violates the superficial

Daniel Halpern, in his introduction to Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment, offers three criteria for visionary poems: “First, they must honor their language (oral or written), whether it be English, French, German, Kashmiri, Hindi, Sanskrit, or Persian, acknowledging Santayana’s observation that ‘the height of poetry is to speak the language of the gods.’ Second, the poems must fulfill, with unerring precision, the requirements of their form, whatever that form turns out to be. And third, the poetry must operate in a visionary realm—that is, present a view of the world that violates the superficial, reaches through the surface to touch the primal material. Wordsworth would call this act the seeing into the life of things; Ruskin wrote, “The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way…To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion,—all in one.”

—Lisa Russ Spaar, The Hide-And-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry (Drunken Boat Media, 2013)


cliché critique

When criticizing common expressions or themes, too many critics/reviewers are quick to cue that commonplace dictum of Pound’s: “Make it new.” Shouldn’t the critic/reviewer abide by the same standard and make his/her case without resorting to a cliché quote?


scanning the obits

I was glad to read in your last poem that no one had died.


single voice

Monomedium Productions presents “The poetry reading.”


window pane

Each page a window into the writer's mind.


invisible form

With invisible form, the poet and the form and the material are like somebody riding a horse over broken terrain. The three are constantly changing. The horse and rider accede to the varying hillside, the rider adjusts when the horse finds solutions, the horse adapts to each move the rider makes. And all of it subject to where the rider plans to be that night.

This overall deciding is central to invisible form, since its nature is to implement. It makes the poem do something beyond tactics. Many people feel there should be more democracy in writing poems, that the poem should be allowed to find its own form. But it is not a way to get out of the valley before dark. Given a chance, the horse will spend a lot of time eating…Left to themselves, [poems] lapse into their default state—which is minor poetry.

—Jack Gilbert, “The Craft of the Invisible,” (Ironwood)


wrong place wrong time

In recent hostage-taking incident, the bank robber emerged from the bank holding one of the hostages as a human shield. When the SWAT team commander heard that the human shield was a poet, he ordered the police sharpshooter to “Take the shot.”

“All poets all have a death wish anyway,” he was quoted as saying to the press afterward.


passing strange

The poem was an image parade.


essential eye

As I became a better reader I found I could stare right through the cover and fix my eyes on the few essential passages therein. Or perhaps that was my fantasy.


advice to artists

Go big or be exquisite.


few and far between

The poems of happiness happen less.


ends beyond effects

The artist conceals the ordeal of labor in order to manifest the work. Created in time, and as well received in time, works of art have absolute beginnings in intention and absolute ends beyond their effects.

—Susan Stewart, “Ovid’s Contests of Making,” The Poet’s Freedom (U. of Chicago Press, 2011)


working script

A poet asks the words to be actors in his play.


as stock-in-trade

A poet will always have a few choice words for you.


limited time offer

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odd nun

Prone to linguistically ecstatic and visionary flights, she was poetry’s odd nun. [Thinking of Marianne Moore.]


dead animals

There were so many dead animals in the poet’s book I began to think he’d missed his calling as a taxidermist.


plain text

Over the years the covers of poetry books have gone from plain, stark words printed within a border, to elaborate and often intriguing multi-color works of art. Yet the text inside remains its simple self.


potential halo

Husserl’s descriptions of what constitutes a world, with its inner horizons of what is perceived and known and its outer regions of the unperceived and unknown, resonate with poetic intimations of the power that resides within everydayness and informs the way ordinary things admit a horizon, suggesting another side of reality, unseen within our habitual quotidian regard. The poetry of both Rilke and Robert Frost intimates another side of things beyond the world’s inner horizons, suggesting not so much a radical mysticism, but a view that the mysterious and unknown remain relevant to our everyday life, as a potential halo surrounding the most ordinary things and experiences. When the mysteriousness is acknowledged the ordinary look of things is radically transformed; for these poets this means that they are seen more truly in a reality of greater and more intensely magnified dimensions than our ordinary habits of perception allow.

—Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei, The Ecstatic Quotidian (Penn. State Univ. Press, 2007)


thrown together text

A long poem without a discernible organizing principle, without narrative or without a recurring theme, and comprised of discrete and easily separable sections that could be reordered without diminishment to the whole, is not a long poem.