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)