poet second

Paul Valéry, a poet known almost entirely for his poetics and aesthetic thought.


bigger than that

A theme that couldn’t be reduced to a single word or a short phrase.


who's zoomin' who

Poets rightly fear the powers of their translators.


freedom of information act

As readers we may ask on what, and how many, levels are we allowed to engage this poem. We won’t always get an answer, but we get to ask.


bright birds yet unseen

I hear a hitherto unknown species of bird has been found in the forests of Malaysia. Scanning my bookcases I feel certain there are bright and rare poems yet undiscovered behind those spines. But as wonderful as they are, only human encounter makes them existent.


chute to the unknown

He tended to end a poem with a line that was like pulling the lever to a trapdoor.


find the grain

In his long life (seventy-six years) Oppen wrote little prose and fewer than 300 pages of verse. If we have more of him than we have of Catullus, it’s not by much. He prized what took time, found the grain of materials, exacted accuracy. He’d been a tool-and-die maker and a cabinet worker. He once interrupted some blather about Biblical translation by remarking that what they needed for the job was a carpenter: no, better: “a Jewish carpenter.”


     Leaving the house each dawn I see the hawk
     Flagrant over the driveway. In his claws
     That dot, that comma
     Is the broken animal: The dangling small beast knows
     The burden that he is: he has touched
     The hawk’s drab feathers. But the carpenter’s is a culture
     Of fitting, of firm dimensions,
     Of post and lintel. Quietly the roof lies
     That the carpenter has finished. The sea birds circle
     The beaches and cry in their own way,
     The innumerable sea birds, their beaks and their wings,
     Over the beaches and the sea’s glitter.

[poem by George Oppen]

—Hugh Kenner, “George Oppen: In Memoriam,” Poetry Project Newsletter, Oct. 1984 , Mazes: essays by Hugh Kenner (North Point Press, 1989).


not about words

Afraid the poem would be about something, the poet wrote what amounted to nothing but words.



He couldn’t write the long poem because he could always see the end from the start.


end this mess

It wasn’t that the poem was looking for an epiphany; it was looking for any kind of ending that would make sense of what came before.


exercise room

Trying to teach poetry with the ‘freeing strictures’ of exercises/prompts.



taste and timelessness

How shifty a thing taste can be, how shitty, even one’s own. I tremble to remember the poets, like Elizabeth Bishop, I dismissed out of hand, whose greatness dawned on me only later. Then there are poets I once admired and who opened ways through thickets for me, but whose work now I find clumsy and shiftless. I think we all tend to believe we can see through the vagaries of our moment to some absolute standard of judgment—this must be a characteristic of human consciousness itself—but the conviction is absurd. So, I never blab anymore about poets whose work doesn’t or no longer moves me. But there are, however and thank goodness, poets the power and force of whose work once nearly knocked me down with delight and envy, and still does, so that when I read them again I feel again like an apprentice.

—C. K. Williams, “On Being Old,” In Time: Poets, Poems, and the Rest (U. of Chicago Press, 2012)


word poor

A poem afflicted by vocabulary deficiency syndrome.


failing better

It was that kind of poem wherein all its evident failings pointed to a bright future for the poet’s further efforts.


meaning grounded

The poet imagines he can escape the realm of the semantic.


look back askance

Craft is always retrospective.


hidden transmitter

A good poem will always continue broadcasting from an undisclosed location.


alien point-blank green


Home from Guatemala, back at the Waldorf.
This arrival in the wild country of the soul,
All approaches gone, being completely there,

Where the wild poem is a substitute
For the woman one loves or ought to love,
One wild rhapsody a fake for another.

You touch the hotel the way you touch moonlight
Or sunlight and you hum and the orchestra
Hums and you say “The world in a verse,

A generation sealed, men remoter than mountains,
Women invisible in music and motion and color,”
After that alien, point-blank, green and actual Guatemala.

— Wallace Stevens, Parts Of A World (1942)

Yesterday afternoon was the 18th Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash at Hartford Public Library. Guest speaker Bonnie Costello featured this poem in her talk entitled "Traveling with Wallace Stevens." In his work as a surety bond lawyer for the Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., Stevens traveled extensively in the U.S. for a time, but he never traveled farther than Key West.


site and vector

The subject matters: A matter of perspective or approach.


arrogant tyrant

Confronted with unruly language, the poet has the arrogance of Xerxes at the Hellespont. He’ll whip with chains that flow & flux of language to no avail.