turn at the cliff's edge

A good line of poetry creates an uneasy expectation if not a cliffhanger.


well said newly seen

An aphorism shouldn’t be (as Pope put it) ‘what oft was thought, but ne’er so well express'd’; for however ‘well expressed’, it will not move us unless the words convey a novel way of seeing an important aspect of the world or our existence.


nonce upon a time

Poems that are half-told tales, interrupted narratives, improbable parables, or stories that lose their way.


was flying

Bruno, I've spent my life looking for that door to finally open in my music. Just anything, a crack...I remember in New York, one night...A red dress. Yes, red, and it looked great on her. So, one night we were with Miles and Hal...we'd been going over the same stuff for an hour I think, just us, so happy...Miles played something so beautiful it almost knocks me off my chair, and then I was off, I closed my eyes, and I was flying, Bruno, I swear to you I was flying...I could hear myself as if it was from very far away but inside myself...

—Julio Cortázar, “The Pursuer” The Jazz Fiction Anthology (Indiana U. Press, 2009), edited by Sascha Feinstein and David Rife, translation by Sandra Kingery.


in bits and pieces

An anecdotal poetics: The way he talked about poetry via remarks and vignettes.

[Thinking of Jack Gilbert]


known unknown

The poet always knows more about the poem than you do.


postcard poets

Browsing an old postcard site using the search word ‘poet’ I found that Russia had by far the greatest number of poet postcards. A little window into how certain cultures value poetry.


be quoted or die

Literary fame is measured by being oft-quoted.


more renown

One of those poets who thought by publishing so much, renown would follow.


avoided drawing

A poet who alluded when it was time to illustrate.


ruling passion

Since the age of fifteen poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any tasks or formed any relationship that seem inconsistent with poetic principles; which has sometimes won me the reputation of an eccentric. Prose has been my livelihood, but I have used it as a means of sharpening my sense of the altogether different nature of poetry, and the themes that I chose are always linked in my mind with outstanding poetic problems.

—Robert Graves, The White Goddess (Faber & Faber, 1948)


meter was his métier

He could scan a line of poetry with his eyes closed.


part way

He was a writer who didn’t finish things.



One of those old white poets who grew a Whitmanic beard in the last years of his life.

[Thinking of John Berryman, Hayden Carruth, Donald Hall, etc.]


after the storm

That line fell across the page like a downed tree,
and it took out some powerlines with it.


against which

Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I could express has its meaning.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), translated by P. Winch, p 16.


poem that lives

A poem lives by its memorable lines and the reader’s feel for the worth of its whole.



If a good poet is using prose it's being used toward some purpose or for some effect. Poetry is the ur-genre: It takes and uses whatever resources the language offers. And when the language is lacking resources, poetry may well create a few more elements no one knew were there.


of leaves and fascicles

Nineteenth century America produced just two preeminent poets, Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).

Walt self-published his books and was a great self-promoter, to the point of publishing reviews in newspapers of his own books. Walt had the goods and knew he had them: Walt’s poetry was expansive and innovative, pressing particularly on the boundary of poetry and prose, and putting equal pressure on the mores of his times. His poetry (Leaves of Grass) was published in several editions. He sunk his teeth into the times, and at the time of his death, the literary world had grudgingly caught up to Walt. His Leaves inexhaustible.

Emily was not known in her lifetime. Note that her dates fit within Whitman’s. Though she wrote many poems, she published only a handful of them. Her style was eccentric and her thinking was bold. If her poems were published in the state they were written, most readers of her day would be appalled or nonplused by them. Emily took pains to preserve her poems; tied up in tidy fascicles stored in a bureau drawer. Then she asked her sister Lavinia to destroy them upon her death. That didn’t happen and Emily's poems, surviving well-meaning but intrusive editing, eventually were recognized.

In time we’ll know who were the most important poets of twentieth century America. There are contenders but will it be as few as two?


and many others

How does it feel to be “And Many Others”?: Anthologies that list (on the back cover or in ads) only some of the contributors.


unappreciated crap

Poetry, The New Yorker, APR, The Paris Review, et al, they’re all publishing crap. But not my crap.