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.