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.