preparing for the festivities

In 1471, around the time the copper ball was placed atop the Duomo, Verrochio & Co. was involved, as were most of the other artisans of Florence, in the festivities organized by Lorenzo de’ Medici for the visit of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the cruel and authoritarian (and soon-to-be assassinated) Duke of Milan….Verrochio’s shop had two major tasks for the festivities: redecorating the Medici’s guest quarters for the visitors and crafting a suit of armor and an ornate helmet as a gift.

The Duke of Milan’s cavalcade was dazzling even to the Florentines who were used to Medicean public spectacles. It included two thousand horses, six hundred soldiers, a thousand hunting hounds, falcons, falconers, trumpeters, pipers, barbers, dog trainers, musicians, and poets. It’s hard not to admire an entourage that travels with its own barbers and poets.

Walter Isaacson’s biography Leonardo da Vinci (Simon & Schuster, 2017)



Fighting an editor over suggested changes to a poem that once printed will be consigned to oblivion.


ultimate image

An image that makes obsolete its ‘ideal form’.



The outer frame of the poem should be the world, and not the edges of the page.


travels light

No matter how straitened one’s circumstances, poetry is art you can carry with you.


fixed or in motion

Images that are static versus images that are actions.


transcendent particulars

The poet-critic Robyn Sarah, quoting from her own notebook entry, in a piece called “Poetry’s Bottom Line,” stated that she had three things she looked for in a poem. The first, that a poem “should transcend its own particulars,” I had no reason to argue with. But the second and third seemed contradictory, perhaps because of the figurative nature of the statements: “2) it should be built to bear weight” and “3) it should have lift.” These two elements are somewhat at odds in the physical world, though both are admirable qualities for a poem. My mind wanted to find an analog for weight-bearing and lift: Just north of where I live there is an airbase where several Lockheed C-5 Galaxy military transport jets take off and land. They can certainly bear weight (many tons of equipment), and have lift enough to bear that weight aloft, though in flight they appear lumbering. Then I thought of a more apt thing from this world: a cathedral. Certainly, as something built of stone, and often buttressed, the cathedral’s arches bear great weight. And by their height, the arches leading to thinner ribs, holding tall stain-glass windows, under a vaulted dome and great spire(s), all of these aspects create ‘uplift,’ as one raises the head upward to gaze in awe, so that if the experience is not one of actual lift, the feeling of a lifting toward the heavens is there, leading one back to her first notion of ‘transcending its particulars’ of stone, timber and glass.


step into the same poem twice

Once a poem has appeared in print, I leave it alone. I can count on the fingers of one hand the published poems I have altered in any substantial way for subsequent reprintings. A poem seems to me to have an integrity born of its moment of creation that should be respected. The “later me” who might want to word things differently is no longer the same person who wrote that poem; I don’t entirely trust her impulse to meddle with it. Let her write her own poems.

I took me some years for me to realize that not all poets operate this way: that for some, the text of the poem is something considerably more fluid and mutable, even after it has appeared in print. One fellow poet recently quoted to me what she says was the watchword at a graduate writing program she attended in the United States: “It’s all a draft until you die.”

Robyn Sarah, “Abandonment and After,” Little Eurekas: A Decade’s Thoughts on Poetry (Biblioasis, 2007)


speak esse

Some important elements of the poem must come through in translation, or what hope have we as humankind?


lifeless list

A publisher overly proud of a big list of insignificant titles.


blank page

Sometimes staring at the ceiling is where the best poems are written.


went silent

In the end, his poetry got too close to silence.


unintendedly of consequence

Accidentally it became lasting art.



the visual or the musical

…whether we should finally compare Pound’s free verse to ancient musical notations, as if it indicated the placement of varying scales, tones, or, on the other hand, compare it to sculpture, as does Donald Davie, seems a question worth asking, though not worth answering. After all, if Pound did not trouble himself to choose either the visual or the musical as modernist poetry’s sister art, I see no reason why readers should have to make the choice on his behalf. Still, by listening to Pound’s Imagist poems (no only reading, analyzing, interpreting, source-hunting), one may hear the music of the twentieth century having “just forced, or forcing itself into words.”

—Alex Shakespeare, “Poetry Which Moves By Its Music,” Imagism: Essays on Its Initiation, Impact and Influence (UNO Press, 2013), edited by John Gery, Daniel Kempton, and H.R. Stonback.


pass in silence

The message of that passage was that you could read the words a thousand times and still it would escape you.


canon content

The canon is made of many great poems and a certain number of academic study pieces.


last vestige

He thought he was being published; in fact, the little magazine was neutralizing the poem, rendering it harmless and making it virtually unseen.



Trying to write what should just be recorded faithfully.


architect of the imagination

Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.

—Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), The Future of Architecture (1953)

I often think of Frank Lloyd Wright's remark, If the roof doesn't leak, the architect hasn't been creative enough. Which speaks to the flaws any work of art that awes us must have.