maybe said too much

You can’t walk back that line.


noise of the soul

He sits in a cramped attic,
The candle stub stings the eye
While the pencil in his hand
Converses with him in private.

He writes a song of sad thoughts,
Catches the shadow of the past within his heart,
And this noise…this noise of the soul…
He will sell tomorrow for a ruble.

—Sergei Yesenin, The Last Poet of the Village: poems by Sergei Yesenin (Sensitive Skin Books, 2019), translated by Anton Yakovlev


first where

Avant-gardists arguing over who got there first, never questioning if there was any there there (or was it like Stein’s Oakland).


double bind

He had to discipline his mind to resist restraint in his art.


not a couplet

The cathedral towers of Chartres don’t rime.


preemptive strike

Draft cover note:

Dear Editor,
I both suspect your capacity and reject your right to pass judgement on the merits of my poetry, thus you must accept the accompanying poems forthwith.


bottomless feeling

In terms of language, leaping is the ability to associate fast. In a great poem, the considerable distance between associations, that is, the distance the spark has to leap, gives the lines their bottomless feeling, their space, and the speed (of association) increases the excitement of the poetry.
We often feel elation when reading Homer, Neruda, Dickinson, Vallejo, and Blake because the poet is following some arc of association that corresponds to the inner life of objects he or she speaks of, for example, the association between lids of eyes and the bark of stones [de Nerval’s poem "Golden Lines"]. The associative paths are not private to the poet, but are somehow inherent in the universe.
The poet who is “leaping” makes a jump from an object soaked in conscious psychic substance to an object soaked in latent or instinctive psychic substance. One real joy of poetry—not the only one—is to experience this leaping inside a poem.

—Robert Bly, “Looking for Dragon Smoke,” American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity (Harper & Row, 1990)


i is i

To use the term ‘speaker’ when talking about the ‘I’ in a poem offers a useful distancing from the poet—but even in a persona poem or dramatic monologue the personal ‘I’ pervades the poem.


deep ink

All I can say is his best poems were his tattoos.


like orpheus

Poet, go down singing.


is it live or memorex

Even the present tense is recorded and merely played back as though live.


something to show for it

Workshop was cancelled, so he may not have had the benefit of consultation but he had the consolation of a poem written.


used to the stars

But poets have never grown used to the stars; and it is their business to prevent anybody else ever growing used to them.

—G. K. Chesterton, Chaucer (Farrar & Rinehart, New York, 1932)


interior design

The saddest books are those used as décor by interior designers.


language zones

Like climate zones the poem’s language may be lush or spare, or either in different places.


still hungry

A manifesto is a menu with nothing to eat.


sit satisfied

There are times when after much searching and consideration we must be satisfied just to sit with the poem's mysteries.


desire to try

However complex and difficult the poem may be, it should engender in the reader a desire to unravel its mysteries.


quaker meeting

A poem should be composed like a Quaker meeting: With much sitting in silence until provoked from an unknown source to speak.


It is not pathetic messages that make us shed our best tears, but the miracle of a word in the right place.

—Jean Cocteau, A Call to Order (1956), trans. by Rollo H. Myers, 153.


good looking books

A small press publisher who had a reputation for producing beautiful books by inferior writers.


protector of the art

He was one of poetry’s paladins.


called forth

It matters not if the poem starts as prayer or grocery list, only a few words are called for, and the poem called forth.


anything you say

One can love another’s words without believing a word of them.


to hear great things

I had come to hear that great things might be true. This I was told on the Christopher Street ferry. Marvelous gestures had to be made and Humboldt made them. He told me that poets ought to figure out how to get around pragmatic America. He poured it on for me that day. And there I was, having raptures, gotten up as a Fuller Brush salesman in a smothering wool suit, a hand-me down from Julius. The pants were big in the waist and the shirt ballooned out, for my brother Julius had a fat chest. I wiped my sweat with a handkerchief stitched with a J.

—Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift (Viking Press, 1975)


memory of robert bly

I heard Robert Bly read no more than a couple times in my life. Memorable for me was when we brought our infant son to a reading Bly did in Springfield MA. Generally we could get away with doing that, by sitting in the back in case we had to make a hasty exit. This time it didn't work so well: The baby let out a loud cry...but before we could get up and hurry out of the room, Bly called for us to bring the baby to him. Stopping his reading to greet the baby with good words and praise for his early interest in poetry, etc. I'm not certain all of the audience was pleased by the interruption, but you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be impressed by his generous spirit...and it made a lasting impression on my wife and me.


genre renegade

Often the best poets are those writers who hardly know what poetry is.


poetry smitten

One of those poets who was too much in love with poetry.


faults and falls

The greater the writer the more transgressions we tend to forgive. A minor writer will not survive even one stumble of bad behavior.


my life in realtime

The journal is the narcissist’s preferred genre.


gift text

A short gift inscription handwritten inside the front of the book exceeded the literary merit of all the print that followed.


clean lines

To me writing haiku is a good exercise. I dig and respect them because they create an image—paint a picture—so precisely. They draw pictures in very clean lines. You say what you want to say symbolically. I work with haiku a lot in my attempt to handle the language—the word. I don’t see haiku as black form, but, then, you utilize whatever modes or vehicles are available to you.

—Etheridge Knight, interview by Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo 19:4 (Fall 1996).



Writers who teach writing by repackaging advice received from their teachers.

[After reading another craft book chockful common advice essays. Plus prompts!]


waiting a turn

A poet waits for recognition from other poets awaiting recognition from other poets…


starting gate

The first line should be like the start of a horse race. Each word, whether calm or jumpy, guided into a stall of the starting gate. Then…the bell rings, and they run.


backward or forward

Both memory and imagination must rely on experience.


nothing worse

Couplet: Is there anything worse / than a novel in verse?


boundary-dissolving moment

…to fully experience a boundary-dissolving moment in a poem, we must first dissolve the boundary that separates us from the poem itself. When we analyze and interpret a poem, when we put all our energies into “figuring it out,” we separate ourselves from it. The poem becomes an object of study, a problem to be solved. Analyzing/interpreting poems has its place and its value, but reading this way keeps us at a distance. In a mindful or spiritual reading, what we want is to enter the poem, to live in the field of its imaginative energy for a time, to appreciate and experience it rather than think about it.

—John Brehm, The Dharma of Poetry (Wisdom Publications, 2021)


where it's going

The poet may know, but the reader shouldn’t know where the poem is going or where it will come out.


by words alone

Poet, let language be your primary allegiance.


don't pull

Let them hear your heart-strings snap back.


inexact fit

A poet knows how hard it is to enfold in language even a very small part of the world.



“Penny for your thoughts,” I said to the pensive poet. “Sad,” he replied, “but that’s more than I made last year from my published work.”


not too pure

Cleanse your spirit of spleen, my teacher said, before exercising your function as critics. Not that the voiding of spleen doesn’t pose certain dangers: there are some souls who have nothing else to offer, who run the risk of blanking themselves out with purgation. “Be pure, be pure, and evermore be pure: but be not too pure,” for we live in essential impurity. Melancholia, black bile—asta bilis—has joined with the poet more than once to produce imperishable pages. There is no need to begrudge the critic a little melancholy. Nonetheless, a little soap here, a little swab there have their place in the household of literature.

Antonio Machado, Juan De Mairena* (Univ. of California Press, 1963), edited and translated by Ben Belitt

*‘Juan De Mairena’ was a pseudonym of Machado's. The Marirena persona being a provincial professor of rhetoric, philosophy and literature. The subtitle of this book: Epigrams, Maxims, Memoranda, and Memoirs of an Apocryphal Professor with an Appendix of Poems from The Apocryphal Songbooks.


on hold

Block: Even Dial-a-Poem put me on hold.


fragment or figment

Forever certain there is a magnificent fragment in my notebook, if only I could find it.


wayside words

Wayside words: Not all words are worth perpetuating.


phenom poet

They had made her so famous so fast that no one would ever take her seriously. She was now phenomenon, not a person.


insufficient condition

A prose poem in which the prose never rose to a condition of poetry.


three polish aphorisms

I had so much joy in my creations that there cannot be a question of merit.
—Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935)

Tell me what books you have at home; I’ll tell you who you are.
—Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980)

Beyond each corner a number of new directions lie in wait.
—Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)

[Beyond each line-break a number of new directions lie in wait.]

A Treasury of Polish Aphorisms (Polish Heritage Publications, 1997) compiled and translated by Jacek Galazka


no event necessary

Some poems answer an occasion but most arise ex nihilo.


imaginative writing

When he didn’t get the creative writing teaching gig, the poet asked why: His c.v. lacked imagination, was the response he got.


green screen

His writing was merely green screen upon which his images would be layered in.


hear me

The poets tripped over themselves trying to get to the microphone. I’m afraid it was no grail.


pot alive

Thinking back to the pottery class I once went to in which the amateur potters, if they produced a few decent pots, at least went some way toward revealing their secret selves. A coarse-spoken graceless woman would produce something delicate; myself, something like a cow pat. (The vase that turned in stages of collapse into a low-sided dish, then a plate, then did service as an ashtray.) At least from pottery I learned that a pot is either alive or dead…In a pot that deserves to live, the fire still licks around the clay and, even if it is centuries old, the potter still touches his work.

—Elizabeth Smither, The Commonplace Book (Auckland U. Press, 2011), p. 118


arras surface

There was a poem written all over the real poem.


knot straight

All the lines written straight across the page, yet the poem was a knot of language.


said too much

A mind that rivered ceaselessly to the mouth.


size that doesn't matter

Monumentality impresses too easily. Take a few steps back to consider whether the impact is real or initial intimidation due to scale.



So much of the poetry published online becomes just the unnoticed wallpaper of the web.


speak from the eyes

Charles Reznikoff is a poet of the eye. To cross the threshold of his work is to penetrate the prehistory of matter, to find oneself exposed to a world in which language has not yet been invented. Seeing, in his poetry, always comes before speech. Each poetic utterance is an emancipation of the eye, a transcription of the visible into the brute, the undeciphered code of being. The act of writing, therefore, is not so much an ordering of the real as a discovery of it. It is a process by which one places oneself between things and the names of things, a way of standing watch in this interval of silence and allowing things to be seen—as if for the first time—and henceforth to be given their names. The poet, who is the first man to be born, is also the last. He is Adam, but he is also the end of all generations: the mute heir of the builders of Babel. For it is he who must learn to speak from his eyes—and cure himself of seeing with his mouth.

—Paul Auster. "The Decisive Moment", Talking to Strangers: Selected Essays (Picador, 2019)


textual infestation

There were so many punctuation marks in the poem, he thought to call an exterminator.


floating aphorism

Each line of the poem threatened to float off as aphorism dissipating in the atmosphere.


ars longo

Two male poets were comparing the length of their long poems.


artist impoverished

[Paul Léautaud] was mean, slanderous, and cruel; he could also display generosity and great delicacy in his judgments. Even at his most caustic there was a simplicity, an absence of vanity, rare in a writer. He talked about death and love, authors and actors, Paris and poetry, without rambling, without moralizing, without a trace of bitterness for having fallen on hard times. He was sustained, without knowing it, by the French refusal to accept poverty as a sign of failure in an artist. Léautaud, at rock bottom, still had his credentials. His monumental diary "Journal Littéraire", which he kept for over 50 years, can without exaggeration be described as the greatest study of character ever written.

—Mavis Gallant, Paris Notebooks (Stoddart, 1988), 143.


language enclave

Poem as language enclave within the empire of words.


knick-knacks and bric-a-brac

She finds her images at the White Elephant Sales.


party crasher

Reader as party crasher: He liked it when the start of a poem was somewhat uninviting.


metaphor must

A metaphor should make the eyes widen, blink or squint, or even bulge from the head. A metaphor shouldn’t pass without reaction.


suspect subject

Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it, a wise man once told me.

―Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (Norton, 1979)

better end

How hard it is to hear the end of poem as it happens. Often it’s easy to see how the poet wrote past a better ending.


waist deep in the river

Writing is like wading waist deep into a river, noticing the trees on the far bank, the swallows catching light as they dive and turn over the surface, while what you should be writing about is down in the murk, the flow of the slow current, the catfish and carp moving along the bottom.


unreadable beautiful writing

Written in an attractive yet utterly illegible script.


things discarded

Perhaps all the shorter poems you have written are just the tailings from a long poem you will never write.


only need to stoop

One of those days when you could find poems lying about on the ground.


what a fencer

[Emily Dickinson] is an inimitable poet, definitely not to be emulated. The white dresses and white slippers descending the stairs from a room where she espied Death driving his carriage, vanishing into a dark grove of trees. All those dashes—what a fencer she would have made.

Elizabeth Smither, The Commonplace Book (Auckland U. Press, 2011)


no retelling

Tell me a story I’ll never be able to retell as well.


original one

Obviously the poet had read very little, thus he may be excused for thinking of his own work as original.


unpoetic word

I was aware of the word but never conceived of it fitting so well within a poem.


no one world language

[Minor rant provoked when someone proposed that Pushkin was untranslatable.]

All writers are translatable. Translation is simply what gives one access to a writer's work that one can't read in the original language. The results are always a mixed bag of gains and losses. But translation itself is necessary and important, unless we all, all of us on this planet, wake up tomorrow speaking the same language.

Pushkin, like all poets, imperfectly translated the world and human experience into Russian, and into poetry.


like air

reading is often a big help
but wherever you turn
you are surrounded by language
like the air

—John James, “A Theory of Poetry,” Poets on Writing: Britain, 1970-1991 (Macmillan Academic and Professional, Ltd, 1992) edited by Denise Riley


introduce and give insight

Critics can introduce us to poems we may have overlooked and they can give us insights into those we’ve read but have only dimly entered the mind's aperture.


locked and blocked

The lines of the poem threatening to rotate over, becoming prison bars.


flipped the script

In a book of poems by a known language poet I ran into a series of pages printed upside down. I thought at first it was a ‘dada’ move, but then looking at the page numbers it was clearly a printing error.


attractive sentences

Attracted by a good sentence, it was hard for her to enjoy lines broken into single words and disconnected phrases and clauses.


lyric poets

He remembered her words: “You are a good man.”
He did not quite believe it. Lyric poets
Usually have—he knew it—cold hearts.
It is like a medical condition. Perfection in art
Is given in exchange for such an affliction.

—Czeslaw Milosz, “Orpheus and Eurydice,” Second Space (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2005), translation by Robert Hass


in junger times

Not as ‘Jung’ as I once was, I find I’m less interested in archetypes and symbols.


splits cracks voids

A poet notices the interstices.


meaning material

Words are material but of a different order from paint or from musical notes (neither of which carry meaning).


living lit

Literature is the ultimate living document.


low alert

Poet, be alert to what others ignore.



[M]y choice of poetry had to do with the fact that it more nearly answered to my own mental tendencies. Whereas scholarship, even in its often impenetrable post-modernist avatars, still ultimately depends upon premise and conclusion, upon the dialectical approach, the realm of lyric poetry—at least for me—is roughly described by Carl Jung when he speaks of true psychology as the domain “always…of either-and-or.” That is, lyric can keep multiple perspectives alive within one frame without seeming merely to be a muddle.

—Sydney Lea, “Why Poetry?,” Seen From All Sides: Lyric and Everyday Life (Green Writers Press, 2021)


dwindling supplies

A poet who could legitimately fear running out of words.


free to be poet

Poets with independent means most enjoy the profession of poet.


finding or writing

I saw a workshop advert entitled 'Writing Erasure Poetry'.


space it takes to tell

A sonnet that was a compressed short story.


summary execution

The poet shot the common reader with the first line and then carried on.


attracted to ellipsis

What I share with [poets in my generation] is ambition; what I dispute is its definition. I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. … It eems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.

—Louise Glück, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence," Proofs & Theories


doomed definition

Any definition of art or poetry is doomed from the start, though perhaps while composing the definition some good thinking gets done.


weight being

Poet, make the first line weight-bearing like a lintel over the pillars of the margins.


last word

Voices die away. It's the poetry that continues. Hold forth as long as you can, but the written words, recorded words, the remembered words, those will be sustained or not.

[Written in response to a fellow who overvalued poetry readings.]


entire and eternal

Reading the book in its entirety led you to feel you’d be reading it for an eternity.


necessary condition

If I was to be the ‘common reader’, I had a lot of reading to do.


invisible web

Though written in discrete parallel lines the poem is a web of connections.


life elevated

Art is an experience that arouses us beyond what our day-to-day offers.


ordinary uncommon

The writer's problem is, how to strike the balance between the uncommon and the ordinary so as on the one hand to give interest, on the other to give reality.

—Thomas Hardy, Notebooks (1881)


library paradox

When I had fewer books I read more. Or maybe I read the books I had better.


don't stay too long

The writer welcomed the interviewer into his office, but the guest chair offered turned out to be quite uncomfortable.


pierced consciousness

The first line went in like a hypodermic needle, quick with a faint twinge.


no mail

The epistolary poem was marked ‘Return to Sender’.


literary lineage

A critic who could take any new poet and show the links to all her/his literary lineage.


roots with dirt

These days
whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them

And the dirt

    just to make clear
    where they come from.

—Charles Olson

[Quoted in Dale Smith's essay re "Slow Poetry."]


go big or

Sorry, but if you’re not a romantic poet, in time people will pay less attention.



A political poet whose mouth was like a flamethrower: He had the sympathetic audience leaning back in their seats to avoid being singed.


tough slog

The experience of reading a long poem is enhanced merely by one’s sense of accomplishment.


word wait

The poet had waited a long time to use that particular word in a poem.


time running out

He kept waiting for that one great run of poems.


describe then design

We are searching for some kind of harmony between two intangibles: a form which we have not yet designed and a context which we cannot properly describe.

—Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Oxford U. Press, 1977), by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein.


real struggle

The imagination as nemesis.


other utterance

First line: announce something other.


beyond the book

Books often don’t go on, but certain poems do persist in the public consciousness.


remains airborne

A poem that somehow remained airborne in the zeitgeist.


unsteady reading

The lectern was wobbly…the poems read even shakier.


one stroke

It is better to paint a good unfinished
picture than a poor completed
one. Many believe that a picture
is finished when they have
worked in as many details as possible.
—One stroke can be a completed
work of art.

—Edvard Munch, The Private Journals of Edvard Munch: We are Flames which Pour Out of the Earth (U. of Wisconsin Press, 2005) edited and translated by J. Gill Holland


rescued and restored

Found on an acknowledgments page: The poem “Title Here” was published in an ill-advised version, based on an editor’s suggestions, in Lit Magazine. The poem has been restored to its original state in this volume.


the nothing that is

Nothing is what those without content write about.


amherst amethyst

Emily Dickinson: Her mind outshone her life.


written in sand

The poet thought he held his new poetry book in his hands, but as he read it turned into a handful of sand running through his fingers.


eyes glazed over

The scholar, after spending many hours annotating the text, was glossy-eyed.


clear or turbid

Porson: Clear writers, like clear fountains, do not seem so deep as they are: the turbid look most profound.

—Walter Savage Landor, “Porson and Southey,” Imaginary Conversations (1882)


fast or facile

Poet, be aware when words come too easily.


not unless

The editor said he’d publish my poem if I would agree to strike the last line. I replied that I’d let him publish my poem that way if he’d legally change his name to Notable Dolt.


constant threat

A poem that threatened line by line to turn into a different genre.


passage lodged

We call them ‘passages’ in literature yet some lodge themselves inside of us for the remainder of our lives.

vision not recognition

The purpose of the image is not to draw our understanding closer to that which this image stands for, but rather to allow us to perceive the object in a special way, in short, to lead us to a 'vision' of this object rather than mere 'recognition'.

Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose (Dalkey Archive Press, 1991), trans. by Benjamin Sher.


fixed and unfixed

Poem as a dynamic array of words


bad map

We can’t expect the poem to be a guidebook, think of it as more like a badly drawn map.


noun's act

Are not some verbs merely the familiar actions of nouns?


hold firm

I’d rather write a poem that remains important to me, than make a change that feels inauthentic.


shove over

Don’t worry how the poem will sit with the audience.


critical compliment

Miss Moore has great limitations—her work is one long triumph of them; but it was sad, for so many years, to see them and nothing else insisted upon, and Miss Moore neglected for poets who ought not to be allowed to throw elegies in her grave.

Randall Jarrell on Marianne Moore, Poetry and the Age (1953).

Above quote encountered in Viscous Nonsense: Quips, Snubs and Jabs by Literary Friends and Foes (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021) edited by Kristen Hewitt.


absorbing all opinion

The long idiolectic poem that many poets claimed to know, confident that nothing they would say about the poem could be contradicted by evidence from the text.


close reading

Close reading: Trying to be in the room where the poem happened.


longer and harder

Avant-garde poets try to outdo one another in writing the longest and least engageable poem.

[After reading a review of Nate Mackey’s 976 page book.]


distinct and uncertain

Poems are often like voices carrying over water, both distinct and uncertain when heard.


no kink

I hung about town the whole month of June because of the introduction I was writing to my Shakespeare translations. I was terribly afraid to get stuck in the muddle of pseudo-scholarly verbosity which every great centuries-old theme gathers round it and of only adding to this tangled skein a kind of modified kink. Imagine, it did not happen! I succeeded in saying in very simple and comprehensible words a great deal about Shakespeare that I learned when I was translating him, and all this on one printer’s sheet!

—Boris Pasternak, in a letter to S. I Chikovani, 15 March 1946
Letters to Georgian Friends, translated from the Russian with an introduction and notes by David Magarshack (Seckler & Warburg, 1967)

saved you from the poem

Be thankful the editor had the good sense to not publish your poem.


make it sing

Poet, take pains to make it sing.


loose talk

Literature: loose talk transcribed.


breathe the world in

Colette was a lifewatcher. To look she used all her senses at once—she heard, she touched, she breathed the world in, she stared with intense care, fixedly, like a cat, hypnotized.

Regardé, the last word Colette uttered before she died, was her living word for l’amour, la vie, le monde.

—Helen Bevington, “Colette and the Word RegardéBeautiful Lofty People (Harcourt Brace, 1974))


wow and yes

Nothing better than a last line that is both unexpected and inevitable.


beyond print

It should be a source of pride to have written a good number of absolutely unpublishable poems.


command performance

A poet who was too much the impresario inside his own poetry.


uncredited character

He had a walk-on part in the literary movement.



Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet's job. The rest is literature.

—Jean Cocteau, Le Rappel à l'ordre (1926)



poem before the poem

The ‘proto-poem’—the poem composed only in the mind—will always be much better than the poem.


bridges in space

The lines were bridges over
the emptiness on each side.


see it slant

Before you can ‘tell it slant’ you must first see it at an angle.


controlling interest

A poet whose inclination was to control the material and not to discover what was withheld from him in the material.


but only a little

The Cistercian monk Gilbert of Hoyland (d. 1172) insightfully wrote, “We have to pass beyond human experience but only a little to experience union with God. The divine majesty immeasurably transcends every creature, yet it is as if the divine majesty is close and familiar.” This “only a little” is Emily Dickinson’s impetus and the abiding conviction embodied in all her poetry.

—Charles M. Murphy, Mystical Prayer: The Poetic Example of Emily Dickinson (Liturgical Press, 2019)


have you no shame

Apparently poets don’t embarrass easily.


first and last art

His art never shifted or changed in any significant way. He continued to produce variations of his original vision.


turbulence ahead

Like any flowing substance language is subject to turbulence.


new evaporate

Even if one’s work is new and original, one must ask whether it escapes the ephemeral.


triumph of content

The container never greater than what’s contained: If you think form over content, your poem will fail.


will be written

That city [Tiflis] with all the people I saw in it and with all the things I had gone to experience and all the things I had brought with me will be the same to me as Chopin, Scriabin, Marburg, Venice and Rilke have been, one of the chapters of my Safe Conduct, which goes on all through my life, one of the chapters which, as you know, are not numerous; one of these chapters, and it will be the next one written. I say ‘will be’ because I am a writer, and all this has to be written down and an expression found for it all; I say ‘will be’ because so far as I am concerned it has already become a fact.

—Boris Pasternak, letter to Titian and Nina Tabidze, 13 December 1931, Letters to Georgian Friends, translated from the Russian with an introduction and notes by David Magarshack (Seckler & Warburg, 1967)

I do not write poems. Like a novel, they write
Me, and the course of life accompanies them.

Titian Tabidze (Georgian poet, 1895-1937), died in Stalin's purge of 1937.


too faraway

He wrote the poems that came to him, but never wrote the poems which were only dimly seen.


wide bodies

 I know I’ve grown old, because on my bookshelves I’ve replaced many of poets’ thin volumes with their Collected and Complete poems. 



 Never blame the language for the poem you could not realize.


straight talk

 The message to the workshop should be: No one is fucking around in here.


make a verse of

Helen Bevington’s When Found, Make A Verse Of (Simon and Schuster, 1961)

I found reference to this book on the site Neglected Books. Intrigued by the description, I bought a used copy (second printing) online. Helen Bevington was an associate professor of English at Duke University, teaching alongside her husband, Merle Bevington, whom she affectionately refers to as “B.” The book is a series of brief encounters with books, with authors, about the people she’d met and places visited.

After many of the vignettes she offers a poem, hence the title, …Make A Verse Of.  Her poetry is accomplished but clearly out of synch with post WW II late-modernism of her times. Her gift is light verse, wry verse, and touching sentiment never lapsing into banal sentimentality. He poetry appeared in many leading periodicals like The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly.

She is scholarly but with an easy erudition and the ability to disclose what may have been overlooked. Helen Bevington is a genial guide through the literary byways of Robert Herrick, Dr. Johnson, Thoreau, Madame de Sévigné, and many other literary figures.

A couple of samples:

The Poet as Singer

    We complain today that the poets no longer sing. They talk to themselves in the low conversational tones, expecting to be overheard. (Marchbanks says, in [G. B. Shaw’s] Candida, “That is what all poets do: they talk to themselves out loud; and the world overhears them.”) Sir Herbert Read even urges poets not to be audible, but to keep private and remain unheard: “Never lift your voice—modern poetry has an inaudible wavelength.”

   Yet in a golden age, Pindar and Sappho sang. The Elizabethans were lyric poets in the true sense: “to be sung to the lyre.” Campion’s lyre was a real one; it was a lute. I have no idea whether he wrote the poems first and afterward set them to music, or whether he added the words to existing songs. It may have made no difference to him which came first. His words and notes, he said, were coupled “lovingly together.”

   Unlike our modern poets, Campion remembered that, if a song is to be heard, he must trust the rest of us to become singers, too:

               All the songs are mine, if you express them well,

               Otherwise they are your own, Farewell. 



The Wisdom of William Morris

   When I look at my own house, I think wistfully of the good sense that William Morris would teach me. He once said (in a lecture on “The Beauty of Life”),

    “…if you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

   I choose to believe that the advice rules out most gadgets. It meets Thoreau halfway in the matter of simplicity. It echoes the Greeks, whose possessions had both utility and grace. It mixes, as Horace said, the utile with the dulce.

   Where, then, is the time and skill for the acquiring of beautiful saucepans, or of stirrings spoons to stir the soul?



religious perpetuation

Creative writing teachers who go on repeating the same pieties they’d learned when they were students.


post-facto poetics

So as not to have to defend his poetry, G. M. Hopkins discovered he must invent his poetics (instress; inscape).


write clumsily

A saving grace and a disturbing handicap it is to speak from the top of your head, putting all trust in yourself as a truthsayer. I write from the top of my head and to write so means to write honestly, but it almost means to write clumsily. No poet likes to be clumsy. But I decided to heck with it, as long as it allows me to speak the truth.

—Gregory Corso, “Some of My Beginning … And What I Feel Right Now,” Exiled Angel: A Study of the Work of Gregory Corso, ed. Gregory Stephenson (London: Hearing Eye, 1989), 87.


not again

Except in a poem’s refrain, poets should fear repeating themselves.


that year to remember

You only need that one annus mirabilis.


phrase wary

Question all common expressions as they come to mind (e.g., come to mind). One must make certain they are the best way of saying what needs to be said.


sing singular

The dream of writing a poem without a hint or an echo of another poem.


hardened mold

A hardshell formalist.


now new

Any artist will tell you he's really only interested in the stuff he's doing now. He will, always. It's true, and it should be like that.

—David Hockney, interview with Mark Feeney, "David Hockney keeps seeking new avenues of exploration," Boston Globe (26 February 2006)


the poem

I’m more interested in the poem than the book of poems.


stick figures

The alphabet: Those stick figures signaling us toward sound, then speech.


things and whatnot

Junk drawer poem: Lots in there, but nothing useful or worth much.


typos r us

I never criticize typos. Because I’ve never seen a typo any worse than the ones I’ve committed.


too good for us

The honest editor sent a nice note rejecting my poem, stating that I must place it in a more prestigious journal, for the pages of his magazine would only drag the piece down.


repulsive and extreme

…I am convinced that for a poet to be great we must find ourselves repelled by some part of this poet’s work. Not just mildly disquieted, but actively repelled. So Marianne Moore is repulsive, extreme, in scrupulosity. (The great critic Randall Jarrell, in trying to describe what about Marianne Moore’s poetry put readers off, listed “her extraordinary discrimination, precision and restraint, the odd propriety of her imagination.” He adored her work, by the way.) There has got to be a fanaticism—it doesn’t matter, it can be the fanaticism of fastidiousness—but there has got to be some private path the reader just can’t follow all the way. There must be a crack in the poet of some sort. It has to be deep, privately potent, and unmendable—and the poet must forever try to mend it.

—Kay Ryan, “Inedible Melon,” Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose (Grove Press, 2020), 142.


many sided

Great poetry affords many perspectives.


wrong, wrong again

Remember, both the writer and the publisher could be wrong about the work’s worth.


desert trek

An arid read: Page after page yielding few quotable lines.


there, there, you'll be fine

Some books need those little pats on the back that blurbs give.


not human

Poetry’s feelings are not human feelings; we know the difference. There is some deep exchange of heat for cool that I’m trying to get at, something that I see operating in nonsense and that I believe gives poetry much of its secret irresistibility and staying power (we are not exhausted by it and must always revisit it).

—Kay Ryan, “A Consideration of Poetry,” Synthesizing Gravity (Grove Press, 2020)

[I don't believe this a bit. But I must acknowledge other views re poetry.]


shape-shifting wrestlers

The poem as the mat where language and the psyche twist and grapple.


ultimate enemy of promise

When a clearly gifted poet dies young, of course we miss out on the even greater poetry to come; then again, the quality of the poetry won’t ever slide or fail to exceed the fine early work.


feeling it

Critic, never be too smart to feel.


need for speed

A poem that can only be read headlong, without a backward look.



Sometimes a good occasional poem comes from an event the poet would otherwise have ignored.


original gift

...I think some intensity of awareness must be lost, since it depends on contrast. And that intensity is impoverishment's aftermath, and blessing: what succeeds temporary darkness, what succeeds the void or the desert, is not the primary gift of the world but the essential secondary gift of knowledge, a sense of the significance of the original gift, the scale of our privilege.

—Louise Glück, “On Impoverishment,” Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994)


feel it

Enjambment: There is no rule other than feel.


feel this

Art on that borderline of kitsch: Are you not a feeling human being? Are you not a thinking human being?


declined to tell us

He had opinions on all matters related to literary works, but demurred when it came to making a statement about his own work.


not today

Today all I could do is stare into my notbook [sic].


of im and in

The reviewer is concerned with impressions, the critic with insights.


words you don't know yet

Many said [in the publishing world] that it was not a children's book. The vocabulary was much too difficult...

"But my feeling was that there is no such thing as a difficult word. There are only words you don't know yet,..."

—Norton Juster, quoted in his obit by Andrew Limbong


parts of its sum

A long poem known solely in passages and by the sense of its whole.


veil of artifice

A formalist who hides his lack of poetic verve behind a scrim of crafted verse. He doesn’t have the nerve to leave the verse behind.


slovenly housekeeping

Dishes piled in the sink, an ashtray overstuffed with butts, clothes lying about the floor, a beer can having rolled under the bed, this was both his life and his poetics.


back to even

The poet sold just enough books after the reading to pay for the gas to get there (and back).


no to wordsworth

Poetry should be emotion recollected in emotion.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poetry as Insurgent Art (New Directions, 2007)


artist books

I love looking at them: artist books. Some can't be handled, which I find annoying. Most are collector's items or museum pieces. Seems a sad fate for the text therein.


known by association

The poet denied he was part of that group/school/movement, when the only reason anyone knew his work was because of that association.


room for more

Poems are creatures we put into the world to respond to us, and to whom we, in turn, respond. And marvelously there’s always room for more.

—Irving Feldman, Usable Truths (Waywiser Press, 2019)


wish, wait, will

Some wish for the poem, some wait for the poem, some will the poem.


time spent

On the side of critics, often good criticism takes much longer than the original composition.


selection is criticism

Even organizing a reading series is a critical act.


foam and sand

Every month Poetry magazine arrives in the mail and I think of waves on a beach, a wash of white foam dissipating into the sand.


anthology is

Anthology: text zoo.


nature and artifice

A vapour trail cuts across and above some untidy clouds, across the blue, before and after the clouds, as I look up through trees blown by a strong wind. A Gestalt centering on that intimate mixture of nature and artifice. A poem—perhaps.

Geoffrey Grigson, The Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982)


blurbs get behind me

The poet was pleased her reputation had risen to the point she was no longer obliged to gather blurbs.


reading time

Was I a slow reader or did poetry just reveal itself slowly?


running behind

You can’t make up lost ground in the poem by adding more words.


muchly more

It’s always a bad sign when you hear a writer being praised for being ‘prolific'.


prepare to read

One must make ready for an encounter with poetry.


ultimate funny

I love my funny poems, but I'd rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that's the best. If you laughed earlier in the poem, and I bring you close to tears in the end, that's the best.

—James Tate, The Paris Review (Issue 177, Summer 2006) interview by Charles Simic.

[New website honoring James Tate.]


stealth poems

There are many songs that poets don’t recognize as true poems.


compressed composition

He found that he could only force poems to happen. And the shorter the time to write the poem, the better.


another page

A poet promised in this page another even better page.


open book critic

It’s okay to be a disagreeable critic as long you can convince the reader that your opinion may be flawed and you’re still open to being awed.


to wilt too soon

A bouquet of flowery blurbs graced the back cover.


painting, meaning, music

Every sensible definition of poetry is personal—is attuned to a poet’s own habit and nature—and is incomplete. If you collected all such definitions of poetry by poets, no doubt they would stand in a circle, with poetry, or life, or essence of man, in the middle, as clear at last as a poem. At the moment I am for Pasternak’s conclusion that poetry ought to contain painting and meaning, in addition to music.

Geoffrey Grigson, The Private Art: A Poetry Note-Book (Allision & Busby, 1982)


not too much fidelity

Writers insist that editors be faithful toward their texts; but not faithful to their typos or other errors therein.


the time it takes

Slow poetry: publishing a broadside.


chance and control

In art, what part accident, what part intent.


relative time

At the reading, the poet said he'd dashed off this one, which meant the poem was a decade in the making.


fully furnished

They tried to give him a chair in poetry. He refused unless there was a table to go with it.


space beyond the words

If no white space cushioned the poem its language would have to brush up against the language of the world. The world where language buys sausages and fills insurance forms. Where it writes rejections and makes empty promises. Where it speaks in parliaments and fudges truth and sells cosmetic surgery and guns. And if there were no white space to mark it off, how would we know the difference? They are only little words. Even the innocent ones amongst them look like repeat offenders, like the lying sort.

‘Don’t play what’s there,’ Miles Davis said, ‘play what’s not there.’ Play the void. Play the white space. Play outside the frame.

If only there were ways of framing off the worst of our lives. Of containing it. Forbidding it to leak into the rest of our well-lived days.

—Vona Groarke, Four Sides Full (The Gallery Press, 2016)


open and closed

You wanted to write, but you valued your reticence.


stand still

Until the piece was published it held the possibility of improvement.


unfinished environs

I looked around and saw all the partly read books stacked about.


new order rhetoric

A poem that raised rhetoric to a new order.

[Thinking of Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem.]



The poem that comes holus-bolus while being sequentially laid out in lines.


ready for everything

He had the strong and sinewy look of the determined and patient walker, who is always going off, his long legs moving quietly and very regularly, his head straight, his beautiful eyes fixed on the distance, and his face filled with a look of steady defiance, an air of expectation—ready for everything, without anger, without fear.

Ernest Dalahaye, on Arthur Rimbaud, 1925, Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking (Notting Hill Editions, 2018)


bad architecture

The poem stood like bad architecture filling the space of the page.


no dumping

A poem that was a dumpster of images.


write this with me

To write a poem that invites the reader into its composition.


useful list of errors

The erratum slip made for a convenient bookmark.


horrors of verse

Here Thomas Hardy informs us the trees from where the birds flew were on his right because he needed to rime with 'night'...

And the town-shine in the distance
    did but baffle here the sight,
And then a voice flew forward:
    “Dear, is’t you? I fear the night!”
And the herons flapped to norward
    In the firs upon my right.

[Thomas Hardy's "On a Heath"]


all in the index

He bragged he could write the whole book by simply perusing its index.


poet at the wheel

Never trust a poet who can drive. Never trust a poet at the wheel. If he can drive, distrust the poems.

—Martin Amis, The Information

[Encountered this quote in Garner’s Quotations]


little enlarged

Poets are so precious and proprietary about their litmag publications. They never ask how many people really read it.


practical plus

To poets prose seems much too practical and potentially profitable.


but what about

Remember, there is always a counter to whatever smart thing you can say about poetry.


things or signs

Her nouns were real things. Her nouns were signs.