end or beginning

Was it the last line of this poem, or the first line of the next?


a way of truth

Thus, as Crispin says, no man can “think one thing and think it long.” At best, all man’s trivial tropes can do is reveal a way of truth. And the early Stevens sought for aphoristic techniques to make those tropes sound as fragmentary—as “trivial”—as possible.

Beverly Coyle, A Thought to be Rehearsed: Aphorism in Wallace Stevens’s Poetry (UMI Research Press, 1983)


strings and stick figures

Poet, treat the alphabet as so many puppets commanded by your hands.


after dante

In the middle of the poem which is life I found myself within a dark woods.


running short on everything

Stunted lines, stinted vocabulary.



He thought of poetry as one of the staples of life.


skeleton key

The least line of text in his hands became a skeleton key able to open a trove of associations.


condition of poetry

Interestingly, three of the major writerly features of the pieces in Tender Buttons are alliteration, rhyme, and repetition, mainstays of poetry. Are these the fixed points around which the apparent chaos of those separate words attempt to dance? Indeed, much of Stein’s difficult work inclines toward the condition of poetry…


Finally it was impossible: the meaning, the associated emotion, could not be destroyed. It could be baffled but no annihilated. Unlike the paint [re Cezanne] that became apples and mountains, or within both simply shapes on the flat inflexible surface of a canvas, words cling to their meanings. And the mind of the listener also clings to meaning. She told [interviewer Robert Bartlett] Haas:

   I took individual words and thought about them
   until I got their shape and volume complete and
   put them next to another word and at the same
   time I found out very soon that there is no such
   thing as putting them together without sense. I
   made innumerable efforts to make words write
   without sense and found it impossible. Any human
   being putting down words had to make sense
   out of them.

—Lawrence Raab, “Remarks as Literature: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein,” Why Don’t We Say What We Mean? (Tupelo Press, 2018)


go on from here or end

A poem whereby any line from here on could be either the next line or the last.


poem from nothing

It’s dangerous when you can pluck a poem out of thin air. To be able to find a poem in any situation, generated from the least stimulus.


renegade language

Poetry as lawless language.


melting into wall

The fate of the painting was, over time and by inattention, to become part of the wall upon which it was hung.


noticed or resistant to notice

Nothing is beneath notice, though some things resist being recorded.


perfectly useless concentration

What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.

[Letter from Elizabeth Bishop to Anne Stevenson]

One Art: Letters by Elizabeth Bishop, selected and edited by Robert Giroux (FSG, 1995)


nothing to work with

It was the kind of poem that didn't deserve revision. Nothing of its subject justified further effort.


astonishing turn

Another page, another chance to astonish.


words will be there

A poet is not one to ever despair of words.


pall over opening night

Sadly we must report that the playwright died in a struggle over Chekhov’s gun.


writing gewgaws

Postmodernism permits the poet to be inspired by insipid things.


ideal flower

In [Mallarmé's] preface to René Ghil’s Traité du Verbe (Treatise on the Word, 1886), he said that his aim was to perceive, beyond a real flower, the ideal flower that can never be found in this world: “Je dis: une fleur! et, hors de l’oubli où ma voix relègue aucun contour, en tant que quelque chose d’autre que les calices sus, musicalement se lève, idée même et suave, l’absente de tous bouquets” (I say: a flower! and, out of the oblivion into which my voice consigns any real shape, as something other than petals known to man, there rises, harmoniously and gently, the ideal flower itself, the one that is absent from all earthly bouquets).



goodbye to all that

In part regret and part relief, she was a person who was no longer a poet.


admired if not loved

Alexander Pope is not a poet one loves. But Pope lives on by quotable verse that sings and stings.