stay alive

We tell each other stories to help each other live. That’s why I read poetry. I read poetry to stay alive. That’s why I went to poetry in the first place, that’s why I stay with it, that’s why I’ll never leave it. Because poetry alone carries the truth of “is-ness.”

—Marie Howe, BOMB 61, Fall 1997, interview by Victoria Redel.



Metaphor that is less like attachment and more like collision.


poem factory

Unfortunately he used forms as though they were molds for pouring in content and making very similar poems.


scene rendered

It’s all about the quality of the description.


vision shifted

“White writing” appeared in my art the way flowers explode over the earth at a given time. With this method I found I could paint the frenetic rhythms of the modern city, something I couldn’t even approach with Renaissance techniques. In other words, through calligraphic line I was able to catch the restless pulse of our cities today. I began working this way in England—in Devonshire in 1935—when I returned from the Orient, where I’d studied Chinese brushwork. So in gentle Devonshire during the night, when I could hear the horses breathing in the field, I painted Broadway and Welcome Hero. In the process I probably experienced the most revolutionary sensations I have ever had in art, because while one part of me was creating these two works, another part was trying to hold me back. The old and the new were in battle. It may be difficult for one who doesn’t paint to visualize the ordeal an artist goes through when his angle of vision is being shifted.

—Mark Tobey, The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Modern Artists (Da Capo Press, 2000), interviews by Katherine Kuh.


become art

They say you can make art out of anything; but some things have to become art.


no outré there

A confessional poet whose life might be mistaken for that of a saint.



The lines were like a handful of straw held up to the wind.


not equal

Words have meanings and through language convey semantic sense, but in poetry there are no equal signs.


the instant, the quick

For an essential part of Lawrence’s genius was his fluency; and I mean something more literal than the ease with which he wrote: rather, the sense of direction in all the flowing change and variation in his work. This fluency has its own forms without its own conventions. It is not plottable: ear-count, finger-count and what might be called the logic of received form have nothing to do with it. What matters is the disturbance. ‘It doesn’t depend on the ear, particularly,’ he once wrote, ‘but on the sensitive soul.’ It is something that can never be laid out into a system, for it comes instead from the poet’s rigorous but open alertness…Lawrence’s controlling standard was delicacy: a constant, fluid awareness, nearer the checks of intimate talk than those of regular prosody. His poetry is not the outcome of rules and formal craftsmanship, but of a purer, more native and immediate artistic sensibility. It is poetry because it could not be otherwise.

He was well aware of what he was about. He put his case in the introduction to New Poems:

'To break the lovely form of metrical verse, and dish up the fragments as a new substance, called vers libre, this is what most of the free-versifers accomplish. They do not know that free verse has its own nature, that it is neither star nor pearl, but instantaneous like plasm…It has no finish. It has no satisfying stability, satisfying for those who like the immutable. None of this. It is the instant; the quick.'

—A. Alvarez, “Lawrence’s Poetry: A Single State of Man,” D. H. Lawrence: Novelist, Poet, Prophet (Harper and Row, 1973). Essay originally published in A. Alvarez’s The Shaping Spirit (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958).


genre hunger

Poet, be a genre eater.


flows over

Whether slight or expansive, a good poem is always a superfluity.


a way without words

He even translated the silences well.


poetry ready

A reader of poetry has responsibilities: among which are open-mindedness and a wide-ranging education.


term limit

Nothing can be done to make a word like ‘rancid’ become a lovely vocable.


two halves

“You’re published now,” I told her, “in your eyes, your whole air,
so your poem is half of the truth, and the other half is the reader.”

—Mona Van Duyn, “An Essay on Criticism,” Merciful Disguises: Published and Unpublished Poems (Atheneum, 1973)


field awareness

He was deft with line breaks, like a wide receiver who knows how to test the edge of the field but always keeps two feet in bounds.


once over lightly

He thought revision meant fixing the punctuation and cleaning up typos.


stone steps

When reading a poem I want to feel as though I’m coming down stone steps, with some grand edifice at my back.


soft spots

The reader kept falling through the ellipses.


used to these stories

“Remember the pears, they were so green,
and the avocados, like guitars, honey-golden, and
the asparagus, like a lion’s rainy mane, and…”

Our mouths water. Their mouths water,
I am used to these stories. I am used to the land
barren, bitten and aflame with lies. I am used to
our faces in this new wild dispassionate light.
I learned this from my musician friends, from
years waging futile wars with poetry until
I could no longer think of anything else.

Juan Felipe Herrera, “I Walk Back Nowhere,” Half of the World in Light (Univ. of Arizona Press, 2008)