against fiat

Critical reputations are made on grand claims. Yet I’m suspicious of all grand claims, finding hedged hypotheses sufficient to most subjects, conjectures able to brush past any exceptions.


emcee bounce

The best open mike emcee I knew also worked as a bouncer at a blow-out bar down the street. He would cross his thick arms over his chest and make eye contact with a poet going over his time. The poet would stop mid-word and slink off the stage.


clear, real, true

There are facts that have the impact of poems.


word sounds

Let me repeat my conclusion: sounds in practical language (practical verbal thinking) don’t possess independent value, they don’t draw our attention, and we are not consciously aware of them. In poetic language (poetic verbal thinking), conversely, sounds do become the focus of our attention; they acquire independent value, and we become consciously aware of them.


Mikhail Lermontov, too, provides compelling evidence on this topic. He frequently writes of the sounds of words, separating them from their meanings. Thus, a variant of his poem “Angel” reads:

   The soul settled down amid earthly creation
   But it felt estranged in this world.
   Of one thing only it dreamed: sacred sounds,
   Their meaning it did not remember.

L. P. Yakubinsky, On Language and Poetry (Upper West Side Philosophers, 2018), translated by Michael Eskin


suit brought before

A political poem is a lawsuit brought before the court of history.


forever young song

He loved that poem inordinately, like an old song from his youth.


amateur maker

Bless and pity the amateurs in art and in poetry. So moved they are by art, they want to try to make it.


poet of a certain age

If you call poetry ‘verse’ you immediately mark yourself as retrograde.


no discrimination

What a Paradise for poets the Great World would be, if any discrimination were made between fine gold and brass.

Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: A Collection of Reflections and Aphorisms (Ticknor & Fields, 1961), forward by Gore Vidal. [p 170]


shut in

What a terrible lot to realize one has been taxonomized, thereby shunted and dismissed, into a particular literary movement or mode.


fully less

A luxuriant style, ascetic only in terms of content.


category angst

Definitions and their discontents.


run over

That pang of disappointment felt when you turn a page expecting another poem, only to realize that the one you were reading hasn’t ended.


beauty can't be stopped

The setting for Linda Gregg’s poem “Fragments” is an underground subway car, late at night in the city. The speaker observes the pathos and unglamorous fatigue of the other riders. We’ve been here before, we readers, in life as well as in literature. Yet the abstract assertion in line five, when we encounter it, gathers the entire scene into a unified magnetic field:

   You can’t call the exhausted people on
   the 1 or 9 beautiful. Especially
   the drunk at the back yelling and stumbling
   and grabbing the pole gracefully just
   in time. Beauty has a strangeness.


Indeed, the poem's worldly descriptions are now changed, because they are filtered through the idea of beauty. We see that “Fragments” is making the case for a particular kind of beauty: the beauty of so-called ordinary reality, even in its most awkward, tawdry manifestations. Even in fatigue, asserts the poem, even in this flawed impoverished setting, beauty makes its appearances. Beauty cannot be stopped.

—Tony Hoagland, “Say It. Say it.” The Art of Voice (Norton, 2019)


deep seething

An important but unfinished poem, like a long dormant volcano, might erupt at any time.


true or trending

There is a real audience and a manufactured audience. The latter will not stay with the author even over her/his lifetime.


one hundred

If you can’t name one hundred poets, then you can’t say you have even partial knowledge of contemporary poetry.


serious about books

I’m not saying he was overzealous about keeping his library intact, but his bookplate featured a human skull overwritten with the words:
‘Under Penalty of Death
Return this Book to X’.


patterns and pairs

A poetry that was a matter of pattern and pairings.


above the sway of things

[Narrator: the painter Masuji Ono, grown old.]
‘Being at Takeda’s,” I told them, ‘taught me an important lesson early in my life. That while it was right to look up to teachers, it was always important to question their authority. The Takeda experience taught me never to follow the crowd blindly, but to consider carefully the direction in which I was being pushed. And if there’s one thing I’ve tried to encourage you all to do, it’s been to rise above the sway of things. To rise above the undesirable and decadent influences that have swamped us and have done so much to weaken the fibre of our nation these past ten, fifteen years.’ No doubt I was a little drunk and sounded rather grandiose, but that was the way those sessions around that corner table went.

‘Indeed, Sensei,’ someone said, ‘we must all remember that. We must all endeavor to rise above the sway of things.’

—Kazuo Ishiguro, The Artist of the Floating World (Vintage International, 1989)