not debut

After a first book published late in life, the poet corrected the interviewer: This is not a ‘debut’ collection, this is the best I could do to date.


repetition or insistence

Gertrude Stein once declared that ‘there is no such thing as repetition’—a surprising pronouncement form a writer whose most enduring line of poetry is a loop of intoxicating repetitions: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’. Stein distinguished the idea of repetition from insistence; in poetry, she suggested, only the latter was possible. By this logic, each time a word or phrase repeats, it lands with a different inflection. Stein’s ‘rose’ line is a perfect case in point; it begins with Rose as a proper name, which then blossoms into the flower itself, and ultimately suggests the past tense verb, ‘arose’. Stein’s string of roses has been often interpreted as an affirmation of reality over metaphor—a rose is a rose, and nothing more—but she also saw it as an intensifier, one that manifested the rose in all its vividness. ‘I think in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years’, Stein later wrote of her famous line in Four in America.

—Sarah Holland-Batt, “Repetition and Rhetoric: On Michael Sharkey,” Fishing for Lightning (University of Queensland Press, 2021).


note struck by an adjective

Every adjective creates a tone when applied to a noun.


new epithets

A line from AndrĂ© Gide’s Marshlands: “Find new epithets for ______.” Good advice.


welcome emptiness

How I enjoyed these ‘open field’ poems; especially welcome were the blank spaces in between phrases and fragments.


bird by its name

When you say ‘bird’ in a poem, think what kind of bird. When you say ‘tree’, think what kind of tree. And if it matters, and it should, then use the specific name.


act to narrative

The instant you admit any action whatever, no matter how simple, you admit some suggestion of what went before the action and of what is to follow it and of the cause and intention of the action—that is, you admit some element, however slight, of story.

—Kenyon Cox, What is Painting?: Winslow Homer and Other Essays (W. W. Norton, 1988)


annoying innovation

The poet was doing something innovative with typography—it was annoying to read.


all eyes

The poet walked into the room and all eyes were on her; and her eyes took them all in, because looking was prelude to language.


poetical failure

The most common failure of beginning poets is that they think poetry should be poetical.

art is

Art alters nature.


at talent's limit

In the end I want to feel that I made the most of my limited gifts


unable to suffer further

The critic had wanted to write a scathing review but, being a person of character, he was unable to do so—realizing he’d closed the book only a few pages in.



Wide-eyed, ready for anything, I’m trying to read like a young person again.


swim out

        'The English language
belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires,

rehearsing the old whinges at your age.
That subject people stuff is a cod’s game,
infantile, like this peasant pilgrimage.

You lose more of yourself than you redeem
doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it's time to swim

out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency,
echo soundings, searches, probes, allurements,

elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.'

—Seamus Heaney (in the voice of James Joyce), Station Island (1984)


trace story

In the briefest lyric there’s the hint of narrative.


grand steps

Like steps up to a palace door, you know by the first few lines you’ve entered the realm of a poem.


first things

A poem establishes itself first in language and then you get what it’s about.


bad blurb

I confess I couldn’t wait to get to the end of this story. I had to skip ahead many pages to get to that comforting sigh of the book closing.


prose poem is

I would have placed emphasis on the subversive character of prose poetry. For me, it is a kind of writing determined to prove that there’s poetry beyond verse and its rules. Most often it has an informal, playful air, like the rapid, unfinished caricatures left behind on cafĂ© napkins. Prose poetry depends on a collision of two impulses, those for poetry and those for prose, and it can either have a quiet meditative air or feel like a performance in a three-ring circus.

—Charles Simic, "Essay on the Prose Poem," delivered on June 1, 2010 at The Poetry Festival in Rotterdam.


open to

One open to the wiles of language.