poem as bookcase

Loaded with literary allusions, each line of the poem was like a bookshelf.


playing long odds

He was prone to playing the long odds, so he quit his job, borrowed $50K and bet on getting an MFA in Creative Writing.


audience disconnect

After the poet concluded the reading with her most harrowing of poems, the audience smiled and clapped heartily as though to prompt an encore.


false dualities

Beware nevertheless of false dualities: classical and romantic, real and ideal, reason and instinct, mind and matter, male and female—all should be merged into each other (as a Taoists merged their Yin and Yang in the Tao) and should be regarded as two aspects of one idea. […]

Yet ridiculous as may seem the dualities in conflict at a given time, it does not follow that dualism is a worthless process. The river of truth is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between them, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the mainstream.

—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (Persea Press, 1981; first published in Curwen Press in 1944)


mind pain

As when reading an article on the latest subatomic theory, a good poem should hurt your brain.


quiet but not empty space

Poet, strain the words from silence.


book as handheld device

Your poetry being printed only makes it more portable, not more important.


just passing through

We call them passages because we are unlikely to pass our eyes over them again.


brokedown horses

A bright critic who hitched his wagon (note: dead metaphor) to the wrong authors.


intrinsic solitude

Stranded on this distant land where spaceships don’t pass nor ever will, lost on this speck of sand far from all commercial routes of the universe, I’m condemned to share the intrinsic solitude of its inhabitants, people incapable of communicating with a tool less unwieldy and impenetrable than language. I use it to send coded messages that only other castaways, those they call poets, can understand.

—Ana Maria Shua, translated by Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies (Schaffner Press, 2018), edited by James Lough and Alex Stein.


what happens underground

Model for a poem: rabbit warren.


big data

The day may be coming when canonicity is measured by tallying Google searches.


poem event

Had the ability to make the reading of a poem an event.


take it from the top

With I-beam lines…the poet was building a skyscraper from the sky down.


loving and severe spirit

Among the many senses that modern painters have lost, we must number the sense of architecture. The edifice accompanying the human figure, whether alone or in a group, whether in a scene from life or in an historical drama, was a great concern of the ancients. They applied themselves to it with loving and severe spirit, studying and perfecting the laws of perspective. A landscape enclosed in the arch of a portico or in the square or rectangle of a window acquires a greater metaphysical value, because it is solidified and isolated from the surrounding space. Architecture completes nature. It marks an advance of human intellect in the field of metaphysical discoveries.

—Giorgio De Chirico, “The Sense of Architecture,” Artists on Art (Pantheon Books, 1945)


good listening

Summer evening, lying back on the grass, listening to poetry.

[Listening to Tracy K. Smith at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival]


afraid of having said

You have a right to write about nothing, as I have a right to skip reading what you’ve written.


smell test

The anthology smelled of solicited work.


poems that move people

One’s occasional poems garner the sincerest praise.


standards set

The standards you hold yourself to are too high to write anything. Your standards to write anything are too low.


rescued from formlessness

The poet’s relationship to her poetry has, it seems to me—and I am not speaking only of Emily Dickinson—a twofold nature. Poetic language—the poem on paper—is a concretization of the poetry of the world at large, the self, and the forces within the self; and those forces are rescued from formlessness, clarified, and integrated in the act of writing poems. But there is a more ancient concept of the poet, which is that she is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who—for whatever reasons—are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet’s existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.

—Adrienne Rich, “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson,” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry (Graywolf, 2000), edited by Molly McQuade.


turn of phrase

On the back of April 2017 issue of Poetry, as advert/blurb, there were two lines by Rae Armantrout…   
             Where there’s smoke
             there are mirrors.
An often employed trope of hers, it seemed. Take a common expression and give it a twist...make a wry turn on a well-worn phrase. (Charles Bernstein has done the same.) Often Armantrout makes a poem of a succession of this device. However, when I read the poems inside the issue, I was glad to see she didn’t overuse the device.