unappeasable pursuit

But there is another kind of adequacy which is specific to lyric poetry. This has to do with the ‘temple inside our hearing’ which the passage of the poem calls into being. It is an adequacy deriving from what Mandelstam called ‘the steadfastness of speech articulation’, from the resolution and independence which the entirely realized poem sponsors. It has as much to do with the energy released by linguistic fission and fusion, with the buoyancy generated by cadence and tone and rhyme and stanza, as it has to do with the poem’s concerns or the poet’s truthfulness. In fact, in lyric poetry, truthfulness becomes recognizable as a ring of truth within the medium itself. And it is the unappeasable pursuit of this note, a note tuned to its most extreme in Emily Dickinson and Paul Celan and orchestrated to its most opulent in John Keats, it is this which keeps the poet’s ear straining to hear the totally persuasive voice behind all the other informing voices.

—Seamus Heaney, “Crediting Poetry,” Nobel Prize lecture (1995).

[Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)]


art of questionable character

Poetry is literature’s vice. When critics admonish the current state of poetry for its lack of social acceptability, for its recalcitrance, we know the art is going wrong in a good way.


singular dialect

The poet invents a language within the language.


volume seller

It was such a book mill, it was hard to tell if the press was promoting good books or book glut.


strong source

A shaft of light is to darkness what a line does to silence.


thought before going to bed

Anyone can escape into sleep, we are all geniuses when we dream, the butcher's the poet's equal there.

—E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist (U. of Chicago Press, 1998), translated by Richard Howard.


sound bound

Chained to those word echoes.


saw-toothed song

Lines jazzed by their jaggedness.


payment in kind

For their readings poets should paid with a decent bottle of wine, or, for the non-drinkers, a fruit torte from a local bakery would be nice recompense.


not like what but like wow

A simile should not be apt so much as it should astound. Nothing worse than a simile that's simply true in an explanatory sense.


ever restless

If my words aren’t startling, death itself is without rest.

—Tu Fu (712-770 AD), quoted in the introduction to The Selected Poems of Tu Fu (New Directions, 1989), translated by David Hinton.


word house

Once he encountered that word, in that moment he knew he’d have to build a poem to house it properly.


hard to walk the talk

Often it's the case that the poetry is overmatched when put up against the poet’s prose thinking about poetry.



This just in: Kenneth Goldsmith has countered his critics who have called his project, “Printing Out The Internet,” an act of inane insanity. Goldsmith has recontextualized the whole project as Eco-Conceptualism, or a radical act of recycling, making the current Internet irrelevant. He was quoted as saying, “We’ll have ‘the book’, so to speak, a warehouse full of printed matter to consult. No one will need to turn on their computers to access the Internet, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and all that energy and imagination being used to feed the beast with new content, like cute cat videos, will be saved, thus saving our planet in the process.”


slouches toward allusion

Yeats’ ‘slouches’: A single word, verb in this case, becomes an allusion all by itself. Certain words are owned by canonical authors.


blurb lifevest

The bubbly blurbs tried to float the book atop the vast gray main.


mystery and mastery

[Re: “Villanelle: The Psychological Hour” by Ezra Pound]

The poem sustains its sonic composure in the face of an onslaught of inexplicable experience, and the shock of the final line, in which Pound shatters this tone by naming himself, depends on the fact that the information presented earlier in the poem feels inadequate or even irrelevant. If we knew what event had been overprepared, if we knew the identity of the man and the woman, if we knew where there had been dancing, then the uneasy thrill of the poem’s most blatantly referential line would disappear.

     Dear Pound, I am leaving England.

As we process that line, our experience of the poem mirrors the experience described in the poem. We feel intimate with what we do not fully comprehend—a feeling that is commonplace in human life, conspicuously in dreams, but rare in our experience of art because we expect to be the master of the poem we read. Mystery, says the poem, is a far more human condition, than mastery. And mystery, which depends on clarity, is the opposite of confusion.

—James Longenbach, “Less Than Everything,” The Virtues of Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2013)


deftly alluded to

To touch in those allusions that will color and enhance rather than cloud and obscure the passages.


tactics of bad critics

First, select the worst passage from the poet’s book/oeuvre, and then scale that up, magnify it, shine an unforgiving spotlight on it, until it’s made out to be a grotesque representation standing for the poet’s life-long output.


dogged ear

Poet, be a sound hound.


over exposed

Often the poem wears out its material before it exhausts its exposition.