wary of the way forward

When it came to advanced practices in poetry and the arts, he was avant-guarded.


white goat with ribbon & bell

Emily Dickinson had an amazing imagination, but so did her nephew, who came home from school one day in tears, having been berated by his teacher—perhaps even whacked—for having told the class about the white goat who lived in the attic. He was attacked for being a dreamer, a liar, someone who made things up. Upon hearing this, Emily was furious, beside herself with fury, and said that the teacher could come to the house and see for herself the white goat in the attic, for indeed it lived there, Emily had seen it, there it was, munching a pile of grass under the beams.

This anecdote is the only thing I remember from reading a five-hundred-plus-page biography of the poet. I am not even vaguely interested in the men, or the women, or any of that other stuff; I’m interested in the goat, whom I love as if it were mine own, and though I don’t have an attic, I have a place in my head where it can live, and go on living, as I feed it daily with mounds of fresh cut grass. Over the years, it has been given a blue ribbon round its neck, from which dangles a silver bell.

—Mary Ruefle, On Imagination (Sarabande Books, Quarternote Chapbook Series #13, 2017)


no type

A poem that resisted the stasis of the printed page.


twice removed

A poet’s poet’s poet.


slipped the system

A word that had escaped the care, custody and control of the language.


dig site

The critic approached a poem like the site of an archeological dig. Much time, care and cataloging was involved in unearthing its artifacts.


against artifice

The poets I most admire need no artifice.

[The language itself being a necessary artifice.]


well-stocked inventory

The poem was like entering a store filled floor to ceiling with racks of good words.


winslow homer

The consummate designer of the great compositions based his design upon the same acute observation that delights us in the sketches; the brilliant sketcher, though he does not carry design to its ultimate perfection, is yet always a born designer, so that almost any one of his sketches has the possibility of a great picture in it, and his slightest note is a whole, not a mere fragment.

—Kenneth Cox, What is Painting?: Winslow Homer and Other Essays (W. W. Norton, 1988).


from another room

Allusions are the like voices half-heard from adjoining rooms.


life of lyn lifshin

A curious case. The compulsion to publish so much; everything seemingly. Long ago, as an editor of a litmag, facing the onslaught of those submissions...the overstuffed envelopes would show up even as one had just rejected the last batch. There were some gems therein. But it was also absurd: Was there some warehouse, full of long tables and typewriters, where low-paid workers typed poems in the style of Lyn Lifshin? The sheaves gathered every 30 minutes, wheeled on a cart into the folding department, then on to the envelope lickers, tongues hanging out, in the sealing department. A mail bag full of envelopes left on the loading dock, addressed to dozens of far-flung little magazines.

In another era would she have made her fame as one of the Instapoets?


sing it, speak it

From a documentary on Fairport Convention, a musician quoted Martin Carthy as saying, “The worst thing you could do to a folk song is not to sing it.”

The worst thing you could do to a poem is not to speak it.


whatever is of use

Poetry takes bits and pieces from all the arts, humanities and sciences.


disadvantaged appendage

My hand looks a little helpless without a pen.


describe or explain

The subject was science, and I heard a useful distinction made between ‘describing’ and ‘explaining’. The former is more open to alternative interpretations of what the thing/phenomenon is, showing us what there is to experience. The latter is more closed, trying to say why it is and why it is the way it is.


dull edge

He’s been describing himself as being cutting-edge for so long, you would think he’d have cut through something by now.


only into this

That form may be the only vessel into which this poem may be poured.


no explanation for it

If you want to annoy a poet, explain his poetry.

—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Practical and Philosophical Aphorisms (Random House, 2016)


crosscut saw

The right margin is a serrated edge, and this poem is going saw you in half.


top down

Fire the CEO…meaning: drop the title.


happening in there

Psychiatry and psychology take the study of emotions seriously, but poetry is the lab of emotions.