both philatelist and pirate

He wrote his poems against the gravity of language. Images, therefore, speak in his poetry solely on his behalf.


He was almost a philatelist with words. (He saw, long before we did, the fact that the boundaries of language are the boundaries of the world.)


A man of the Golden Age. “Poeta pirata est,” he would say?

From “Oktay Rifat

—Ilhan Berk, Selected Poems by Ilhan Berk (Talisman House, 2004), edited and translation by Önder Otçu.


image for the ages

The underside of any good image is an archetype.


unfortunate pub date

His book was released in the fall of 2001, while the world was otherwise occupied.


more than was asked

A poet who had smart answers to even the daft questions posed by the interviewer.


meditation train

However discursive/recursive, a meditation must retain its momentum.

under the hull

Reading a beautiful but obscure poem, like gliding over a shimmery surface trying to read the weeds swaying in the currents below.


lithic in their singleness

There are certain poems I have long thought of as “pebbles”: small, a little intractable, lithic in their singleness of perception. Like an actual pebble, cold until warmed by an exterior heat source; like an actual pebble, unwavering in outlook and replete in simple thusness. The conception of this term, I’m sure, bows more than a little in the direction of Zbigniew Herbert’s famous poem; but I recognized the type long before reading his “Pebble”…

—Jane Hirshfield, “Skipping Stones,” Circumference is My Business: Poets on Influence and Mastery (Paul Dry Books, 2001), edited by Stephen Berg.


trapdoor word

Just when he thought he’d painted himself into a corner with his style, he found an unexpected word, and through that trapdoor he escaped.


chance audience

Not to write for a requisite audience; but to welcome an audience by chance.


low coverage area

A high ratio of white space to printed text. [Scientific definition of a poem.]


remaining words

Don't be afraid to forget some words. Nor worry if they don't come to you. There are too many words for the purposes of a poet.


mythic figure

The common reader and other mythological creatures.


timing and spacing

The English language is like a broad river on whose bank a few patient anglers are sitting, while, higher up, the stream is being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck. The English language has, in fact, so contracted to our own littleness that it is no longer possible to make a good book out of words alone. A writer must concentrate on his vocabulary but must also depend on the order, the timing and spacing of his words, and try to arrange them in a form which is seemingly artless, yet perfectly proportioned. He must let a hiatus suggest that which language will no longer accomplish. Words today are like the shells and rope of seaweed which a child brings home glistening from the beach and which in an hour have lost their lustre.

—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (Persea Press, 1981; first published in Curwen Press in 1944)


under the influence

That fine line between riffing off, and ripping off.


the stacks

They say it’s the age of the end of the book. Yet, at major libraries, you have to show your bona fides, then fill out a form and wait for someone to retrieve that book you wanted from the stacks.


didactic art

All good art is didactic. In that good art moves us or it makes us think, and thus it shapes our lives. Bad art is art without influence over its intended audience.


poets' opinions

Poets can’t be trusted when it comes to their opinions of their contemporaries. Their lack of distance causes deafness to rival voices or results in a chummy humming in tune.


city of words

Poetry is a city of words, a complex heterogeneity that functions both as its parts and as a whole. It’s full of systems—metaphoric, symbolic, sonic—analogous to the sewage, electrical, and transportation systems that animate a city. You look at a jagged skyline, and see the ragged right margin; you read through the quick shifts of much contemporary poetry, and think of a busy intersection in which your view is cut off by a bus one moment, then opened up the next, and then filled with a crowd crossing the street the next.

—Cole Swenson, "Poetry City," Identity Theory, (Oct. 26, 2004, identitytheory.com)


nor song nor poem

The poem will never be as simple as the song. The song will never be as nuanced as the poem.


writer's retreat

She got a small grant that allowed her to live for a year and to write. At the end of it, she felt a low-wage job may have been a better move for her writing.


imaginative limit

Imagination at its height forgets (or ignores) reality, and in that moment it fails utterly.


parasite found

A poet is one who’d rather find a tick on his body than a typo in his published poem.