back and forth

The poem as the site of reciprocity between the impulse of emotion and the shaping force of language.


are you ready yet

Some poems would engage you no matter when encountered; other poems must await that moment in your life that has opened you to them.



And then I had always liked the old miracle and morality plays in which no word has any ambiguity at all. I don’t like ambiguity. I suppose it’s all right if the ambiguous things a work means are interesting and exciting, but often they’re not.

—Kenneth Koch, "A Conversation with Kenneth Koch," Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Number 7, Fall 1972.


dignified literary death

His aspiration was to be the last person ever crushed by a bookcase having fallen on him.


note totems

When scholarship becomes ritualistic practice, it’s all about getting the footnotes right.


more about the dead

Critics so out of touch with the contemporary they just go on elaborating obituaries.


operative emotion

Some enjoy American musicals with their transparent songs of love, joy and loss. Others prefer operas for, even as those foreign words wash over them on the level of sense, the sounds fill them with emotion.


no way to say

There’s no word for that.


brussels lace

     My work, whatever form it may take, is seen as mischief, as lawlessness, as an accident. But that’s how I like it, so I agree. I subscribe to it with both hands.
      It is a question of how you look at it. What I prize in the doughnut is the hole. But what about the dough of the doughnut? You can gobble up the doughnut, but the hole will still be there.
      Real work is Brussels lace, the main thing in it is what holds the pattern up: air, punctures, truancy.

—Osip Mandelstam, "Fourth Prose," The Noise of Time: Selected Prose (Northwestern Univ. Press, 1993), translated by Clarence Brown.


word grist

Mouth and tongue, mortar and pestle: Break down the words into syllable and phoneme.


in the service of art

Perhaps I’m less an artist, and more a servant of the art.


wild one

Poet, when they go vogue, you go rogue.


linear feet

A poet’s life measured in linear feet in the university library archive.


believable beginning

Advice to the creative writer: Start with the credible.


loose control

One of those studied tossed off poems.


that poetry

That poetry remains a broad permission.

That poetry is a controlled vocabulary for what fails to come to market.

That poetry is open to faithless arguments.

That poetry is a wilderness prior to philosophy.

That poetry is endlessly establishing conditions for fair use.

That within the poem a coming to terms may also mean a refusal to concede.

That the poem will not suffer its camouflage.

That the ‘voice of the poet’ is essentially an argument.

[A selection from a grouping indexed as 'key: SUSPENDED JUDGMENTS']

—A Maxwell, Peeping Mot (Apogee Press, 2013)


song gathers round

A song issues forth as sound waves: circles that widen outward so as to gather round, to draw close the far-flung members of the tribe.


wait it out

You could try to write more poems or you could just wait, trusting that some good ones will well up.


held time

The joy and sadness of an art like photography that arrests time.