silence is the invisible kingdom

Silence in poetry is the place where words come from. The space between an event and that event becoming a poem. Silence stands at the gate, at the opening of the field. Silence gives substance to poems the way death does in life. It is the invisible parts of the poetry. It is the invisibility of what is about to appear. Like a king of the play who is invisible, held back in the wings to build up the tension. The invisible all around us in this world without our seeing it until the poem speaks. The invisible and the silence go hand and hand in poetry. Like the night train pounding through the dark town in Texas as the dogs bark. Silence is emptiness just a little afterwards. Silence is what’s invisible until the poem makes it visible. There is a huge silence built up by implication. The silence that fills up our metaphors, pretending one thing and meaning the invisible other. It is the silence of Basho's haiku. It is what's invisible in the fragments of Emily Dickinson. Silence is the invisible kingdom that the poet makes us see.

(Jack Gilbert writes this and pushes the paper across the table to Linda Gregg.)

[The above is something handwritten by Jack Gilbert late in his life. It was transcribed by me in a phone conversation with Linda Gregg, 01-30-14.]


trash poem

A merz poem: A poem constructed of words and phrases most poets would consider clearly unpoetic or just cultural trash.


no turning point

Prose poet: one whose lines run but won’t turn.


not mine

I found a poem in one of my old notebooks written by someone I hardly knew.


objects at rest

     It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic, at times, pathetic at others, of such things—all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized.
     In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out.
     Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand’s obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law and beyond it.

—Pablo Neruda, “Toward an Impure Poetry,” Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970 (Grove Press, 1983), translated by Ben Belitt.


extra punctuation

Poetry, as opposed to prose, has two additional means of punctuation: the line break and the space.


pressed flowers

The flowers were more preserved than the pages of verse in which they were pressed.


corporeal punishment

The last line felt like being spanked.


importantly missing

Don't be afraid to forget some of the words. Nor worry if they don't come to you.



A line the rest of the poem could never live up to.


winged creatures

At night all the books I haven’t read lift from their perches in the bookcases and fly up, pages flapping wildly, fly up the stairway to my bedroom, they fly about my head at night, they try to disturb my sleep with the shame of their flapping pages. Waking in the morning, often I find one, splayed open where it has fallen upon the bedcovers.


who have loved beautiful things

And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.

―Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little Brown and Co., 2013)

[The painting: The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)]


timing device

He would try to get at least the outline of the poem down before the tea kettle whistled.


hearing things

He gave the poem a close reading for the ear.


hard case

The poem was not obscure, it was obdurate; made of poetic material impervious to casual reading.


engaging tongue and ear

Tonight I read Yeats aloud for about an hour, and I shall do this. An hour in the morning and an hour at night. Up to the inventing of Caxton’s press, and for most people long after that, all reading was done aloud….Eliot says the best thing a poet can do is read aloud poetry as much as he can….Silent reading only employs the parts of the brain which are used for vision. Not all the brain. This means a silent reader’s literary sense becomes detached from the motor parts and the audio parts of the brain which are used in reading aloud—tongue and ear.

—Ted Hughes in a letter to Sylvia Plath, The Letters of Ted Hughes (Farrar and Giroux, 1956), selected and edited by Christopher Reid.


odd old bricks

A hundred years hence will all those author photos with backdrops of bookcases seem like the writers were posing in front of ruins?


stitching it together

The alphabet is your sewing kit.


life-giving skill

The critic can only do an autopsy of the poem. In the act of revision, the poet must have the skill and confidence of a surgeon holding the living organs of a poem in his/her hands.


hurray-hurray, step right up...

Blurb writers and other carnival barkers of literature.



The creator dreams of a kindred mind called a reader.