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.