ad hoc

Seldom serial, his poems were ad hoc.


experience, interpretation, opinion

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art.—Susan Sontag

Someone posted the above quote without a reference. Likely it comes from Sontag’s great essay “Against Interpretation.” However, I do want to quibble with her statement. Of course 'experience' should be regarded as being of a higher order than 'interpretation'. But then one realizes in the dialog with others how odd and even cockamamie experience can be, which drags experience down to the level of opinion. (Opinion being what we all have, as the saying goes.) So I think there are smart people (call them intellectuals, if you will) who we should look to for interpretation. Not that we must accept their interpretations at face value, but they give us something worthy with which to argue over, and challenge us to refine our own thinking about the work/art.


fallen leaves

When I was raking leaves I started to think about all the poetry books published in the past year.


outwit the writer

One hopes that what is written is a bit smarter than the writer.



Like perfect counterweights, the words in balance along the poetic line.


textus fugit

Lives are fleeting and so are all but a few literary texts.


pen at hand

When asked, “Have you got a pen?”—he replied, “Yes, I’m a poet, I always have a pen.”


accuracy, spontaneity, mystery

Accuracy is the essence in any consideration of Bishop’s poetry. Those of her poems which fail…do so more often than not because they’re imprecise in matters of tone and feeling. The Library of America volume includes an untitled and fragmentary essay on poetry, tentatively dated to ‘the late 1950s - early 1960s,’ in which Bishop states that the three qualities she prizes most in poetry are ‘Accuracy, Spontaneity, Mystery’ (the italics are hers). To illustrate these qualities, she gives examples from George Herbert, Hopkins and Baudelaire, as well as from Auden, Lowell, Moore and Dylan Thomas. She might have included much of her own work; accuracy, spontaneity and mystery are perhaps its most distinctive traits, and in spontaneity – or rather, the illusion of spontaneity – she seems to surpass most of those she cites. Spontaneity is, of course, the slipperiest of the three. None of the poets she singles out in the essay is ‘spontaneous’, in any usual sense, nor was Bishop herself. It was the effect of spontaneity she admired…

—Eric Ormsby, “Ancient Chills,” Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (The Porcupine Quill, 2011)


turn it over

The Talmud records that Ben Bag-Bag, a scholar and disciple of Hillel, counseled:
   “Turn it over and turn it over, for all is therein”
The ‘it’ is the Torah, but the same could be said of reading and studying a great poem.


blurbs denied

If you’re not embarrassed by your blurbs, you’re undeserving of such praise.


only abyss below

Often a poem must end with the bottom dropping out—and the reader must try to enjoy the free-fall without screaming too much.


about poems

It’s about the poems not where they were published.


not on the same page

Two poets were talking about the value of reading, how it informed their work, and probably they were reading entirely different books.