call it style

He thought that if he was bad at some aspects of writing, those errors might manifest themselves as a kind of style.


struck by a chisel or ax

All edifices of art need to be built upon thought’s solid foundation.

If it’s not a poem, no matter what form it’s in, it’s not a poem.

Deep eclectic thought, rendered through easily apprehended language, creates poetry of the highest order.

I live: I sing.

It’s natural that poets thirst for some kind of a constitution: In addition to ensuring the people’s daily bread as well as their well-being, a country must safeguard its art from destruction.

If, while writing, your work feels forced, when it is read by others, it will feel even more forced.

What are the secrets for writing poetry?
—With naïve and honest eyes, look at the world, and convey what you comprehend and what you feel through the simplest forms of language.

The beauty inherent in poetry is the luminance of humanity’s upward-striving spirit expressed entirely through the poet’s passion. This kind of luminance not only glitters and splashes like embers from a fire in darkness, but also shoots out like sparks from a rock struck by a chisel or ax.

—Ai Qing, “Excerpts from the Notebooks,” Selected Poems (Crown, 2021), translated by Robert Dorsett

[n.b.: Ai Qing was the father of the artist Ai Weiwei. Ai Qing was a poet and dissident imprisoned for resisting the totalitarian regime in China.]


margin width

All poets are marginalized, but some have wider margins to write/work in.


it goes like this

He recited the poem from bad memory and somehow managed to improve upon the composition.


two-way street

One can only hold the critic to account when he quotes from the text on which he expounds.


in the foothills

In the foothills of Parnassus you’ll see fires burning at night. Places where poets had stopped to camp, left with nothing to burn but their books.


three realms

The finest writing is for the voice. There are several good, not to say decisive, reasons for this. No word is a word by itself. Every word is multiple, and not simply because there are homonyms and homophones hanging around, pretending to be friends. A word is made of sounds. A word is made of marks. A word is made of little muscle movements in the throat which accompany our interior speech—that invisible, inaudible, yet clearly heard interior talk of which Samuel Beckett made himself the master. So there are two spoken tongues to set against the one we write. And if we allow the written word to stand for the spoken one, and the silent speech to precede both, then the written word works in three realms at once, not just one.

—William H. Gass, “Finding a Form,” Finding A Form: Essays (Knopf, 1996)


commercially viable poet

Strange pairing: A poet with an agent.


bad fit

In art, it takes courage to be incongruous.


stand in

These days it may be worth it to hire a model for your author photo.


right wrong word

The word you worry about using may be the one that makes the poem work. Turns out it is the right wrong word.


loose sheets

I haven’t got a manuscript. I have only a pile of poems.


prose buttress

A foot/headnote to a poem is but a prose buttress. Ideally free-standing the poem should be.


take off our wings

To Grazyna, from Starachowice
You see poetry as pure sublimity, eternity, sighs and moans—in quantities unrivaled even by fin de siècle nameday parties for young ladies. Such flourishes go nowhere with contemporary readers, say, even your nearest and dearest will, upon hearing a single sentence, glance panic-stricken at their interlocutor and suddenly recall urgent errands in town. So, shall we take off our wings and try writing on foot?

—Wislawa Szymborska, How to Start Writing (and When to Stop) (New Directions, 2021), translated by Clare Cavanagh

[n.b.: From a collection of pieces that Szymborska wrote in her regular column called Literary Mailbox in the Polish journal Literary Life.]


totally emily

The Emily Dickinson industry—is a thing.


search me

He was not the kind of poet whose poem you’d carry in your pocket.


reverent rings

It was a book I revered and kept nearby. You could tell by the cover which was stained by rings from coffee mugs and wine glasses.



Plagiarism is major theft, while parody is a lesser poet picking the pocket of a master.


keep your bowstring taut

Poet, pull line after line from your quiver and let the arrows fly.


place and experience

When I read "Epic” by Patrick Kavanagh for the first time, I realized that documenting seemingly insignificant events and objects—buses included—are neither ridiculous nor melodramatic. The more I studied his poems and essays, the more I revered how Kavanagh sought to develop a praxis that is both inclusive and individual: not solely concerned with audience and legacy, but more aligned with place and experience.

—Roan Ellis-O’Neill, Hold Open the Door: The Ireland Chair of Poetry Commemorative Anthology 2022 (University College of Dublin Press), edited by M. McCann, S. Meline, N. Zak/Aria Eipe, M. Prince, and F. Ormsby.



There is slippage in all poems, the language has its limits. It's like working on a sign-board with a bucket of moveable type. You're never sure if you'll be able to fit all the letters together properly and you're unsure whether or not you have the letters needed to make all the words you want to display (or say).


ignored or eclipsed

Maybe it’s not that certain poets get neglected; perhaps it’s a matter of a few poets garnering too much attention and praise.


paper tomb

In the internet age, books are where poems go to die.