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 Gl├╝ck, "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.