alpha & omega

The urpoem in the last poem.


noun as adjective

Using a noun as an adjective to good effect. [Thinking Dylan Thomas]


neutral surface

Paper as support, its own materiality is usually ignored. So the sense of a neutral surface that can accommodate any mark seems an ideal way of communicating freedom. At the same time printed material has the capacity to repeat itself endlessly and linked to distribution or manifestos—even freedom however idiosyncratic and inscrutable. And this tension is what surfaces and transforms the amnesia of the paper into a tension between the drawn and the printed. The mark and the letter.

Ellen Gallagher, interview by Jessica Morgan (Institute of Contemporary Art in association with D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2001)


can-do words

The poem was a language hack.


more room

Stanza means ‘room’, but strive to make each one a great hall or a basilica.


running ahead

Poetry is the forerunner to a future language.


dream ladder

Poet, let your lines be a Jacob’s ladder lowered down the page.


shapely figure

Just the shape of a poem on the page has an attractiveness prose cannot match.


one and the world

What I find extremely interesting is that only those poets who are aware of the “solitary mind” and remain faithful to their personal fate (which makes their return to the solitary mind inevitable) while keeping a place within the “banquet,” only those poets produce works at which we stare in wonder. Yet if they cut themselves off from the world of the “banquet” and withdraw into the solitary mind alone, their works mysteriously lose power.

Between the will which seeks to participate in the world of the “banquet” (the world of the collective spiritual body) and the will which seeks to devote itself purely to the self (the world of the solitary mind) there is tension. As long as this tension is present the works which the poets produce give off their highest luster.

—Ōoka Makoto, The Colors of Poetry: Essays in Classical Japanese Poetry (Katydid Books, 1991), translated by Thomas V. Lento.


ear candy

A plain villanelle: one without that line tart or sweet to the ear on first hearing.


word is

Unlike in prose, the poem will never turn its back on what the word is in terms of sight and sound.


bubble blurbs

Blurbs are like bubbles, little effusive bursts that the author hopes will buoy the book.


make of the fragments

John Ashbery ends his poem “Street Musicians” with these lines:

      Our question of a place of origin hangs
      Like smoke: how we picnicked in pine forests,
      In coves with the water always seeping up, and left
      Our trash, sperm and excrement everywhere, smeared
      On the landscape, to make of us what we could.

We make of the fragments of self a form that holds, briefly—that’s the poem—then we watch it shatter again—which is, I suppose, that space that the poem fooled us into believing we’d left behind us, for a time, world of fragmented selves, hard truths, glinting ambiguities to be negotiated, navigated through as we make our disoriented way forward, or what we have to believe is forward. Like being mapless in tough territory, and knowing, somewhere inside, we’d choose this life, and this one only, if in fact we could choose.

—Carl Phillips, "Beautiful Dreamer," The Art of Daring (Graywolf Press, 2014)


head case

If you memorize enough poems madness is sure to ensue.


not ready yet

Every time you tried to print out the poem the paper jammed in the printer, until you were forced to revise it before trying again.


world love

A political poem is a love poem to the world.


evenly lit

An outtake from The New York Times obit of the poet Mark Strand:

To critics who complained that his poems, with their emphasis on death, despair and dissolution, were too dark, he replied, “I find them evenly lit.”