can't get there from here

When reading a critic I like the feeling that I’ll never catch up.


image and noun

Nouns are the shadows of the ideal forms (images).


polar response

Just another poem I could either tear apart or take at face value.


cage sport

Words that will resist the fetters of sense while they forge linkages of sound.


idea of a bird

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life,—large-brained, large-lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song. The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds,—how many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday-lives, and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!

John Burroughs, The Writings of John Burroughs: Birds and poets, with other papers (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1904)


no there there

A poet must learn to shun inspiration toward trivial purposes.


authoritative voice

Poet, be a sergeant major: Bark orders until the reader falls in line.


hello, hello, can anyone hear me

The poet must presume an audience because none is assured.


lays it on

Poetry may be doublespeak and sometimes triple- and quadruple-speak.


poetry as a foreign language

Taking ‘Poetry 101’ in college should fulfill a student’s foreign language requirement.


unseen it hits you

A line break should be like a glass door you don’t see and just walk into.

[Paraphrase of what poet Bruce Cohen said at our workshop group tonight.]


tradition in process

Eliot writes that obtaining the tradition “involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to any one who would continue to be a poet beyond his twentieth-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.” He saw the past “altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.” The canon is steadily undergoing formation, both vertically and—more recently—horizontally. The future will applaud our generation’s widening the stream. We must not, however, as we widen the course of the canon, make its bed shallow. Despite the labor necessary to appreciate them, those dead white guys are great. Sometimes in spite of themselves. Sometimes, I suspect, not even knowing, before they wrote the work, the truth the work reveals.

Too often we ignore the fact that tradition is process. Believing that tradition is created in retrospect, we search tirelessly for the great but unpublished black lesbian poet of the seventeenth century. Perhaps someday someone will find her, and that discovery will force us to make new maps of the literary landscape. What will be changed, however, is not the landscape of the seventeenth century, but that of the generation that discovers her. For tradition, as process, is formed as we go forward. There is no doubling back, no taking that other fork in the road, no rewinding the tape.

Marilyn Nelson Waniek, “Owning the Masters,” The Gettysburg Review (Spring, 1995)



long road to the deep north

The best writing teachers don’t teach shortcuts.


irritable reaching after justification

I’ve noticed that poets whose work is nowhere near as clear and as comprehensible as Keats’ poetry, will often cite his ‘negative capability’ in their own defense.


sounds not chosen

If the poetry of X was music,
So that it came to him of its own,
Without understanding, out of the wall

Or in the ceiling, in sounds not chosen...

—Wallace Stevens, "The Creations of Sound"

Tonight was the Twentieth Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash at the Hartford Public Library. Guest speaker Lisa Goldfarb's talk was entitled Accents, Syllables, and Sounds: How Wallace Stevens Transforms Us into Musical Readers.


audio test

You’ll know if the poem’s refrain bears repeating once you read the poem aloud.


make way for others

Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed. Let the dead poets make way for others. Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us.

—Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double (Grove Press, 1958), translated by Mary Caroline Richards.


take a disliking to

Try to write the kind of poem you’re disinclined to like.


poetry made manifest

Seeing Galway Kinnell read his poems wearing an Irish cable knit sweater at Arrowhead, Melville’s house in the Berkshires, circa 1985.