line tension

The first letter steps out slowly onto the tightrope of the ruled-line paper.


fair fare

The poem was language on a stick. For your delectation or as confection, but nothing more than that.


slips through the cracks

Even the poets who try to evade completely the real world that collides with and pushes us—that, despite ourselves, humiliates and uplifts us—cannot avoid the way that the thin melody of popular song slips in through the cracks in their poems.

—Jorge Carrera Andrade, Micrograms (Wave Books, 2011)*, translated by Alejandro De Acosta and Joshua Beckman.

*Originally published in Tokyo in 1940


poet of a certain age

He no longer made an effort to complete poems that were without an emotional impulse behind them.


end anywhere

He didn’t write discrete poems. Each poem ended in some random moment of dailiness: a bathroom break, the kettle singing on the stove, a Jehovah’s Witness knocking at the door, the trash wheeled out to the street, falling asleep in a chair, etc.



too easy

Another comfort-zone poem.


precise song

George Oppen wrote, in his great poem “Route,” “If having come so far we shall have / Song // Let it be small enough.” I take this less to mean that our human capacity for song is (or should be) diminished than that it should, in a time of crisis and violence, be particular. Almost anything is beautiful if particular enough—something Oppen, in his relentless quest for precision and specificity, well knew.

—G. C. Waldrep, Poems and Their Making: A Conversation (Etruscan Press, 2015), moderated by Philip Brady.


pieces of their mind

In post-modern poetry disjecta membra is substituted for subject matter.


singular admirer

The joy in knowing well one poem in the poet’s oeuvre that others seemed to overlook.


no outlet

You knew at the turn, the line was going to be a dead-end. Still, you had to drive to the very end, get out and look around.


polished away

When craft is pressed to an extreme that gleam that was the thing’s original light becomes a sheen


measure of the man

He wanted to show me his wine rack, but I was more interested in seeing his bookcase.


god-given line

Graciously the gods give us the first line for nothing, but it is up to us to furnish a second that harmonizes with it and not be unworthy of its supernatural elder brother. All the resources of experience and of intelligence are hardly enough to make it comparable to the verse which came to us as a gift.

—Paul Valéry, Au sujet d’Adonis (1920), translation by Louise Varèse.


stuck there

Laughs leave the body, lighter than air; choked sobs stick inside the throat forever.


perfect prospect

A poem that has many ways to go wrong.


vulture visit

After a poem is left for dead, it’s still possible to pick through the corpse for some bones and morsels.