for the stars

Dorn launched Duncan's May 7 [1969] reading with a generous introduction and Duncan in turn treated the audience to a performance of his Passages poems. Graduate student Don Byrd remembered the event well: "...There were perhaps 300 people at the reading; it went on for nearly three hours. Somewhere in the midst of the apocalyptic passages, he stopped and said, 'Some times people ask me why, if I believe this, I bother to write poetry. I write poetry for the fucking stars.'"

Robert Duncan, quoted in Lisa Jarnot's Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (Univ. of California Press, 2012).


new word, new world

Consider this neologism: “dianamic.” Not dynamic; not dialectic…but to fuse the two words into a new one. Think of dianamic when considering the poems of Wallace Stevens, with his ongoing struggle between imagination (the life of the mind) and reality (a being in the physical world). Dianamic is not the division between two elements, two ideologies, two aesthetics; it's the forces and the flux acting between the two.


we have a runner

In the end, all you want is your poem to be running through their heads.


snatched up

She had struggled with the poem over several years, only to have it taken in a week by the first journal she sent it to.


freer speech

The poet is never strictly speaking.


one not many

Most poets don’t realize it’s the poem not the book that matters.


human things

For our ancestors, a house, a fountain, even clothing, a coat, was much more intimate. Each thing, almost, was a vessel in which what was human found and defined itself.

Now, from America, empty, indifferent things sweep in—pretend things, life-traps…A house, in the American sense, an American apple, a grapevine, bears no relation to the hope and contemplation which our ancestors informed and beheld them.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Witold Hulewicz, Nov. 13, 1925, quoted in A Year With Rilke (Harper Collins, 2009), translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.


rough edge

The right margin of line endings competing with the deckle edge of the page.


middle game

There are poets who can start strong. There are poet who finish with a flourish. But as in chess, it’s the middle game, when complications multiple almost endlessly, where poems are made or lost.


bared teeth

The strong consonants gave teeth, bite to the poem.


wood splitter

A poem that could drive a wedge into the side of the thickest anthology.


they live on

Dante’s great poem (Commedia) gives a more complete picture of individual men than had been ever before achieved by any single known writer, poet, or historian. On our way through the three realms, several hundred individuals appear before our eyes, men of all times, past and present, young and old, of all classes and professions, of every imaginable social and moral standing. Some of them famous in history; others were so in Dante’s life, but now are known only to very few. Others have never been famous. All these men and women are so strikingly real, so concrete, there is such a correspondence between mind and body and behavior, such an intimate relation between their character and their fate, that the unmistakable peculiarity of each individual emerges with incomparable and often terrifying and poignant vigor. Some are given a whole canto, others only a few lines. But almost all of these individual profiles are unforgettable. They live in our imagination. We do not know and are not able to verify, except in a few cases, if Dante’s portraits correspond to reality. But the realism of a poet is not that of a photographer; it is the identity of his own vision with its expression. We here are concerned with the energy of his vision and the power of his voice. No one before him had probed so deeply into the identity of individual character and individual fate.

—Erich Auerbach, “The Three Traits of Dante’s Poetry,” Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach (Princeton U. Press, 2014), edited by James I. Porter, translated by Jane O. Newman.



much ado

When at last read, the poem seemed an afterthought to the long-winded and over-explanatory introduction which preceded it.


image of note

Really, must I grieve it all again
a second time, and why tonight
of all the nights, and just
as I’m about to raise, with the
blissful others, my

glass to the silvery, liquid
chandelier above us?

—Laura Kasischke, “Champagne


hostile environment

Many species of words died out during his Darwinian revisions.


poem is maw

People fear poetry because it engulfs all other forms of language. Poetry is the ever voracious text.


known unknown

To twist Stevens’ assertion: The poet must resist celebrity almost successfully.


metaphor multiplies

The thread of a poem turns out to be a rhizome.


line limit

If the prose poem goes too far it’s because poetry is so held back by the tether of the line.


seizes the whole machine

I know I have a poem if I am moved in the first draft. By moved I mean choking in spots. If I don’t have this feeling I throw it away. I have, in the past, wasted months on work that began with an idea, an idea alone. Now I know, for myself at least, to let go at that point. If the first draft isn’t nerved by an emotion I didn’t know I felt, it isn’t going to be governed by any ideas I didn’t already understand before I wrote the poem. I always think of Frost saying, “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” He adds, of course, “no tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” There can be something like tears blazing all over notions; ideas are vastly and deeply part of the body. A good idea seizes the whole machine. A new idea makes you physically afraid, your body changes. Hope is lodged in your skin, in your cellwork. I cannot even begin to understand the division commonly drawn (and honestly experienced by many people) between thought and emotion.

—Jorie Graham, “Pleasure,’ Singular Voices: American Poetry Today (Avon Book, 1985), edited by Stephen Berg.