audience of one

A poet who never attended readings unless he was reading, or the reader was a poet whose favor he wanted.


sound decision

One who would never sacrifice the right word for the useful sound.


booster seat

As he recited his various publications, he seemed to sit a little higher in his chair. It was then I imagined him sitting on a stack of books.


moment of conviction

The first question in poetry at that time was simply the question of honesty, sincerity. The point for me, and I think for Louis [Zukofsky], too, was the attempt to construct a meaning, to construct a method of thought from the imagist technique of poetry, from the imagist intensity of vision. If no one were going to challenge me, I would say “a test of truth.” If I had to back it up I’d say anyway, “a test of sincerity.” That there is a moment, in actual time, when you believe something to be true, and you construct a meaning from those moments of conviction.

—George Oppen, quoted in Robert Hass’s What Light Can Do (Ecco, 2012)


sentence structure

Despite its effort to undermine, to subvert, even to try to damage the sentence, poetry will find that the sentence is a very resilient and adaptable thing.


practical concerns

Poet, before you take flight, sew your wings on tight.


show me your papers

Be ready to inspect the critic’s credentials at the border (before the review).


not bounded

No matter its first and last line a poem has no beginning or end.


black box

The critic tries to find the poem’s flight recorder sunk somewhere among its wreckage. Sometimes understanding is a futile pursuit.


wild draft

Not only a rough draft, but one that was rugged and wild.


not in the throat

The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, 'The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.

—Federico García Lorca, In Search of Duende (New Directions, 1998), translation by Christopher Maurer.


yet unbroken

The integral lines that broke just the same.


weights and measures

Each word weighed and measured upon the scale of the tongue.


he walks the line

The old verse poet kept iambling along.


impossible and plain

Poems are the impossibility of plainness rendered in plainest form.

—Susan Howe, "Scare Quotes II," The Midnight (New Directions, 2003)


poem atop poem

The poem's title was a poem itself.


center justified

It must be because it appears more like a hymn or a prayer when arrayed that way, that naïve poets center their lines on the page.


taking refuge in work

After reading a spate of flighty and off-the-top-of-the-head kind of poetry, all I want to do is to read some work. I want to see and feel the workmanship that went into a poem’s making.


in the muck

Whether send-up, satire, or snark, one has to care too much about contemporary culture to be a postmodernist.


small bold thing

Sometimes when I read a slight but delightful poem, I think that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to make a poem out of so little.