not on the surface

Dredge the psyche for your deep images.


good book

Closing a good book…clasping one’s hands as though to pray.


neither here nor there

Do your poems begin in the world or do they begin in the word?


exponentially experiential

A poem should gather force from experience and release that force through language.


long flight

Reading the talk poet’s book all the way through was similar to getting stuck in an airplane seat next to an idle chatterer on a three-hour flight.


sublimity of the spectacle

…imagine the stars, undiminished in number, without losing any of their astronomical significance and divine immutability, marshalled in geometrical patterns; say in a Latin cross, with the words In hoc signo vinces in a scroll around them. The beauty of the illumination would be perhaps increased, and its import, practical, religious, cosmic, would surely be a little plainer; but where would be the sublimity of the spectacle? [And he answers.] Irretrievably lost.

—George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty (Scribners, 1896).


happy painstaking

When I read the poem I thought what good fortune to have been the medieval scribe appointed to copy out this poem in a fine script.


room full of ghosts

The necessary arrogance of youth: “I look at those names in the anthology, and it just makes me sad. It's like a room full of ghosts."

From Oliver Stone’s film Any Given Sunday...
The young quarterback, Willie Beaman, after glancing at photos of past football greats, says: “I look at those pictures on the wall, and it just makes me sad. It’s like a room full of ghosts.”


discursively grounded

Digressions that however far-reaching never lose touch of the stem theme.



Digressions that seemed to go on branching off effortlessly and endlessly.


big one that didn't get away

Even to be a minor poet one must pull off one major poem.


income gap

My plan was to make a living by writing poetry. But I had a back-up plan of buying a lottery ticket each week.


won't change the world

Qualcuno mi ha detto
che certo le mie poesie
non cambieranno il mondo.

Io rispondo che certo si
le mie poesie
non cambieranno il mondo.


Someone told me
of course my poems
won’t change the world.

I say yes of course
my poems
won’t change the world.

[Translation by Gini Alhadeff.]

– Patrizia Cavalli, My Poems Won’t Change the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), edited by Gini Alhadeff


luscious lines

A layer cake poem.


top heavy

A title that tips the poem’s hand.


pomp of the procession

The poem as a triumphal march of words.



Six fragments in search of a poem. [after Pirandello]


eyes to nerves

Images that flash upon the eyes but fail to infiltrate the nervous system.


asyntactic time and emotion

It makes sense that this change of syntax would lure such feelings out of hiding. The conjunctions I was avoiding signal the operations of the rational mind; they communicate judgment, discernment, a comprehension of the relationships among things. They are words we use after the fact, when we have figured something out. In forging relationships between things (because of this, that; after that, this), they imply a kind of narrative, a sequence of events in time; the absence of such conjunctions allows for utterances in which time seems to be arrested and in which multiple—even contradictory—experiences can exist simultaneously, without explanation or resolution. What is free to come rushing into a sentence, then, is not understanding but bewilderment, astonishment, anxiety, grief and love.

—Chris Forhan, “Without Although, Without Because: Syntax and Buried Memory,” The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry (U. of Michigan Press, 2013), Eleanor Wilner and Maurice Manning, editors.