fear factor

Every once and a while a poem should scare you. Either because of its subject or because you don’t even recognize the aesthetic.


small craft

“Building Her;” at least in its particulars, describes Booth’s own early experience in woodworking, as well as his lifelong love of small sailing vessels, several of the most graceful of which were designed and built by Mace and Lon Eaton. As the boatbuilder fashions his vessel, so the poem implies, the poet pares away anything that is ornamental in his craft—to get at the essence. “That starkness,” Booth observed, “is for me a way to let objects or emotions, illuminate themselves.”

Jeanne Braham’s Available Light: Philip Booth and the Gift of Place (Bauham Publishing, 2016)


soaked up

It wasn’t long before the avant-garde movement was safely absorbed by academe.


short cut

Reading criticism saves time.


reader response

Because poems have moved you, you know that new poems, and ones yet unwritten, will.


broadcast range

If this book was a radio station it would be classified as ‘easy listening’ or ‘soft rock’.


regulatory department

The masthead of the formalist magazine listed both an editor and a compliance officer.


real seeing

Trees meant many things for Sartre: Being, mystery, the physical world, contingency. They were also a handy focus for phenomenological description. In his autobiography he also quotes something his grandmother once said to him: ‘It’s not just a question of having eyes, you have learn how to use them. Do you know what Flaubert did to the young Maupassant? He sat him down in front of a tree and gave him two hours to describe it.’ This is correct: Flaubert apparently did advise Maupassant to consider things ‘long and attentively’, saying:

There is a part of everything that remains unexplored, for we have fallen into the habit of remembering, whenever we use our eyes, what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the slightest thing contains a little that is unknown. We must find it. To describe a blazing fire or a tree in a plain, we must remain before that fire or that tree until they no longer resemble for us any other tree or any other fire.

Quoted in At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell (p. 103)


you are here

The poet who is nomad, living everywhere and nowhere, the poet who leaves home and never comes back, and the poet who stays.


order error

He put out a collected poems when a corrected poems would have been more appropriate.


lack of stickiness

Measuring the quality of a book by the number of times the mind wanders away while reading.


sirens in the distance

Ambulance chaser of in extremis moments.


not harriers

Critics who are like vultures picking over the same canon carcasses.


public and private

These two poles of outward and inward transformation are the Romantic extremes: Shelley's claim that the poets are unacknowledged legislators, Keats's cry, "oh for a life of pure sensation". Keats saw that Shelley's wish to vivify the language of noble reason, so that it would incite men to make a just world, could lead only to the surrender of hidden poetic gardens to public planners; Keats wrote poems like arbors, in which readers were invited to spend a lifetime eating imaginary nectarines from imaginary dishes.

—Stephen Spender, "Inside the Cage: Reflections on conditioned and unconditioned imagination," The Making Of A Poem (Norton, 1962)


worth the effort

The urge toward revision will tell you whether it’s a poem worth worrying over.


rival ally

Each line was both complement and competitor to the other.


larger than life

An image that magnifies reality.


coats in the closet

Poems that hang like old coats in the closets of these unopened books.


book mark

Mark my grave with a book cairn.


to suggest is the dream

To name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment of a poem, which derives from the pleasure of step-by-step discovery; to suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this mystery that constitutes the symbol: to evoke an object little by little, so as to bring to light a state of the soul or, inversely, to choose an object and bring out of it a state of the soul through a series of unravelings.

—Stéphane Mallarmé, quoted by Jules Huret, in “Enquête sur l'Evolution littéraire,” Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology (U. of California Press, 1995), translated by Henri Dorra.