goodbye to lonnie

Warning: Writing and/or reading poetry is good for your health. I urge non-poetry readers to open-mindedly browse through the pages of poetry books, especially the works of contemporary poets who amplify our daily ordinariness with craftsmanship and courage. To truly appreciate the language of poetry is to be able to come back to it again and again. Not with wisdom supplied by educators or cerebral articles addressing The Real Meaning, but a willingness to allow the senses to be stirred and nourished. Even reading poetry as a child, I never worried if I “got” it.
     Often students ask where my ideas stem from. Naively I refer to a barrage of inspirations, bowing to the commonplace and the patois of my childhood. But mostly they are guided by the opening of Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God...“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” That one sentence embodies a poetry I crave to attain. In retrospect there was always a thirst, a growing growl, to tackle and nonchalantly lay down words capable of breathing on their own. At times I’m not quite sure how to start or even where a poem may end. Though the writing process often gets the better of me, I welcome the taste of language and the ability to share it with others. One’s imagination is always on the brink of something else. There’s an old saying that there’s never anybody around when you wrestle with an angel. Nonetheless, poets write because they have to…and the angels know it.
     It is rare that people actually go after the things they want to do and become in their lifetimes. Far too many wave back at their dreams. Through poetry I am able to passionately be on board with my wishes.

Lonnie Black (1958-2016), prose piece originally published in Hartford Courant's Northeast Magazine.


more is required

A poet who believed he was an activist because he’d ranted a few poems at readings.


new poetics

Every poem has the right to ask for a new poetics.

—Anna Swir, Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan


risked capital

A good critic is a market maker.


no promise made

A poet makes a poem not a promise. And the reader’s disappointment is of minor concern.


enough already

The poet never thinks ‘More could be said about this’.


must be something there

He went back into the old drafts for a cold case to solve.


that poetics

That the struggle of the poem is between the unmet and the undue.

That poetry is encounter science.

That the poem is that which ‘finally accumulates’.

That the belief of the poet is not satisfied by the poem.

That the vocation of poetry is toward disownership.

That poetry is the undoing of the still life.

That the poem is not “contaminated by ambivalence” but is clearly equivocal.

That poetry is not destination-based.

That where we meet the surface of the poem is where we meet the unfitting.

That the poet is a theorist of need.

That poetry remains a broad permission.

That poetry is a wilderness prior to philosophy.

That poetry is custodian to wakefulness.

That poetry is right to turn away.

That the world is replete, and repetition merely a spoken word.

That the world is never said enough.

—A Maxwell, Conversion Table (Mindmade Book, 2016)


flipping past

A cavalcade of disparate images: You have entered the age when poets have grown up not with a pen, but with a TV remote control in their hands.


trader not traitor

Traduttori traditori (“translators traitors”); no, traduttori commercianti (“translators traders”).


textbook echo

Another poem of recycled historical rage.


form in transit

Form is nothing but an instant within a transition.

—Henri Bergson

[Quoted in “Georges Jouve The Creator,” Georges Jouve: Minimalist Ceramic Works (L’Arc Seine New York Gallery, 2005) exhibition catalog.]



Make each line quotable.


too good

Blessed with a bit too much facility for the felicitous.


late remark

L'esprit de l'escalier…when reading, one might say, 'the wit of the turned page'.


talk it out, way out

The poem crossed over from talk poetry to just crazy talk.


past that matters

I asked [Akhmatova] if she would ever annotate the Poem Without a Hero: the allusions might be unintelligible to those who did not know the life it was concerned with; did she wish them to remain in darkness? She answered that when those who knew the world about which she spoke were overtaken by senility or death, the poem would die too; it would be buried with her and her century; it was not written for eternity, not even for posterity: the past alone had significance for poets—childhood most of all—those were the emotions that they wished to re-create and re-live. Vaticination, odes to the future, even Pushkin’s great epistle to Chaadaev, were a form of declamatory rhetoric, a striking of grandiose attitudes, the poet’s eye peering into a dimly discernable future, a pose which she despised.

—Isaiah Berlin, “Conversations with Akhmatova and Pasternak,” Isaiah Berlin: The Proper Study of Mankind (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)


pang or spur

Reading for me has the unfortunate side effect of causing a pang of ignorance whenever I encounter a name, a place or an event I’m unfamiliar with. Rather than a pang, perhaps I should think of it as a spur, urging me on.


elevated speech

She spoke in such full and well-composed sentences that a conversation with her was like reading a good book.


got it second hand

The way he criticized the poem seemed like received opinion; no original work had been done on the piece.



Most academics don’t recognize university presses as a form of vanity publication.


found incomplete

There are three idealists: God, mothers and poets! They don’t seek the ideal in complicated things—they find it in the incomplete.

Peter Altenberg, “Aphorisms” Telegrams from the Soul (Archipelago Books, 2005)