false front

That false-front description that relies on expected adjectives.


chalk lettering

A poem so transitory it should be written in chalk.


case made

Every poem that is written is a defense of poetry.


colorful icing

A title that was cake decoration.


coming home

“But it took him a long time / finally to make up his mind to go home.” That’s the last line and a half of Bishop’s “The Prodigal.” Home, of course, is mutable, like any word or concept. But not indefinitely so. We learn from poetry of the gradual balancing of language on the exact midpoint between it-could-be-anything and it-can-only-be-this. I want to ask in this essay if I’m a poet, if that’s my “home”—but I think, for me, it’s still too early to know.

—Valerie Cornell, “On Being Unable to Read,” By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2000), edited by Molly McQuade.


first sight

First sight, best sight. To describe with new eyes.


no answer

A last line has no answer.


stand-up stanza

A single stanza can set a poem bolt upright.



mental link

Metaphor as mind-rhyme.


invitation to a voyage

The ideal place to teach creative writing is a used book store, says my friend Vava Hristić.
My hunch that language is inadequate when speaking about experience is really a religious idea, what they call negative theology.
Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets.
A New Hampshire high school student reading an ancient Chinese poem and being moved—A theory of literature that cannot account for that commonplace miracle is worthless.
For Emily Dickinson every philosophical idea was a potential lover. Metaphysics is the realm of eternal seduction of the spirit by ideas.
Seeing the familiar with new eyes, that quintessential idea of modern art and literature, the exile and immigrant experience daily.
A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights.

—Charles Simic, The Poet’s Notebook (WW Norton & Co., 1995), edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall and David Weiss.


place or prop

For Wallace Stevens place names were just props in the staging of the poem; they’re not real places.


sidestep the missteps

Part of the ‘anxiety of influence’ relates to the effort not to repeat the errors of the precursors.


among us

They lived among us, yet we didn’t know our poets.


trunks and foliage

Beyond the words, beyond the woods.


before he was anything

My father, before he was anything else, was a poet. He regarded this vocation, as he records in the notebooks, as some “mission from G-d.” (The hyphen indicated his reverence to the deity; his reluctance to write out the divine the name, even in English, is an old Jewish custom and is further evidence of the fidelity that he mixed with his freedom.) “Religion, teachers, women, drugs, the road, fame, money…nothing gets me high and offers relief from the suffering like blackening pages, writing.” This statement of purpose was also a statement of regret: he offered his literary consecration as an explanation for what he felt was poor fatherhood, failed relationships, and inattention to his finances and health. I am reminded of one of his lesser-known songs (and one of my favorites): “I came so far for beauty, I left so much behind.” But not far enough, apparently: in his view he hadn’t left enough. And this book, he knew, was to be his last offering.

Foreword by Andrew Cohen to The Flame: poems, notebooks, lyrics, drawings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) by Leonard Cohen.



The publicity described him as a ‘professional poet’.