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.