hall of all hallows

A great library to some is a temple of immortal spirits. On another it strikes as a most melancholy charnel-house of souls.

F. H. Bradley, Aphorisms (Oxford, 1930)


low profile

Among the approved occupations after being put into witness protection is being a poet.


something that happens to you

[Alice] Neel liked quoting, with amusement, a strange remark made to her by Malcolm Cowley: “The trouble with you Alice, is you’re not romantic.” In truth, she was capital R Romantic in a very late, modern way: starched by experience. Art was not a refuge for her—she had no refuges, only respites. It was her life lived by other means, in which she enjoyed some moment-to-moment control. Rather than reflect on the preemptory realities of other people, she took them head-on, turning their force around and sending it back out. At times, every brushstroke can feel like a victory, against tall odds, of high humor fringed with deadly seriousness. Lots of celebrated twentieth-century art has seemed dated and tame lately. Not Neel’s, which, beyond being something to look at, is something that happens to you.

—Peter Schjeldahl, “Alice Neel,” Hold, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1998-2018 (Abrams Press, 2019)


walk this way

It was not just meter, it felt like the poet’s footsteps.


keep coming back

At AA meetings they have a mantra used to challenge each other: Keep coming back. At poetry readings the same mantra should be thrown out to the group: Keep coming back.


belongs here

No poem can escape a critical cubby-hole.


trusting translation

Reading a translation is a matter of trust. At least one must trust that a good amount of craft and poetic sensibility went into making the translation.


fish bone

That line was like a fish bone, suddenly sticking in your throat.


just once

You were famous—infamous some might say—for never seeing a movie more than once.

That’s right.

But now that you have—

More time? I still don’t look at movies twice. It’s funny, I just feel I got it the first time. With music it’s different, although I realize that sometimes with classical works, I listen to them with great enthusiasm and excitement the first time, but I’m not drawn to listen to them again and again. Whereas with pop, it’s just the reverse. Give me Aretha singing “A Rose is Just a Rose,” and I can play it all day long. I can’t explain that.

Afterglow: A last conversation with Pauline Kael (De Capo Press, 2002), intro and interview by Francis Davis


his darlings murdered

A writer who lived off his kill fees.


near sighted

It was all close-to-home writing.


kelp diver

He had delved so deeply into the poem that he felt submerged in the text, a diver with the alphabet twisting upward around him like kelp.


mouthpiece mort

The poet presumes to speak for the dead.


star from the start

The attractive beauty of an inchoate poem.


pleasure reading

An hour won. Dryden’s Epistles read for pleasure September night windy, dark, warm, and I have read the Epistles of Dryden.

Reading these Epistles which have no connection with my work and little with my ideas, have given me a happy sense of my own leisure. Who has the necessary time and vacancy of mind to read Dryden’s Epistles for pleasure in 1927? or to copy out extracts from them into a Commonplace Book? Or to write out more often than is necessary the words: Dryden, Epistles, Dryden’s Epistles? No one but me and perhaps Siegfried Sassoon.

E.M. Forster, Commonplace Book (Stanford U. Press, 1985), edited by Philip Gardner


cruel and unusual

But for the law against cruel and unusual punishment, I’m sure many prison libraries would love to own this book of poems.


easy writer

Writers don’t fear their facility even though it’s that talent which most threatens their true work.


marking / making

A couple tables away in a café, I watched as a young woman scribbled intently in an ordinary spiral notebook…markings/makings of a new world.


carrying case

Thousands of years from Homer or Sappho and we can still carry around poems in our heads.