extremity's small room


I want a poem which is made of compression, passion, precision, symmetry, & disruption.

I want a poetry which is fetishistic, a-Moral, obsessive, erotic, a poetry of Commission, a poem of pre-meditation, beneath (not above) the law, with malice aforethought. I want a poem of omission. [“Omissions are not accidents,” said Marianne Moore.] That which is withheld on the page is equal in importance to that which is Held.

Lucie Brock-Broido, from “Myself a Kangaroo among the Beauties,” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2000).


broken thing

In poetry, sometimes a sentence is too much, and only a fragment will do.


difficult passage

Poet, make barricade lines.


vanishes into thin air

A poem of fancy slips easily into the ether.


capital noun

Remember the power of proper nouns. Starting with a capital letter, they raise the poem above the level of generic imagery.


precise and reticent

Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds and connects with the thing the feeling shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply into us.

—Wei T'ai, Poems of the Late Tang (NYRB Classics, 2008), A. C. Graham, translator.


too well represented

Any poet with an agent will likely be forgotten in the next generation.


test for poetry

Will the poem follow you? Will the poem affix itself to you? Will the poem inflect the course of your life?


build up and tear down

Poetry has always had its makers and its breakers.


linear entity

The poetic line resists the fetish for a sentence.


kitchens and backyards

I once asked Irish poet Eavan Boland whether Patrick Kavanagh, the unconventional Irish peasant poet, had helped her as a woman writer in a tradition pretty much devoid of women. She answered in terms similar to mine. Kavanagh had been a crucial guide, she said, because of “his fierce attachment to the devalued parts of his experience and a sense of the meaning of that devaluation within a society.” Kavanagh made poetry of hay and potatoes; in a sense he gave her “permission” to make poetry of the life inside kitchens and backyards.

Deborah Tall, Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition (W.W. Norton & Co., 1993), edited and with introduction by Sharon Bryan


not exempt

Even the avant-garde must write within a tradition.


standing alone

The poem was made of single line/sentence stanzas, each of which called too much attention to itself, standing self-importantly in open space.


sight in a cold light

Keen attention must at times be unkind.


sad words

All poems are laments for what remains unexpressed by means of language.


late to the party

Woe’s me—born just a little too late for the crest of formal poetry that rose in the 1950s, so that my stuff didn’t begin to appear till the great stampede out of traditional form was on. So I came to the poetry scene like some guest who shows up just when the party is ending, the punchbowl drained, the streamers all tromped to the floor.

—X. J. Kennedy, notebook entry from The Poet’s Notebook: Excerpts form Notebooks of Contemporary American Poets (W. W. Norton & Co., 1995), edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall and David Weiss.


reward system

Poetry needs to have so many prizes and awards, otherwise its undertaking would be of uncertain value.


dialed up the volume

A poet who wrote for the bullhorn.


real light

The real is a light that dispels.


sound links

The poem as an echoic chain.