much too much

Sometimes life gives one too much to write about.


language believer

A poet never loses faith with language.


portrait of an author

The magazine he most wanted to publish in, he didn’t subscribe to.

If he went to a poetry reading it was because he was the featured reader, or the featured reader was someone important he hoped to introduce himself to after the reading.

When he was published in a literary magazine, he turned straightaway to his own poem, checking it for typos…then immediately closed the magazine.

Next thing to do, right after getting that publishing credit, was to update his c.v.

For an author photo, he pushed the limit, sending a photo two decades old.

His books all seemed to be published by different publishers; perhaps each editor was one and done.

His bio listed all his prizes and publications down to the most obscure and the earliest ones in his career.

In his apartment, the only books he owned, at least the only ones visible on bookshelves, were his own.


first concern

Whether the assessment is positive or negative, the critic’s first task is to make the reader care.


taps and scratches

Poetry, for me, has always been bound up with this unease, fueled by contingency toward forms that will transcend it, as involved with silence as it is with sound.

There is a passage in the writings of Simone Weil that has long been important to me. In the passage, Weil describes two prisoners who are in solitary confinement next to each other. Between them is a stone wall. Over a period of time — and I think we have to imagine it as a very long time — they find a way to communicate using taps and scratches. The wall is what separates them, but it is also the only means they have of communicating. “It is the same with us and God,” she says. “Every separation is a link.”

—Christian Wiman, “Gazing into the Abyss,” The American Scholar, Summer 2007.


given space

As I read these poems I began to enjoy more and more their blank areas.


lit from within

An image illuminated by its own light.


near perfect if not true

Even as misremembered, the line was near perfect.


right kind of wrong

A poem that was the right kind of wrong, making its missteps due to its leaps or when getting to close to an edge.


act of survival

Because those poems that move me are enactments of discovery, not retellings. In those poems that change me the speaker is most often the protagonist, not the narrator. The narrator knows he will survive the poem. The protagonist never knows if he will even make it to the end; the poem itself becomes the act of survival, the act of flailing and probing, an open desire for grace or change. I think this is what Stevens meant when he said the poem is the act of the mind in the process of finding what will suffice. Not having found what will….

—Jorie Graham, “Pleasure,’ Singular Voices: American Poetry Today (Avon Book, 1985), edited by Stephen Berg.


better left unsaid

The only way to have said it better would have been to just to think it, to not have uttered it at all.


further persuaded

Each line needs only to persuade the reader to read the next.


old songs

Old poems, old songs…how to let them go?


got the once-over

Nothing worse could be said of a poem than it was all artifice and surface.


steel grace

I append the translation by J. U. Nicolson (The Complete Works of François Villon). I find Mr. Nicolson’s rendering of this poem more satisfactory than D. G. Rossetti’s or John Payne’s, both of whom make the poem too “musical,” destroying its natural diction which was Villon’s great quality, and both of whom make the poem too sentimental. Villon has sweetness in him and love of beauty, even piety; but his grace is a steel-like hardness; he is never, except perhaps in the Ballade of Grosse Margot, sentimental. Swinburne understood Villon perfectly, and he did several excellent translations but he did not translate the Dead Ladies:

    Say where, not in what land, may be
    Flora the Roman? Where remain
    Fair Archippa’s charms, and she—
    Thaïs—in beauty so germaine?
    Echo, calling afar, in vain,
    Over the rivers and the marshes wan,
    Lovelier once than girls profane?
    But where are the snows of the last year gone?

Burton Rascoe, Titans of Literature (Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1932)


typo byproduct

If you haven’t suffered a bad typo, you’ve not published enough. To a publisher: If you haven't let slip an egregious typo, you're not publishing enough.


page eater

A codex book uneasily digested by a digital device.


fascist poetics

Pound’s fascism should have been evident by the certainties in which he propounded his poetics.


throws light upon illusionist

We need critics because poets and writers, like magicians, are reluctant to divulge the mechanics behind their tricks.


art of time and place

The true work of art...is not the work of the individual artist. It is time and it is place, as these perfect themselves.

—Wallace Stevens, Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (Vintage, 1965).

[Last evening was the twenty-third annual Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash. Cole Swensen was the speaker and her presentation was titled, "Perhaps the Truth Depends." She took us on a journey of quotes and pictures related to Stevens' habit of walking, plus some related history of walking poets.]


singular path

Cut your own idiosyncratic path through literature.