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.