tell me what you know

I want your poem to tell me how much you know about poetry.


intensely dismal poem

    In a letter from Florence Hardy, mentioning her husband [Thomas] is at his desk:
    Writing an intensely dismal poem with great spirits.

—David Markson, Vanishing Point (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004)


substitution of terms

When you see a good move, look for a better one.
Emanuel Lasker

When you write a good line, look for a better one.


under the hood

Emotion being the poem’s motor.


revision's end

It was while revising the poem you realized it wasn’t worth the effort.


vehicle language

In a poem, language is the vehicle and not the road, nor its destination.


safe for now

It’s a good thing you put that copyright mark next to your name beneath the poem, otherwise poets would be lined up to plagiarize your masterpiece.


wasn't it

Vivaldi Years

I lay forever, didn’t I, behind those old windows,
listening to Bach and resurrecting my life.
I slept sometimes for thirty or forty minutes
while the violins shrieked and the cellos trembled.
It was a crazy youth, wasn’t it, letting
my mind soar like that, giving myself
up to poetry the way I did.
It was a little like Goethe’s, wasn’t it,
a little like Eugene O’Neill’s, one joyous
sadness after another. That was the everlasting
life, wasn’t it. The true world without end.

Gerald Stern, Paradise Poems (1984)


prose all along

Whether or not cast in meter and/or rhyme, if the lines are readable, then they’re prose.


hardly a trail

A poem may reveal almost nothing of its path: a broken twig, a stone disturbed, with little else to follow.


not safe

The poetry workshop should not be a safe space. They’re talking about your poem, not you.


against story

Story is what can be taken out of the fiction and made into a movie. Story is what you tell people when they embarrass you by asking what your novel is about. Story is what you do to clean up life and make God into a good burgher who manages the world like a business. History is often written as a story so that it can seem to have a purpose, to be on its way somewhere; because stories deny that life is no more than an endlessly muddled middle; they beg each length of it to have a beginning and end like a ballgame or a banquet. Stories are sneaky justifications.

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


not undertanding

One can misunderstand a poem in a thousand ways. That’s okay, that’s what it means to try to read poetry.


no time

The best poems are atemporal.


intent vs. use

An author may write with intent but it’s good to remember what matters to the reader is use.


small check

Even during the times when he was making hundreds of thousands per year, it pleased him to get $200 for doing a reading or $50 for a published poem.


thousand yard stare

You can recognize a writer by the way s/he stares off into space.


rid of convention

We evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention, to change history. Well, I don't know of anyone since Pollock who has altered the form or the language of painting as much as he did.

—Richard Serra (1998)


barrel of the bat

The last line was like Babe Ruth’s ‘called shot’: He all but said it was coming and then with one swing of a line, he delivered.


course and not conclusion

Lead you readers forward but let them draw their own conclusions.


find a translation

One of the biggest mistakes I made early in my reading life was to pass over the foreign words and phrases I encountered. My loss. Now I pause and get at least a rough or partial translation. Of course now the web makes things easier. In any case, my reading has been deepened by taking the time to find a translation.


word from nowhere

The improbable word that makes possible the whole poem.