found one

He published but one poem in the last year, and it was a found poem.


sweet sounding things

Avoid a poetry that would whisper sweet nothings in your ear.


noticing and noting

Good criticism is a knowledgeable noticing, with a flair for noting.


category error

He aspired to translate music into language.


slight angle to universe

They turn and see a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe…He may be prevailed upon to begin a sentence—an immense complicated shapely sentence, full of parentheses that never get mixed and of reservations that really do reserve, a sentence that moves with logic to its foreseen end, yet to an end that is always more vivid and thrilling than one foresaw. Sometimes the sentence is finished in the street, sometimes the traffic murders it, sometimes it lasts into the flat. It deals with the tricky behavior of the Emperor Alexius Comnenus in 1096, or with olives, their possibilities and price, or with the fortunes of friends, or George Eliot, or with the dialects of the interior of a Asia Minor. It is delivered with equal ease in Greek, English, or French. And despite its intellectual richness and human outlook, despite the matured charity of its judgments, one feels that it too stands at a slight angle to the universe: it is the sentence of a poet…

E. M. Forster’s description of C. P. Cavafy, related in Marguerite Yourcenar’s “A Critical Introduction to Cavafy,” The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984)


extended description

The image failed because it took too many words to render.


true poets

I was talking about the troubadour poets. She must have misheard me, because she said, “I too find many poets ‘true but dour'."


there and not there

The poet’s influences were evident but not scarring.


rockstar poet

There are about one-hundred rockstar poets. Rockstars in the sense that they could command a good paycheck for a reading at a university auditorium or local arts center; not in the sense that they could fill even the lower tier in a small civic arena.


figure a poem makes

The poem assumed a steady unshakeable stance on the page.


density and sparkle

Without discussing the merits or demerits of Fires, I would like to say that the almost excessive expressionism of these poems still seems to me to be of a form of natural and needed confession, a legitimate effort to portray the full complexity and passion of an emotion. This tendency, persisting and reemerging at all times in literature, in spite of wise puristic or classical restrictions, stubbornly, maybe nightmarishly, tries to create an entirely poetic language, one in which each word, loaded with maximum meaning, would reveal its hidden significance in the way phosphorescences of stones are revealed under certain lights. The poet always wants to put feelings or ideas in concrete forms, in forms that may become in themselves precious (the very term is revealing), like those gems that owe their density and sparkle to the almost unbearable pressures and temperature they’ve been through.

Marguerite Yourcenar, Fires (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981)


preface too much

After his long introduction, I muttered, ‘Methinks thou doth preface too much’.


finer points

The members of the workshop were much too comfortable using power tools, when precision instruments were called for.


good ingredients

After a good meal, all at the table agreed the recipe was a kind of poem.


it matters more

Always matter before manner.


not common literary property

I get so pissed-off at the plain-talk people—who claim that Whitman wrote street talk and that William Carlos Williams let it all hang out—that I forget the beautiful art of simplicity. When I read a stretch of short, simple, powerful things by Jack Gilbert, I remember how utterly moving plainness can be: “Divorce”:

Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at the bright moonlight on concrete.

Everything is there: exact adequacy, intelligence that withholds comment, and the luck (or vision) of the natural symbol. There is also that invaluable thing—with luck you hit on it fives times in fifty years of writing—when you say something that everyone has experienced (waking up feeling, not knowing why) which is not common literary property.

—Donald Hall, The Poet’s Notebook: Excerpts form Notebooks of Contemporary American Poets (W.W. Norton, 1995), edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall and David Weiss.


looking up

A poet waits on a tongue of fire to settle over his head.

Acts 2:1
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3 And there appeared unto them separated tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.


cadaver explained

All in the workshop concurred the poem was dead. What followed was an autopsy of the poem.


under construction

They need to build new wings on the edifice of the canon.


escape artist

Form is a straitjacket in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket for Houdini.

— Paul Muldoon, The Irish Times, 19 April 2003


coins, stamps, poems

When a coin is misstruck or a postage stamp misprinted, it accrues more value. But a typo in a book of poems is always seen as a diminishment.


not going anywhere

A poem secure in the canon solely on aesthetic grounds.


not it

That's not it: It’s never it…art is never quite it.


deficient text

The poem lacked vitamin V…vocabulary.