satellite attention

Forever my mind will orbit this poem, ever unable to penetrate its atmosphere.


the quick and the dead

A clever poet is never a poet.


it's all out there

Most ambitious poems show their flaws before they demonstrate their merits.


step into space

Poet, your first line should feel like a skydiver’s step out of an airplane.


trusted structure

The first line like a sturdy lintel above the house’s doorway.


missing person

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
"You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?"

James Tate (1943-2015)


not seeing out

Too many poems are mirrors when they should be windows.


on time rime

Those expected rhymes that arrived on time.



speak up

The only danger to poetry is the reticence and silence of poets.

—Eavan Boland, "Letter to a Young Woman Poet," American Poetry Review (May/June 1997).


critic v. artist

An art learned only from books or earned by the trials of making.


write without

The root of most bad poetry is the eagerness of poets to write even without something important to write about.



All good sentences naturally resist enjambment.


new world everywhere you turn

To a poet every word is a wonder.


time lapse

Browsing through old anthologies should be enough to humble even the proudest poet. Not only because a few great poems remain…but because so many names have evaporated in time.


intimate and total

…in the best lyrics, that is: in the poems of love and deprivation and mourning—the art of communication seems on the one hand private or intimate; and on the other hand, total. It is private and intimate in the sense that Hardy seems to speak very clearly but only to himself, or only to a single reader, whereas most nineteenth-century poets speak as though to a large public, more or less authoritatively. This is obviously true of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Speaking as to a large public normally involves some falsification of tone, some shifting of the poetic persona. We have the sense with Hardy that the poetry has been little modified by the implicit existence of readers, or by the likelihood publication. Many of Hardy’s early poems went long unpublished; some were saved for the very last volumes in the 1920’s.

—Albert J. Guerard, “The Illusion of Simplicity,” Thomas Hardy (New Directions, 1964)


love over

A love poem must have an undercurrent of loss.


marked not marred

Often I’ll pull down a poetry book from our local library’s shelf only to find its pages marked by a prior reader. But I don’t mind reading through another avid reader’s scratched window.



The poem absolute, above all other human utterances.


one more question

I’m all for some Socratic doubt in a poem, but this poet had a question mark in every other line. Did the poet want the reader to write the poem by giving all the answers?


chugging forward

Powered by anaphora the poem was a locomotive of insistent locutions.


shapely fountain

Yeats said that he wrote in form because if he didn’t he wouldn’t know when to stop. Like Samuel Beckett I prefer the word ‘shape’ to ‘form.’ At Trinity [College Dublin] during a course on Aristotle’s Poetics our Greek professor W. B. Stanford told us to come back the following week with our own definition of poetry. Mine was: ‘If prose is a river, then poetry’s a fountain.’ I still feel that’s pretty good because it suggests that ‘form’ (or ‘shape’) is releasing rather than constraining. The fountain is shapely and at the same time free-flowing.

—Michael Longley, “A Jovial Hullabaloo,” One Wide Expanse (The Poet's Chair: Writings from the Ireland Chair of Poetry, University College Dublin Press, 2015)


escape artist

The confessional poem is a ‘Houdini box’ from which the self emerges gasping. To gasps of the audience…and then to their rising applause, for having transcended such distress.