no language cage

We know a great poem strains to the point of bursting the bounds of its language, but even as it does so it defies any other language to try to capture it in translation.


hard thing

Those of you who are real artists know well enough all the special advice I can give you, and in how few words it may be said—follow nature, study antiquity, make your own art, and do not steal it, grudge no expense of trouble, patience, or courage, in the striving to accomplish the hard thing you have set yourselves to do.

—William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art (1883)


close encounters

In poetry there is almost no distinction between the real and the paranormal.


box of drafts

Do you have a book of poems?, he asked. No, I said, but I have good sized boxful of them.


usual suspects

Like police captains with few leads, translators seem to put out the call to round up the usual suspects, rather than search for a less trafficked in poetry.


sentiment for thanksgiving

The People Are a Temple

And souls are candles, each lighting the other.

—Gennady Aygi (1934-2008)

[Translation from the Russian by Peter France.]


fanning themselves

It was warm in the café, and the poets waiting for their turn to read were fanning themselves with their thin volumes.


poet world

Poet in the world, poet for the world, poet of the world, poet with the world, poet and the world, poet against the world, an uneasy navigation.


taken by surprise


Lyric embodies the desire to mean perfectly.

It takes language by surprise. (For this to be possible, there must be a general situation or condition of language which is not lyric.)

—Jan Zwicky, Lyric Philosophy (U. of Toronto Press, 1992)

[New edition of Lyric Philosophy]


everlastingly provisional

The word ‘poetry’ will always be subject to a working definition.


strongly worded

Diction is the muscle fiber of a poetic line.


source and target

After he’d read his poems, someone in the audience asked from what language the poems had been translated.


was like

A past-tense pastoral.


no narrative plan

Even narrative poets have an aversion to plot.


vicarious mastery

In practice there may be in the making of literature a great deal of one or another kind of technique, whether apparently superficial and formalistic or apparently substantial or ideological, and this technique may be deliberate or habitual or traditional. On the other hand, there may be apparently very little technique. It is never possible, in the given case, to say even roughly how much or what kinds or combinations of kinds of technique were employed until after long intimacy and absorption of the work has, by vicarious mastery, made the question artificial; for the we use the work as use other actual experience.

—R. P. Blackmur, “Notes on Four Categories in Criticism,” The Lion and the Honeycomb: Essays in Solicitude and Critique (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1955.


my excellent adventure

With a post-election pall cast over the land, I've decided to set out on an 'excellent poetry adventure'. I'm not sure I'll make it to Canada, but I'll be close when I hit Seattle...See my itinerary:

Danowski Poetry Library – Emory University (Atlanta GA)

Library of Congress – Poetry Collection (Washington DC)

Kelly Writers House – Univ. of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia PA)

Berg Collection - New York Public Library

Poets House (New York City)

Side trip to Berl’s Poetry Bookshop in Brooklyn.

Beinecke Library – Yale University (New Haven, CT)

Hay Library – Brown U. – Harris Collections (Providence RI)
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays: Composed of approximately 250,000 volumes of American and Canadian poetry, plays, and vocal music dating from 1609 to the present day. [Special Collections Artists Books: The Hay has a very impressive collection of artists books, mainly focused on American poetry and art.]

Harris Broadsides Collection: A comprehensive collection of American poetry published in broadside format from colonial times to the present. You can search the broadsides collection digital images: http://library.brown.edu/cds/catalog/catalog.php?verb=search&task=setup&colid=58&type=basic

Woodbury Poetry Room – Harvard University (Cambridge MA)

Side trip to the Grolier Bookshop.

Charles Olson Special Collection – U of Connecticut (Storrs CT)

The Poetry Collection - University at Buffalo

Just Buffalo.

Elliston Poetry Room – U. of Cincinnati

Bingham Poetry Room – U. of Louisville

Poetry Foundation Library (Chicago IL)

Woodland Pattern (Milwaukee WI)

Gaus Collection & Little Magazines – University of Wisconsin (Madison WI)

Side trip to Innisfree Poetry Bookstore (Boulder CO)

University of Arizona Poetry Center (Tucson AZ)

Beyond Baroque (Venice CA)

Poetry Center San Francisco State U.

Side trip to City Lights Books (San Francisco CA)

Pacific Northwest:
Side trip to Open Books – (Seattle WA)

If you have some stops you think I should make, let me know.


not random

It’s not so much that you need to understand the poem but more a matter of believing that the reading experience is not intended to be random.


silent salient

One’s taste is one’s tacit manifesto.


language thrift

A good poet is never one to waste words.


go big or go home

Poets need delusions of grandeur just to persevere.