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.