


vintage hardy

Vintage Hardy is a poet who, according to his own admission, “abhorred the smooth line.” That would sound perverse were it not for six centuries of verse writing predating his, and were it not for somebody like Tennyson breathing down his neck. Come to think of it, his attitude wasn’t very dissimilar from that of Hopkins…At any rate, Thomas Hardy is indeed by and large the poet of a very crammed, overstressed line, filled with clashing consonants, yawning vowels; of extremely crabby syntax and awkward, cumbersome phrasing aggravated by his seemingly indiscriminate vocabulary; of ear/mind-boggling stanzaic designs, unprecedented in their never-repeating patterns.

—Joseph Brodsky, introduction to The Essential Hardy (Ecco Press, 1995)


unaugmented text

Whether sung or scripted in calligraphy, nothing could raise this array of words to the level of poetry.


struggle to the source

I thought of the words in the poem as salmon struggling upstream to spawn and then die before the promise of the title.


no oasis

One able to survive in a desert of only text.


ready writer

My heart is inditing a good matter; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

Psalm 45, King James Bible

n.b.: My daughter graduated with her M.A. from Teacher's College at Columbia this afternoon. The convocation was held in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on 110th & Amsterdam. I paid a visit to The Poets' Corner in the cathedral. The passage above is inscribed in the stone wall behind the various plaques honoring Bradstreet, Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Jeffers, Hayden, etc.


perfunctory panache

Like someone exiting, swinging a cape about his shoulders, the poet ended his poem with one of those large rhetorical flourishes.


rhyme right

Rhyme that can lead one to locutions that strike a false or forced note or rhyme that rings true with a surprisingly new way of saying.


whatever format

Aghast that someone is reading an arbitrarily formatted version of your poem on her cellphone.


not this or that

A poem that met your expectations by denying them at every turn.


it's like that

The first line is the throw down.


wet sheep

There’s a castle outside Edinburgh, a writer’s retreat. I went there because it was exotic, because I like Scotland, and because it’s rather near where my mother lives in England. My father had just died, and I thought it would give me a chance to check in on my mother. I was there for a month surrounded by wet sheep. I don’t know if any of you have ever sent yourself off for a month someplace to write, but one of the things you discover early on is that those places work much better for painters and composers and novelists than they do for poets, because, you know, you get up and you work really hard for three hours and you think, OK, I’ve had it, that’s it. I’m a sprinter. I work in these intense bursts and then I’m done for the day. So it’s noon. And you look out the window and there’s thousands of wet sheep.

—William Matthews, in an interview for Pearl London’s class at the New School (3.29.1994, New York city), "My Father's Body," Poetry in Person (Knopf, 2010), edited by Alexander Neubauer.


it's getting hot in here

Poet, be one of the troubadours of cool.


sweet somethings

She had a haiku tattooed on her ear. When people would lean in to read it, often they’d be whispering those words in her ear.



The poem wore its common images like merit badges on a boy scout’s sash.


near to hear

A poem so tacit and understated I had to press my ear to the page.


commemorative poem


I spend the days deciding
on a commemorative poem.
Not, luckily, an epitaph.
A quiet poem
to establish the fact of me.
As one of the incidental faces
in those stone processions.
Carefully done.
Not claiming that I was
at any of the great victories.
But that I volunteered.

—Jack Gilbert, the last poem in the "Uncollected Poems" section of Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012)

[n.b.: Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining Henry Lyman, Larry Felson, Tina Chang, Linda Gregg, Gerd Stern, and Susan Bogle Finnegan in a celebration of Jack's poetry at the Medicine Show theatre in New York City. Jack's Collected Poems, only published in March of 2012, is now in its second printing.]


aesthetically challenged

The curse of living in times when a poet’s most pressing concerns are primarily aesthetic.


right here

Beware of the incident that lays a poem at your feet.


simple inevitability

[In Yeats’ “Adam’s Curse”] the poet remarks that writing poetry is a thankless task, for, paradoxically, the poet’s efforts are devoted to making the finished poems seem natural and effortless. Since the best poems give no evidence of the sheer hard work that has gone into their making, they win no praise from the mass of humanity, ‘bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen’, who reserve their respect for the kind of hard work that shows.
The poem as a whole has the beautiful simplicity, the result of unobtrusive hard work, such as is mentioned within it. The colloquial vigour of the first line, for example, ensures that there is no trace of self-dramatisation here, and the language as a whole has the kind of simple inevitability that is the mark of the greatest poetry.

—Raymond Cowell, William Butler Yeats (Arco Publishing Co., 1970), p. 34-35


kind of craft

Part of craft is selection of content.


poems on paper cups

I think poems should be printed on paper coffee cups. I like to think of them being read early in the morning when the mind is fresh. A brown stain running down the side through the lines. Seeing them rolling about half-crushed along the curb.


based on symbol alone

A symbol cannot die without taking a whole culture down with it.



One of the killer elite critics.


no thoroughfare

Each poem seemed a dead end street.


central planet

The unique domination of literature over life, and of one man over the entire consciousness and imagination of a vast nation, is a fact to which there is no precise parallel, not even in the place occupied in the consciousness of their nations by Dante or Shakespeare, Homer or Vergil or Goethe. And this extraordinary phenomenon, whatever may be thought of it, is, to a degree still unrecognized, the work of Belinsky and his disciples, who first saw in Pushkin the central planet, the source of light in whose radiance Russian thought and feeling grew so wonderfully. Pushkin himself, who was a gay, elegant, and, in his social life, an arrogant, disdainful, and whimsical man, thought this embarrassing and spoke of the angular and unfashionable Belinsky as ‘a queer character who for some extraordinary reason seems to adore me’.

—Isaiah Berlin, “Vissarion Belinsky”, Russian Thinkers (Penguin, 2008)


quote freely

I distrust a review that quotes too sparingly from the book. I know ‘fair use’ is an issue, but the reviewer should err on the side of overly ‘free use’.


felix and oscar

Merrill and Olson share a beach house on The Cape.


end and beginning

The poem ends just when you were beginning to understand it.


gun start

A poet should spend as much time and care on the first line as a sprinter spends positioning his body and placing his feet in the starting blocks.


fire to fire

From The Fire of Alexandria to the Kindle Fire, the book survives.


biographically light

I am not writing my autobiography…I think that only heroes deserve a real biography, but that the history of a poet is not to be presented in such a form. One would have to collect such a biography from unessentials.

—Boris Pasternak, quoted in Themes and Variations in Pasternak’s Poetics (The Peter De Ridder Press, 1975) by Krystyna Pomorska


sign of the times

Passing the Crate & Barrel, I noticed in the window display there was a bookcase full of books but all the spines were turned to the inside, so you could read no titles. All you could see were the blank vertical edges of the bindings and pages facing outward. A decorative choice at end of the age of the physical book?


twisted types

Engaging in a little genre gerrymandering, are we?


close company

If not an audience, the poet assembles a loyal cadre of readers.



So much sculpture begs to be touched but when these things are placed in museums it’s hands off.


long, continuing process

In 1956, I had begun dating each of my poems by year. I did this because I was finished with the idea of a poem as a single, encapsulated event, a work of art complete in itself; and I knew my life was changing, my work was changing, and I needed to indicate to readers my sense of being engaged in a long, continuing process. It seems to me now that this was an oblique political statement—a rejection of the dominant critical idea that the poem’s text should be read as separate from the poet’s everyday life in the world. It was a declaration that placed poetry in a historical continuity, not above or outside history.

Adrienne Rich, title essay of Blood, Bread, and Poetry (Norton, 1986)


gang of slang

Poet, be a ringleader of slang.


seek the source

You may inflect and refine your opinions from reviews, but form your opinions from the source text.


close relations

Words don’t seem to suffer from becoming inbred.


protective barrier

Perhaps the book’s blurbs were meant to serve as prophylactic criticism.


no favors

Poetry will not return your favors.


worlds and worlds

From the concepts of ‘emotion and scene’ and ‘spirit and tone’, Wang Kuo-wei derived his theory of ‘worlds’ in poetry. The term I have translated as ‘world’, ching-chieh, is itself a translation of the Sanskrit word visaya, which in Buddhist terminology means ‘sphere’ or ‘spiritual domain’. Wang Kuo-wei was not the first to apply it to poetry, but he was the first to use it systematically and to give it something like a definition:

     The ‘world’ does not refer to scenes and objects only; joy, anger, sadness, and happiness also form a world in a human heart. Therefore poetry that can describe true scenes and true emotions may be said to ‘have a world’; otherwise it may be said ‘not to have a world’.

This ‘world’ is in fact a fusion of emotion and scene, and the concept is obviously derived from Wang Fu-chih’s ‘emotion and scene’, though now given a new name. Wang Kuo-wei distinguishes those who ‘create worlds’ in poetry from those who only ‘describe’ them:

     There are some (poets) who create worlds, and others who describe worlds.

 —James J. Y. Liu, The Art of Chinese Poetry (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1966)


reader perogative

If we had more spontaneous reading we’d need less obligatory reviewing.


easy pieces

Reviewing is cursory criticism.


tyrant title

The poem labored under the tyranny of its title.


viral verse

A poem published online could be said to have gone viral when it gets 50 clicks.


haunted importantly

I suppose there is something in my Scottish blood which distrusts the Baroque, feeling there is something vaguely dishonest in using structural devices for decorative purposes. But it is more importantly true that my reservations are because it is an approach that dotes on the surface—whereas my chief interest is focused on the interior of things. I enjoy surfaces, I delight in Italy, I find great pleasure in Veronese, but the Rembrandt self-portraits are far, far more important to me. As the Giotto Madonnas are more valuable than those of Raphael. I relish the physical surface of a woman, but I am importantly haunted by the ghost inside.

Jack Gilbert, “Real Nouns,” 19 American Poets of the Golden Gate (Harcourt Brace, 1984)

[Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert released this week.]


voice carries

Voice, as an attribute, cannot be achieved by writing one or two poems. Voice pervades the body of work. Voice is style laced with recurring content and theme.


inexhaustible resource

Before the poem was in any way fixed in its original language, the translations of it began to multiply.


simply symbolic

I’m not saying your work is “Hallmarky” exactly, but I was able to do an adequate translation of your poem using only emoticons.


whose words are these

They are the coin of our tongue, but words cannot be owned.


unexpected turn

The poem turned down one of those alleys of the psyche where anything can happen.


masked man

Frost uses masks not to deflect the personal voice but to find one, or several. He speaks truthfully when speaking as someone else, when he can assume the otherness of a mask, looking through those eyeholes at the world. Tone, he notes, is how you take yourself, your stance toward the world; literally, it is your attitude. Paradoxically, it seems harder to speak as one’s self without the sustained practice of speaking as somebody else.

—Jay Parini, “The Personal Voice,” Why Poetry Matters (Yale Univ. Press, 2008)


word when ordered

A poet has a just-in-time inventory of words.


books and such

I went into a bookstore but couldn’t recognize any of the merchandise for sale therein.


gulf and gift

Art should begin with aspiration for perfect execution, but end with acceptance of the gift of what is given.


application checklist

I see you have three blurbs on the back of your book, just like the three letters of recommendation you needed to get into graduate school.


exploded limits

Poetry is the dance of truth among limits which are its occasion and which it explodes.

—Lewis Thompson, Fathomless Heart: The Spiritual and Philosophical Reflections of an English Poet-Sage (DharmaCafe Books/North Atlantic Books, 2011), edited with an introduction by Richard Lannoy


ever undefined

It is often cited that the root of the word poetry comes from the Greek term poïesis meaning “to make.” But make how? And make what? So much lies undisclosed in the concept of mere ‘making’.


testament not commentary

Only those who believe in poetry write the significant poems; the rest are writing a kind of poetic criticism/commentary in the form of a poem.


erotic entanglement

That poem had it going on, with its erotic Kama Sutra syntax.


en plein air

A nature poem in which you could see sky behind the text.


inconspicuous and overlooked

Originally, the Japanese words “wabi” and “sabi” had quite different meanings. “Sabi” originally meant “chill,” “lean,” or “withered.” “Wabi” originally meant the misery of living alone in nature, away from society, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional state. Around the 14th century, the meanings of both words began to evolve in the direction of more positive aesthetic values. The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness. For the poetically inclined, this kind of life fostered an appreciation of the minor details of everyday life and insights into the beauty of the inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature. In turn, unprepossessing simplicity took on new meaning as the basis for a new, pure beauty.

—Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (Impermanence Publishing, 2008)


unselfish reflection

A reflective poem that was not a mirror on the poet’s life.


meditative means

Meditation that doesn’t drift, meditation that directs and apprehends.



Be patient and observe. Wait and listen. Hold it and be still. Place it on your tongue. Then breathe in.


anachronistic turn

The kind of line break so fashionable back in the day, you thought you could hear the faint echo of a carriage return bell at the turn.


responding with poetry

Within the diaries…there will be occasional moments when one senses a contrast in moving from poem to prose to poem, but the contrast is surely no greater than that from aria to recitative to aria, and it is usually less. One reason for such smoothness of movement between different literary modes is that the Japanese are so given, or were so given, to responding with poetry that there is a naturalness and integrity in combining the modes. Another reason is that the diary prose itself, through art, shades off from fact at one side of the narrow margin to fiction on the other side. When art is made to seem natural, or when the actual is rendered into full art, the margin becomes less important than the achievement.

—Earl Miner, Japanese Poetic Diaries (U. of California Press, 1969)


low carb

The poem was almost all nouns. Digested like a high-protein diet.


dwelling places

A poem is made of dwell words.


and then came this

For any valid definition of poetry, wait awhile, and another poem will come along to disprove the case.


drama within narrative

Narrative subsumes drama; the story told in scenes, characters, and voices.


complex but easy to carry

The proof of poetry was, in [James Russell] Lowell's mind, that it reduced to the essence of a single line the vague philosophy that floated in all men's minds, so as to render it portable and useful, ready to the hand.

—Matthew Pearl, The Dante Club (Random House. 2003, p.34)


out there, up there

I knew his work was kind of dreamy but then he told me all his poems were in the cloud.


sound the leaves make

At times meaning is no more than a wind moving through the forest of the alphabet.


juggling act

In our best art, the organizing force and chaos are held in an uneasy counterbalance.


another book in the wall

The last scholar chained to a carrel amid the library stacks.


given to song

The poetry of Japan takes the human heart as seed and flourishes in the countless leaves of words. Because human beings possess interests of so many kinds, it is in poetry that they give expression to the meditations of their hearts in terms of the sights appearing before their eyes and the sounds coming to their ears. Hearing the warbler sing among the blossoms and the frog that lives in the waters—is there any living thing not given to song? It is poetry which, without exertion, moves heaven and earth, stirs the feelings of gods and spirits invisible to the eye, softens the relations between men and women, calms the hearts of fierce warriors.

—Ki no Tsurayuki (868-945), the preface to Kokinshū
(quoted in The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature, Princeton Univ. Press, 1985)


no provenance

I found an old poem in a file, but I couldn't recognize it as mine.


tightly wound

Little wind-up poem amuses for a moment, but quickly runs down, & abruptly stops.


singular statement

Willing to be measured as a poet on the merits of a single poem.


language engineers

Structural, mechanical, chemical, electrical,…poets are the engineers of the language.


complete equipment

The poet is a rebuilder of the imagination…And he is not a complete poet if his whole imagination is not attuned and his whole experience composed into a single symphony.

For his complete equipment, then, it is necessary, in the first place, that he sing; that his voice be pure and well pitched, and that his numbers flow; then, at a higher stage, his images must fit with one another; he must be euphuistic, coloring his thoughts with many reflected lights of memory and suggestion, so that their harmony may be rich and profound; again, at a higher stage, he must be sensuous and free, that is, he must build up his world with the primary elements of experience, not with conventions of common sense or intelligence; he must draw the whole soul into his harmonies, even if in doing so he disintegrates the partial systemizations of experience made by abstract science in the categories of prose.

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


fewer yet whole

A poem that won’t be made smaller no matter if half its lines are deleted.


down to words

Because it’s made of such common material (our words), poetry survives (and even thrives) in the most dire and desperate of circumstances.


skin trade

You could not forgive that he said, “Beautiful cover,” about your book.


obscure constructs

Another guidebook chockfull of obscure constructs for one’s amusement.


nothing to it

A good critic must have the audacity to think he/she could have been the creator.


global airspace of poetry

Today I believe that with these eight indigent lines I had gained access to a hoary secret society. Without seeking official permission and empty-handed, I had entered an invisible institution, the global airspace of poetry—it was that simple. Besides, who could those permission-granting officials possibly have been? There was no more Parnassus, nor, far and wide, a brotherhood or bohème. I heard of a poetry scene for the first time when I enrolled at Humboldt University in Berlin. That Prenzlauer Berg with its run-down buildings would later become my very own Montparnasse, my drab Salon des Indépendants, populated by similarly idealistic stragglers as I, was unplanned. The muses, I soon realized, while taking course at the local adult education center, were nothing but a worn-out Greek allegory. The line had long been disconnected; you might as well try reading your poems to the ladies at the municipal registry, or the tellers at the post office. No, no, there was no formal accreditation process. You had to begin from scratch, cut off from both the classical and the modern traditions, in the vacuum of a society that tolerated literature only as mouthpiece for ideology. Even if you couldn’t see yourself that way: You were the young barbarian who undertook to carry the burden of a discarded culture on his frail shoulders in defiance of all evolutionary logic.

—Durs Grünbein, The Vocation of Poetry (Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc., 2010)


difficult fit

A poem yet to find its requisite reader.


basic need

To begin to think of your art as your shelter.


lapsed lines

Your prose poems shouldn’t be your poems that simply lapsed their lines.


rough rider of words

Poet, be cavalier with language.


ways and means

Though in conversation or a drinking bout, Edmund Smith was always jotting thoughts and images. But he completed little.


[Christopher] Smart, being in a madhouse and denied writing materials, wrote much of his verse, probably including the Song of David, with a key on the walls of his cell.


[William] Mickle, being a printer, often composed his verses directly into type without taking the trouble previously to put them into writing.

—Chard Powers Smith, Annals of the Poets (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935)


jutting signage

A marquee title if ever there was one.


from a small flame

That one word was the pilot light which ignited the poem.


something in reserve

Always keep one unwritten poem in the back of your mind.