refuge for the real

Poetry as the last refuge for those still possessed with a feeling for what is real.



The anemic criticism of one who has clearly not read beyond the contemporaries.


point on the horizon

The linebreak as a vanishing point you can’t quite see beyond.


price and peril

I’m going to read you his [Baudelaire’s] poem called The Albatross. It’s a famous poem, and rightly so. Here is the poet before the awful pride carried away his hopes. Here is the poet as misfit and vulnerable. Behold, as Nietzsche wrote, the man!

   Sometimes, to entertain themselves, the men of the crew
   Lure upon deck an unlucky albatross, one of those vast
   Birds of the sea that follow unwearied the voyage through,
   Flying in slow and elegant circles above the mast.

   No sooner have they disentangled him from their nets
   Than this aerial colossus, shorn of his pride,
   Goes hobbling pitiably across the planks and lets
   His great wings hang like heavy, useless oars at his side.

   How droll is the poor floundering creature, how limp and weak—
   He, but a moment past so lordly, flying in state!
   They tease him: One of them tries to stick a pipe in his beak;
   Another mimics with laughter his odd lurching gait.

   The Poet is like that wild inheritor of the cloud,
   A rider of storms, above the range of arrows and slings;
   Exiled on earth, at bay amid the jeering crowd,
   He cannot walk for his unmanageable wings.

This poem, I think, captures the poet and the predicament in the same net. Here is the price—and the peril. The journals say nothing that the spirit-bird of this verse does not soar above, and leave far behind. This verse stands as a tribute to the ravishing, indelible, undeniable, body of what he was able to accomplish during his short time on earth. The belled reminder of his star-graces, after all that subterranean din.

—Yahia Lababidi, The Artist As Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi (Onesuch Press, 2010) by Alex Stein.

*Richard Howard translation, Les Fleurs Du Mal, Charles Baudelaire (Godine, 1985)


serifs, filigrees and flourishes

Without a compelling subject the poet always overcompensates with style.


rote tales

The myths are all musty. To echo Sam Goldwyn, “What we need is some new myths.”


over and under

A competently handled translation transcends the original as often as it fails to meet the original on equal terms.


half measures

Poets write criticism as though they were unaware of all the resources of prose.


person first

I go to the reading to experience the personality behind the poetry, not for the performance of the poetry.


real sentiment

     Remind me how we loved our mother’s body
     our mouths drawing the first
     thin sweetness from her nipples

     our faces dreaming hour on hour
     in the salt smell of her lap Remind me
     how her touch melted childgrief

     how she floated great and tender in our dark
     or stood guard over us
     against our willing

Women performing traditional roles are no longer to be ridiculed but rather understood as products of an oppressive order, with, even so, valuable qualities. The terms of evaluation chosen here may strike some readers as verging on sentimentality, but definitions of sentimentality are always culturally determined: it is not a timeless, abstract quality. (When the word “sentimental” was coined in the eighteenth century, it was used in praiseful contexts.) Direct expression of tender feelings in these lines is no doubt part of the women’s aesthetic Rich has been searching for; in any case, the poem has renounced most of the irony and intellectual artillery of her earlier work. If writing tenderly means losing some readers, Rich is prepared to do so, on the chance that she may be making available feelings formerly dismissed as unacceptable for art. Any occasion for reexamining aesthetic strictures ought, of course, to be welcomed. Do we go to poetry mainly to sharpen the psychic (or conversational) defenses useful in daily life or to gain access to feelings we haven’t, for whatever reason, acknowledged?

—Alfred Corn, “Contemporary Poetry’s Mother Tongues,” Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007 (University of Michigan Press, 2009)


image in motion

Depicting a movement, a gesture, an action rather than a static image.


rewarding difficulty

Often the first reaction is to complain of a poem’s difficulty when you could as easily praise it for rewarding you with time for pensive consideration.


only the work


there is only the work.

The work is what speaks
and what is spoken
and what attends to hear
what is spoken

—William Bronk, Death is the Place (North Point Press, 1989)


running ahead

To let the words run a little ahead of the mind’s composition of them.


motion pictures

A poet so adept with images the poems seemed like shooting scripts.


nothing more to say

Some poems are graves. You can do little more than leave them.


slows it down

One of the great practical uses of the literary disciplines, of course, is to resist glibness—to slow language down and make it thoughtful. This accounts, particularly, for the influence of verse, in its formal aspect, within the dynamics of the growth of language: verse checks the merely impulsive flow of speech, subjects it to another pulse, to measure, to extralinguistic consideration; by inducing the hesitations of difficulty, it admits into language the influence of the Muse and of musing.

—Wendell Berry, Standing by Words (Counterpoint, 1983)


case image

The image should be case in point of what is impossible to explain.


shuttered poem

The lines like louvers shut tight against all air and light.


notional value

The dream of a word with a meaning equal to experience.