fail better

There are failed poems that should be published in the state in which they were abandoned. Many a tidy and finished poem shouldn’t stand to be published shoulder to shoulder with a glorious mess.


two ways

[From 1996 interview with Ralph Adamo and John Biguenet published in the New Orleans Review]

Allen Ginsberg and I used argue about aesthetics a lot. Every week he had a new idea. Usually hopelessly wrong. One time we were talking about spontaneous poetry, and he said, “Well, you believe what I believe, which is that an artist is a person who makes things.” He doesn’t submit to voices speaking, I said. You hear voices thinking, you write it down, but I am in charge of the poem. You might let the horse run for a while , but you tell it which direction to go, because if you don’t , the horse will eat all day. I believe in the horse. I believe in listening to the horse, but I’m riding the horse. And Allen said, “You’re afraid to release your poetry from your control. You're afraid, let me see,” he said. “Write some poems that way.” So I wrote some poems that way. They’re in my first book. They are the only two poems in the book that I wish weren’t there. If I ever do a selected poems, those two poems certainly won’t be there.

Jack Gilbert, Interviews from the Edge: 50 Years of Conversations about Writing and Resistance (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), edited by Mark Yakich and John Biguenet, p. 205.


toss up

The judge said of the poetry books: All are equally good, and each indistinguishable from the other.


profound sip

A poem should be a tincture of the universe.


alt usage

If it’s poetry you want to write
You must pitch your Strunk & White.


squeal at the turn

You could hear the tires squeal at the turn of a line.


words aren't precious

I began to experiment with Japanese forms, particularly the tanka and the renga, because their psychological structures are alien to me and force me to work without my familiar tools, my little linguistic reflexes and logical assumptions. It’s fun to keep throwing away those familiar responses, which amount to the old way of working, and to try to do something that makes me feel like a beginner again. It’s like finger-painting—I can make lots of fast, trivial messes and crumple the cheap, ephemeral paper. Gone! No important! And every once in a while I really surprise myself, and write something that suddenly throws light on the mystery. In order to do this, I’ve had to make some rules for myself. One: don’t save drafts. I used to cling to all the false starts and apparent dead ends in case some gem might be embedded there. I still believe that the unconscious knows valuable things that I don’t, but most of what it knows is useless stuff. Two: if a line isn’t working, start again from scratch. Words aren’t precious. If I lose a promising trail, so what? Unless I’m willing to lose it, how can I get to the next one, and the next? I think I used to stop far too soon, letting whatever happened to be there on the page command my attention, instead of asking myself what could be there in its place. What is this myopia but a reflection of my self, which likes to fix broken things and which would rather not think painful, self-annihilating thoughts? Thus the third rule: there’s only one question—what is the self? Until it’s answered, keep asking it. Then, who knows?

—Chase Twichell, “To Throw Away,” Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems (Middlebury College Press, 1997), Robert Pack and Jay Parini, editors.


new species

A poem that was unfamiliar as such.


word fortress

Poet, write a stanza that stands as a word fortress.


confident line

Poet, write a line that never looks back.


get what you pay for

Most poetry events are free, so organizers can’t give a money-back guaranty.


mainly blah

The mainstream could throw up a thousand books a year just as good as this one and just as undistinguished.


solitary business

The poets find the refuse of society on their streets and derive their heroic subject from this very refuse....  One year before Baudelaire wrote "Le Vin des chiffonniers," he published a prose description of the figure: "Here we have a man whose job it is to gather the day's refuse in the capital. Everything that the big city has thrown away, everything it has lost, everything it has scorned, everything it has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects. He collates the annals of intemperance, the capharnaum of waste. He sorts things out and selects judiciously; he collects, like a miser guarding a treasure, refuse which will assume the shape of useful and gratifying objects between the jaws of the goddess Industry." This description is one extended metaphor for the poetic method, as Baudelaire practiced it. Ragpicker and poet both are concerned with refuse, and both go about their solitary business while other citizens are sleeping; they even move about the same way.

—Walter Benjamin,  Selected Writings, 4: 1938–1940 (Belnap Press, 1996), p. 48., Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, editors


deep space

Why are we so amazed by how poems are formed when the universe holds similar mysteries.

[South Pole Wall]


more in the prose

Her prose sketch of how the poem was written was more interesting than the poem itself.


one or undone

A line of poetry should have integrity or else it should unravel extravagantly.


not blocked enough

After reading a book with two-thirds too many pages of poetry, I wished that more poets complained of ‘publication block’.



In the precise particular the peculiar hides.


gauged by language

If a poet writes about nothing, his language better really be something.


not the least of it

Most of what you’ve written has never been published; that’s as it should be.


it can fly

Frank Gallo, author of Birding in Connecticut:
“Note the plain face of the female House Finch as compared to boldly patterned face of the female Purple Finch which shows a distinct white eyebrow and wide black eyeline. As with the male, the female House Finch has a longer tail, is buffy below, and has a curved culmen (upper beak) versus the short-forked tail, whiter belly, and straight culmen of the female Purple Finch.”

Sometimes the talk of birders reminds me of the distinctions made by poetry critics. ‘But the thing can fly,’ I want to say.


not yet adult

His juvenilia was more like ‘adolescencia’.