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.