tech heavy, content light

So called technical innovations in one’s writing are often cover for a lack of compelling content.


facile appraisal

He was one to judge a book by the author photo.


perceptions rearranged

As far as I see it, a poem has business to exist, really, if there's a reasonable chance that somebody may have his perceptions rearranged by having read it or having used it. The poem is always capable of being a subversive agent, psychologically, sensuously, however you like.

Roy Fisher, Interviews Through Time and Selected Prose (Shearsman Books, 2000), p. 64.


language cobbler

Louis Zukofsky, raised on the Lower East Side, was a cobbler of language. I don’t think he ever looked up or arose from his station to speak fully, freely. I see him with his head down over a bench (his desk), piecing various parts of language together.


wellings up

Poets who will never be known by a single poem, or handful of anthology pieces. Their work was too diffuse, and only welled up memorably here and there within the oeuvre.


carries well

The wonder of poetry: made of words, and thus so portable.



At the poetry reading they were all holding up lighters
and calling out for me to read “Free Bird.” I went flapping
through pages of my book, but I couldn't find that poem.


defied without end

No definition of poetry is needed. Each poem defines itself. Then the next poem defies that definition.


my office

I have spent many hundreds of hours shooting [a basketball] on this court, with its view of the Bay and Oakland hills beyond. One day the view was mysteriously obliterated and my eyes burned, as it turned out by ash from the terrible Oakland hills fire.

There is nowhere that I am more at my ease than in this place, shooting. If I have a poem that I’m working on, I will roll it over and over again in my head, like a child rolling a marble between his fingers, feeling the texture and weight of each syllable. You may think me immodest, but I have done some of my best work up here on Corona Heights, that’s what this place is called. You might say this is my office. Call me a wastrel, if you like.

—August Kleinzahler, Sallies, Romps, Portraits, and Send-Offs: Selected Prose 2000-2016 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)


distill and spill

Poets of distill and poets of spill it all.


lap poem

As the workshop leader proceeded around the table, I thought I could hear the woman beside me tearing up her copies in her lap. And when he called her turn to present a poem, she lifted the scraps of paper from her lap and let them fall on the table in a pile.


touching bottom

Written in letters that could touch bottom.


wrong words

When he proudly showed me his erasure poem, I said he’d erased the wrong words.


paying for it

By the time he got his manuscript accepted, he figured he’d spent enough on entry and reading fees to have self-published the book in a first edition hardback of 1000 copies.


second ending

When the poem ends on an expected note, try adding just one more line but one that comes to rest at a slight angle to what was said before.

Example from the ending of Al Purdy’s “"The Last Picture in the World”:

            almost sculpture
   except that it's alive
   brooding immobile permanent
   for half an hour
   a blue heron
   and it occurs to me
   that if I were to die at this moment
   that picture would accompany me
   wherever I am going
   for part of the way

Notice how easily the poet may have settled for the ending “wherever I am going,” but the addition of the phrase “for part of the way,” undercuts the certainty and leaves the poem in a less measurable state.



The poet knew he was on his way when his book sold in the tens of tens.


fee for fee

Are the major presses just trading permission fees back and forth?


blank and expectant

It was one of those lovely blank notebooks you just knew you could write great things in.


shaker austerity

…there is, probably unintentionally, something of the Shaker austerity in [Niedecker’s] work, what Jonathan Williams describes in this poem, circa 1959, as “a lovely sound, put together with hand-tooled pegs”:

     My friend tree
     I sawed you down
     but I must attend
     an older friend
     the sun

Niedecker’s work emphasizes proportion, line, simplicity. The spaces between words and lines, usually emphasized in the typography, lineation, and enjambments, functioned for Niedecker as a reminder of the silence from which the poems emerged, by which they were pervaded, and to which they returned.

—August Kleinzahler, Sallies, Romps, Portraits, and Send-Offs: Selected Prose, 2000-2018 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)


cards play themselves

In poker, when the cards are laid on the table, we say ‘the cards play themselves’: no interpretation needed to determine who has the better hand. So it should be in book reviewing—quote heavily from the book, and let the lines themselves show their relative value.


odd man in

Often Dante gets inserted in a list/lineage of English poets.


parts of the whole

A lyric poem retains its wholeness; while the long poem is known by its lyric parts.