great leap

A first line that made you believe anything could happen next.


street view

Do the great poems open up new avenues or do they create blind alleys that other poets must run down?


doubly well spoken

Understood first for what it said, then afterwards admired more deeply for the manner of its expression.


the river

An archetype is something like an old watercourse along which the water of life flowed for a time, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it flowed the deeper the channel, and the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return.

—Carl Jung, “The Primordial Images,” Psychological Reflections, ed. Jolande Jacobi (1970).


hands off

He knew when to take his hand away from the painting.

—Pliny the Elder, Natural History

She knew when to take her hand away from the poem.


not random

The middle of the poem was so messed up you believed the poet must have a plan.


but few are chosen

In our minds many poems make themselves known, but our hearts hold and carry forward a very few.


well worn

When perusing another person’s bookcases, I always look for the tattered dust-jackets.


active border crossing

The boundary between poetry and prose, always floating and permeable, has now become vital.


near eye

At first art is archaic, the sensible form being rudely controlled by the artist's hand; it becomes, in the second stage, classical, the form being adequate to the thought, a transparent expression; last, it is decadent, the form being more than the thought, dwarfing it by usurping attention on its own account.

The peculiar temptation of technique is always to elaboration of detail; technique is at first a hope, it becomes a power, it ends in being a caprice; and always as it goes on it loses sight of the general in its rendering, and dwells with a near eye on the specific.

—George E. Woodberry, "A New Defence of Poetry," Heart of Man, and Other Papers (Harcourt, Brace & Howe, 1920)


beauty beat down

A poem that beat me down with its beauty.


abounds around us

The imagist can find any number of poems hidden in plain sight.


pay dirt

The poet is a prospector finding ore in the played-out mine of time-honored themes.


power source

The word that didn’t belong in the poem is now a node of energy driving its very existence.


guard dogs

The lesser poets of the group/school are the ones most protective, even militant, in preserving its domain. Because that domain is the only thing that gives their work value.


one speaking

I’m somewhat anti-Browning. He always spoke in another character, for another character. I do not let anybody else speak a word (in my poetry, it goes without saying). I speak myself and for myself everything that is possible and that which is not. Sometimes I unconsciously recall somebody else’s phrasing and transform it into a line of poetry.

—Anna Akhmatova, “Pseudo-Memoirs,” My Half-Century: Selected Prose (Ardis Publishers, 1992), edited by and translated by Ronald Meyer.


long & short of it

If I had more time I would write a shorter letter.
—Blaise Pascal

If I had more time I would write a shorter poem.


role players

The editor selects, the critic corrects.


never apologize, never explain

A little magazine editor is often asked by a rejected author to explain the reason for his/her rejection. Which always reminds me of the line spoken by the character Capt. Nathan Cutting Brittles (played by John Wayne) in the 1949 western She Wore a Yellow Ribbon: "Never apologize and never explain—it's a sign of weakness."

[She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, screenplay by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings.]


but drowning

He was a poet of the moment. The last time I saw him he was waving.


ignores borders

The translator is a smuggler whose contraband is words.