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.