pure and imperfect

A poem that was absolutely pure in all its imperfections.


disappearing title

One of those titles that dissipate the moment the poem is read.


gifted lines

I couldn’t think of anything on my own,
so I offer you these lines by others.


just say it

“In this essay I propose to study the development of...,” is an example of what makes academic essays insufferable.


bright star

An image that could blot the sun.


three lines away

One is always three lines away from getting it all said, once and for all.
Actually, I usually write about whatever swims into my mind. And since I’m always, unlike Heraclitus, sinking in some water, it’s usually the same fish that swim in—ghostfish, deathfish, firefish, whatever can rise to the top.
Unless you love the music of words, you are merely a pamphleteer.
I think the absence of people in my poems enhances their presence in the objects and the landscapes.
More often than not, the title is all a poem needs of narrative structure.
Poetry is an exile’s art. Anyone who writes it seriously, writes from an exile’s point of view.
We write approximations.

—Charles Wright, “Halflife: A commonplace notebook” in Halflife: Improvisations and Interviews 1977-87 (U. of Michigan Press, 1988)


invisible influence

The first time the actors rehearsed the scene in the bedroom, the bureaus were empty props. The director had them fill the drawers with their own underwear, bras, socks, jeans, t-shirts and such. In the next rehearsal, though none of the clothes were visible, the two actors lived the scene.


feeding the web's maw

There is no poem so lacking in intellectual nourishment that the internet will not eat it.


might be both

No easy answer: Was that a poem or a dream you just told me?


careful where you step

The droppings of poets were all about. Someone must have been feeding them prompts again.


would move the world

The line that was an Archimedean lever.


dark star moments

To feel the center of a poem, one has to have felt the significance of all of the poem’s moments, moments of lesser as well as greater intensity that nevertheless are crucial to the poem’s structure and cumulative power. […]

The center can occur anywhere in the poem. It can be a phrase or a stanza, or it may reveal its energy in the gap between stanzas. It can be a moment where the poem’s tension is most palpably enacted, where the poem’s time frames or layers interact simultaneously, where the texture of the poem undergoes significant variation, where the poem contradicts itself, or where the poem seem to quicken and gather itself in a passage that acts as a kind of net. The center is where the reader feels most powerfully the sensations of the poem’s theme. And nearly always, the center contains a pivot or surprise that gives the whole poem simultaneously light and darkness, hence considerable range.

I call these moments “dark star” moments, after an image in a beautifully crafted poem by James Tate titled Consumed. This poem manages, through apparently conventional rhetorical gestures of question and answer, elaboration on that answer and then conclusion, to catapult the reader into a state of uncertainty that is bracing, absolute, and utterly resistant to paraphrase:

Consumed by James Tate

—Leslie Ullman, “A ‘Dark Star’ Passes Through It,” Library of Small Happiness (Three: A Taos Press, 2017)



one and many

In order to say something insightful about any one poem, you need to have read enough others.


shared reading

Not to explain the poem, not to know the poem exactly, yet still trying to find a shared reading of the poem, however imperfect or partial.


old marquee

Like on the marquee of a closed-down theater, letters had tilted, slipped down or fallen entirely from the title.


to reveal the real

Using the imagination not for sake of pure fancy, but to better apprehend reality, to look inside or to glimpse the seldom seen sides of things.


turn back

Nowhere in Larkin’s poems are the adverse and the negated more apparent than in his exit strategies—those terminating gestures at the end of his poems that regularly turn their backs on the reader, offer a blank stare or open a window onto nothingness. ‘Un-,’ ‘not,’ ‘non,’ ‘no,’ ‘never,’ ‘nothing,’ ‘nowhere’ and other isotopes of the same linguistic element are present in his last lines, time and time again. ‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere’, from ‘I Remember, I Remember’, could have been the poster child for this lecture, but there are dozens more such endings, and this from a relatively modest output…

—Simon Armitage, A Vertical Art: Oxford Lectures (Faber, 2021)


get lost

The reverie that one must get lost in before anything is revealed.


stone room

A stanza that is a room made of stone.


image test

Is it an image or an idle detail?