unprejudiced observation

[Bϋchner] believed that the poet must strive to imitate reality, instead of improving upon and thereby distorting it, as do idealistic poets, who create mere puppets devoid of life. The individual, no matter how insignificant or unattractive, must take precedence over philosophical abstractions.
Bϋchner’s concept of beauty appears to be based upon unaffected sincerity among human beings and upon a Goethean perception of nature as an endless metamorphosis of forms and images that art can never fully capture nor transmit. Unprejudiced observation, he insists, leaves one open to an infinity of sensory impressions and human truths.

—Georg Bϋchner, “Bϋchner on Aesthetics,” Woyzeck and other Writings (Suhrkamp/Insel Publishers, 1982), edited by Henry J. Schmidt


teaching moment

In its reading the poem enacts a heuristic.


presidential library

Visiting Mt. Vernon last Sunday, the tour guide was heard to say that George Washington’s library was filled with books on science, military history, and poetry.


defiant end

When a poem defies an ending it’s perhaps finished.


organizing principle

He would spend many hours arranging each poem within a book, but a collected poems by convention is just one book after another in chronological sequence.


language x-ray

To view poetry as the skeleton of prose.


occupational disease

And we must at all costs avoid over-simplification, which one might be tempted to call the occupational disease of philosophers if it were not their occupation.

—J. L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (Harvard U. Press, 1962)

And we must at all costs avoid over-elaboration, which one might be tempted to call the occupational disease of poets if it were not their occupation.


parasite adjectives

There are many dangerous adjectives, being naturally parasitic of certain nouns.


stop sign

In order not to fear the period, the writer must think of it as a way station or jumping off place.


not domesticated

She respected words, treating them like they were wild animals.


essential reins

Imagination, like wild horses, pulls hard and fast under the reins of reality.


elder influence

Influence follows, but seldom comes from those who came after.


sound architecture

One very often finds that in a Moore poem every phrase is load-bearing. This is sound architecture, the weight brilliantly distributed.

—Maureen N. McLane, “My Marianne Moore,” My Poets (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)


hidden in the negative space

All the words and passages cut away from the poem form a shadow poem that seems to stalk the final draft.


intermittent narrator

The journal is only the form of memoir I can abide, being piecemeal, fragmentary, sequential only in fits & starts, like life.


low bar

The only writer I ever knew who actually washed out of his MFA.


lesser editions

Book collectors seek nearly unread first editions. I love finding a dog-eared, beaten, heavily marked edition. I know then I’m in good company.