note for a new year

There is nothing like a new poem.


vow of silence

For us, Bob Kaufman, was an avatar of sorts—an incarnation of poetry, or perhaps more accurately, it’s most useful, impure form, complete with a sense of music and line that can be hard to find….He was so dedicated to poetry that he didn’t write it down; he was so much a poet that he committed a vow of silence for ten years, from Kennedy’s assassination to the end of the Vietnam War.

—Kevin Young, “Broken Giraffe: Bob Kaufman, the Song, and the Silence,” The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press, 2012)



For many poems it would be unnecessary to put them in an encrypted file.


better in prose

A poet who was doing something in poetry that could be better done in prose.


three markson notes

Leopardi came from a noble family and was educated by a private tutor. By the time Leopardi reached the age of twelve, his tutor resigned his position because he realized the boy’s learning was already greater than his own.

Nearly every morning of his life Paul Valéry wrote in a notebook—totaling 261 notebooks in the end. “Having dedicated those hours to the life of the mind, I earn the right to be stupid for the rest of the day.”

Delmore Schwartz stated that Moby Dick was not noticed at all for the first seventy years after it was published.

[After David Markson's not novels]


afraid it will end

One of those poems you could feel getting longer. A good long poem gets shorter; in fact, you’re afraid it will end.


sacred text

A personal anthology of favorite poems is like a sacred text.


line strikes

Sometimes a line of poetry strikes inside, hard, deep—down into that well we might as well call the soul.


relative fame

In the end no one is more famous than Anonymous.

cascading images

When the images come cascading down the page, some may lose their luster.


first door

When a poet has had a long career, like Philip Levine’s, it seems to matter what book/door you first entered. For me, when it comes to Levine, it’s The Names of the Lost.


ceremonial character

English poetry too has had its ceremonial words, different at different epochs; but the tendency in English poetry has been, at recurrent intervals, to make a furious attack upon them: to rout them out and throw them on the scrap-heap, so that poetry should heighten and irradiate the ordinary language of men. Nevertheless, the ceremonial character of poetry remains, and must remain. Even when it uses the commonest words, it does not speak commonly….One cannot read poetry as one glances over a paragraph in the newspaper; it does not, as it were, sit down to the tea-table with us. Though it comes home to us, like nothing else, though it tells of human joy and grief

     in widest commonalty spread,

it nevertheless requires a certain preparation of the mind, however unassuming. It is in the world, but not of the world.

Aubrey de Selincourt, On Reading Poetry (Phoenix House Ltd, 1952), 15-16

[The line “in widest commonalty spread,” is by Wordsworth. Aubrey de Selincourt quotes G. F. Bradley as saying: “Poetry is in the world, but not of the world.” I cannot identify G. F. Bradley at this time.]


predictable results

The use of unusual and novel poetic forms will produce obscure and ignorable poems.



A poem as clever as it was slight.


evidently confident

Judging from the number of workshops being offered, many writers evidently are confident that they can teach good writing.


engine for perception

Be on guard! Don’t let your language go slack and without purpose. Let it be an engine for perception, a testing ground for truth, and a finite lens to the infinite.

—Bert Meyers during a workshop, quoted by Maurya Simon in “Fire Undressed My Bones: Remembering Poet Bert Meyers,” Bert Meyers: On the Life and Work of an American Master, edited by Dana Levin and Adele Elise Williams (Unsung Masters Series, 2023)


closed nets

Poets are ignored or neglected for various reasons, and seldom is any kind active antipathy involved, rather, it’s just laziness on the part of critics and of readers unwilling to open wide their nets beyond what they already know.


winking at you

One of those linebreaks that’s winking at you…knows it’s oh so clever.


image of note: crows

Crows pass above like arguments with wings.

—David Pontrelli, from “Outpost,” Poems for Streets and People: 1991-2001 (Cold Mountain Press, 2023)

[Images/similes/metaphors that fuse the concrete and the abstract.]


oed till the end

I happen to own a full-sized set of the Oxford English Dictionary. It was given to me by my wife as a wedding present. Just wow. I don’t go to them as often in this digital age, but I will keep them to the end of my life. If I open my arms I could try to lift them, but the volumes end to end are near a yard wide, and each volume is a foot high, each volume a tome. Word tomb now? It would be like trying to lift sacred stone tablets. I’d be afraid they’d slip from my grip, break apart on the ground, words, words, words, spilling out.


trainwreck artist

Did the poet really think that making his life a disaster would make him a great artist, or knowing that he was making a disaster of his life, did he justify his actions as being for the sake of his art?

[Thinking of John Berryman]


messed up lives

Investigating the lives of our literary gods we find they were as messed up as the Greek gods.


say when

Excess even in a short poem.


form finds a function

Free verse is individualistic: the entire poem is entirely up to you. Every aspect of it is your choice, your decision. You make it all. In a sense, every free verse poem reinvents the poem.
When you’re working in a strict form sometimes a certain magic takes place. You realize that the content is finding itself through the form. The form gives you your poem.

“Form follows function,” engineers say. Evidently it can go the other way round. Following form, you find function.

—Ursula Le Guin, “Form, Free Verse, Free Form: Some Thoughts,” afterword to Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014 (PM Pres, 2015)


true surreal

The true surreal that is not meant to shock but to astonish.


articulate learning

In close reading or critical analysis of the poem what is learned comes from the articulation of one’s response to the piece.


generative entity

Ashbery as both Proteus and Proust.


reading is the event

Young poet, reading poetry is more important than poetry readings.


suspect speaker

Resist the default notion that the speaker of the poem is the self-same person as the name in the byline.


charge to poets

It’s the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the powerless.

—Grace Paley, “Of Poetry and Women and the World,” Just a Thought (FSG, 1998)


first or last

The first line of the poem should have been the last.


heretofore unseen

Whether by wonder or dismay, in that moment of first experiencing the art, no one would be able to recognize the artist’s accomplishment until much later.


not that close

His close reading of poems was ‘close’, in that it was inexact.


things carried along

Model for a poem: The wind along the street catches up leaves, bits of paper and other debris.


fuse public and private

Frank O’Hara’s great popularity surely has something to do with his ability to fuse public and private, to capture those moments of everyday life when we respond, overtly or just subliminally, to the “breaking news” of the day.

—Marjorie Perloff, on “Poem (Khrushchev is coming on the right day!),” The Difference is Spreading: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems (U. of Penn Press, 2022)


epigram for one book

The time I took
to make this book,
being both debut
and long review.


hard work

Art should be difficult to take up and equally hard to set aside.


whole not parts

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


stands and stands

There will be poet challengers to certain canonical poets, but some of challenged poets will never be tilted or knocked off their pedestals.


no brand

I hope never to hear of a poet developing his/her brand.


fee for fee

Literary presses trading permission fees.


not blank

Even when a poet begins a poem, her page is not totally blank but houses ghosts of what poetry is, has been, and could be.

—Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Difference is Spreading: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022)


starting block

Poets often concern themselves with the end words of their lines. The first word in the line should be seen as the runner in the starting block, poised to take that first thrusting step.


lost lines

The poem was forgetting itself line by line.


marketing plan

The poet’s distribution strategy was to drive around town putting his new book inside all the tiny library stanchions he could find.


alternate route

Poets and artists must resist this: The MFA way or the highway.

A degree works for some but not for others. A watershed has many tributaries.


no five-seven-five

There’s no counting in haiku. (Of syllables that is.)


edge of the void

…often poetic forms, even non-rhyming ones, are about end words. I don’t like to think of end words as the point of the line—the break is not more central to the line than the rest of the unit—but there is, yes, something significant about those ultimate words. They need a little more courage, hanging out right at the edge of the void.

—Elisa Gabbert, “Cross-talk,” The New York Times Book Review, Oct. 15, 2023


straight up

Fearless in his critique of famous poets because some had asked him for his opinion, and he gave it straight.


know a poem

In phrases, images, rhythms, style,...you can know a poem without having memorized a single line.


required study

To really know poetry requires an education akin to training in the sciences.


poetic engagement

There are many people who write poetry who are not poets. A ‘poet’ is someone whose engagement with the world is absolute and integral. There are writers of poetry who use language as a substitute for artist engagement.


diorama poem

The poem as diorama: a miniature curated space that you can peer into and into which you can pretend for a while to dwell.


three recognitions

As I’ve said, the actual subject of any poem is the reader. The poem should be where the reader sees himself afresh, momentarily freed from the trappings of the world. But for this to occur, the reader must be able to find his way into the poem as a participant. Metaphor, through its question-asking process, is a partial way to do this. But it is also necessary for the reader to apprehend and authenticate the event or situation of the poem with his memory. That is, he must take part in the poem by engaging in an act of recognition.

This recognition can be divided into three general types: intellectual, physical and emotional. When I say 5x5=25, you engage in an act of intellectual recognition. When I describe the smell of apples, the recognition is physical. When I talk of the difficulty of love, the recognition is emotional.

It is rarely so simple. Any recognition will often be made up of all three parts, although only one part may predominate.

—Stephen Dobyns, “Metaphor and the Authenticating Act of Memory,” Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry (Tendril, 1984), edited by Paul Mariani and George Murphy [p 210]


higher order

The audience for poetry is more advanced than the audiences of other arts, because more is required of those who follow poetry.


not fade away

Dante has held up well over time. That's what literature is: Writing something that doesn’t fade from consciousness of the cognoscenti.


postmo tv

It’s not coincidence that Post Modernism and television came of age concurrently.


an old value

Prudence is prophylactic to the prolific.

[Thinking of the new Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse's Septology. Please stop the egomaniacal madness.]


many things at once

A poet can hold many things at one time inside the head.


bootleg and spatchcock

And here is the main difficulty that imagism and its derivatives and variations run into every time. Most ideas are not contained in the mere names of things, nor even in the description of things, and have to be supplied from elsewhere. If you are and say you are in principle against any ideas save such as come packaged in things and the names of things, you will have to bootleg your ideas in somehow-anyhow and spatchcock them onto your poem somehow-anyway, while continuing to proclaim you are doing no such thing.

—Howard Nemerov, “Image and Metaphor,” Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry (Tendril, 1984), edited by Paul Mariani and George Murphy


weave for whatever it is

Find a language pattern that matters to the poem’s content.


no through-cut

For him the thesis never came easily.


through the side door

Frost entered the Modern canon through the farmhouse’s side door, with the nineteenth century’s snow still on his boots, bringing in a load of firewood for the stove.


rosebud image

Looking for his ‘Rosebud’ image: the thing that would flash upon one’s mind in the moment before death.


images floating by

Images as flotsam of the oceanic mind.


useless objects

When Arp writes of a “bladeless knife from which a handle is missing,” when Norge speaks of a “time when the onion used to make people laugh,” we have images, configurations, which employ archetypal elements but are not properly speaking archetypes. Instead, we have the emergence of entities which only by the force of utterance and the upheaval they cause in the imagination and thought acquire existence and even reality. These “useless objects” have a strange authority. Even as visionary acts, they consist of particulars and thus curiously provide us with a semblance of actual experience.

—Charles Simic, “Negative Capability and its Children,” Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry (Tendril, 1984), edited by Paul Mariani and George Murphy


gull line

You can ask for no better line than a gull cutting across the horizon near dusk.


was a tank

The poem was a tank...it was self-contained and could not be stopped.


waste no word

 Poet, waste no word or thus lessen the thrust of the line.


marble face

Each letter set like in piton in the marble face of the page.


function, structure and design.

The Roman architect Vitruvius suggested that buildings can be judged according to their utilitas, firmitas, and venustas, that is, according to their fitness for their purpose, their structural soundness, and their beauty; or, in Richard Krautheimer’s version, their function, structure, and design.

—Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing about Art, (HarperCollins, 1989)

[The same criteria could be applied to a good poem.]


stance against subject

By style one finds the stance necessary to confront the subject.


that poem that

That poem that does that. You’ll know it when you hear/read it.


load-bearing line

A line must bear the weight of the one or many above it.


go for a walk

Paul Klee’s suggestion to ‘go for a walk with a line’, applies to poetry as well.


rhyme made me do it

Another insipid turn of phrase brought forth by making a rhyme.


music of thought

The music of a poem can come from its thoughts.


claw marks

Every poem shall be a tearing up of a poem,
not a poem, but claw marks.

—Edith Södergran (1892-1923), ending of the poem “Decision,” translated by Malena Mörling and Jonas Ellerström, The Star By My Head: Poets from Sweden (Milkweed Editions and The Poetry Foundation, 2013).


life index

A poem that was the index to your existence.


experience everlasting

The first time you read the poem you knew you’d encountered an inexhaustible resource.


sword and armor

Orpheus tried to make a song strong as a sword and armor.


file upload complete

They don’t curate, they don’t edit: Presses that will publish almost anything because print-on-demand technology demands so little of the publisher…just a good pdf file to upload.


this way

Having a way with words will only get you so far. You must have a way into the world that others will want to follow.


big book, big evil

Callimachus is best known today for his verse. He is the author of the elegy to a fellow poet, Heraclitus of Halicarnassus, often anthologized in its translation by William Johnson Cory: ‘They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.’ A proponent of shorter forms—hymns, elegies, epigrams—he is said to have coined the witticism mega biblion, mega kakon (‘big book, big evil’) to express his disdain for epic poetry. Nevertheless, it is his work not as a poet but as a scholar which will concern us, and here Callimachus was responsible for a very big book indeed, the Pinakes, said to have run to 120 papyrus scrolls.


Callimachus may have been passed over for the role of Chief Librarian [Library of Alexandria], but, in compiling the Pinakes, it was he who did most of all to preserve the library’s memory. Pinakes simply means ‘Tables’, as in writing boards or ‘tablets’, and the full title of Callimachus’s work was the Tables of Men Illustrious in Every Field of Learning and of Their Writing. It was a catalogue of all the works housed in the great library.

—Dennis Duncan, Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age (W. W. Norton, 2021) [31- 32]


worse angels

Words had got the worst of him.


they who believe

Heartened that there were people who believed more in her poetry than she did.


not imprimatur

Print is not imprimatur: A poem being in a book is not the poem’s imprimatur.


tethered to existence

One believes the poem came from nowhere, while each line could be traced back to life.


grape to raisin

Don’t be the critic who makes a raisin from a grape.


paris arcades

In 1929, Benjamin once again believed that he could pinpoint when, where, and how this breakthrough into the unreal and universally falsifying spirit of his age occurred. In Paris, in fact, the capital of the nineteenth century. Not in the form of an individual or a book, but in a new form of construction, built from iron and steel: the Paris arcades, the cabinets of curiosity, bathed in a perpetual artificial twilight, of coming consumer capitalism. In their window displays the whole disparate world of commodities, forms, and symbols was placed side by side for the onlooker’s gaze, and in the end offered for purchase. Neither entirely an internal space nor part of the streetscape, the arcades were deliberately arranged as liminal places that leveled out every fundamental difference. Half cave, half house, half passageway and half room.

In the finite individuals who strolled aimlessly through them, with their always brimming, constantly redecorated vitrines, these arcades created the appearance of infinite availability, which would extend to the rest of the world—and anesthetize it.

—Wolfram Eilenberger, Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade that Reinvented Philosophy (Penguin Books, 2020), trans. by Shaun Whiteside. [343-344]


for you and your mom

Print litmags typically give you two contributor copies, because they know you’ll want to keep a copy and that your mom will want to read your work too.


art and money

To make money by one’s art should be nothing more than a delightful and unexpected convergence. Like running into an old friend someplace you never could have imagined.


special case

Any poem beyond a couple pages in length is a special case of prose.


end work

Sometimes an artist will write or sing or paint something they know they can never exceed, and their creative life ends right there.


valued but unread

What most book collectors overlook is that the material object of the book would be absolutely worthless without the text within. Yet once the book becomes collectible, the object itself is barely if ever read for fear of harming the artifact.


cut that alters

A line break that preempts the full thought and thus alters it.


art as performance

During one of my visits to the studio of the artist David Salle, he told me that he never revises. Every brushstroke is irrevocable. He doesn’t correct or repaint, ever. He works under the dire conditions of performance. Everything counts, nothing may be taken back, everything must always go relentlessly forward, and a mistake may be fatal. One day, he showed me a sort of murdered painting. He had worked on it a little too long, taken a misstep, killed it.

—Janet Malcolm, “Forty-one False Starts" [#4], Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)


too close to poem

I would posit that if your favorite poem is one you’ve written, you are not a good poet.


cannot wear out

No matter how many times you read or hear it, you can’t wear out a good poem.


unknown vector

Be the poet they didn’t seeing coming.


aesthetic choice

An eclectic aesthetics. A monolithic aesthetics. A widespread aesthetics. A one-track aesthetics.



A lovely paragraph that was a lapsed poem.


bias in us

Just as we have unconscious/implicit bias in social settings, we also must own them when we’re confronted with works of art. No critic is without them.


three quotes re words

Here is a very famous quote from W.H. Auden: “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” On the other hand, here is my favorite quote from Alden Nowlan, a Canadian poet from the Maritimes: “When you read my poems, forget about the words—words mean nothing to me—what concerns me is the unutterable loneliness of the human heart.” He said words mean nothing to me. Can you imagine any American poet, or any other poet from anywhere, saying such a thing? Why does language have such a hold on poets? My buddy Joel Oppenheimer, now dead, used to say, “Poetry is NOT about language, it’s about something.”

—David Budbill, “Poetry: Special or Ordinary,” Vermont Poets and Their Craft (Sundog Poetry Ctr., 2019)


tail that stuck

Each successive turn of a line tried to shake the poem’s subject matter.


little big mag

A little magazine’s significance derives from its editorial competence.


empty chair

Sitting there in workshop she was like an empty chair—it was clear the moment she spoke how little poetry and criticism she’d read.


air and light

The poem may be a closed shutter, but you should push open the louvres a bit to let some air and light in.


strong stomach

You’ll have to stomach a lot if you’re going to be a taste-maker.


line tuckered out

In his [essay] “Not About Julian Schnabel,” [Rene] Ricard wrote about the kind of line that “just gets tuckered out after a while,” adding, “The beautiful charcoal smudges and style we can follow from Matisse through de Kooning to Rivers, Serra, and, in its ultimate decadence, to Susan Rothenberg are perfect illustrations.” He went on, “Judy Rifka told me that when she was in art school all her teachers drew that way. That was the way you were taught, and no matter how lousy the drawing was, it always looked pretty good, like art.” The conventional bohemianism that Ricard embodies may be going the way of the art line he so tellingly describes.

—Janet Malcolm, “A Girl of the Zeitgeist,” Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)


take a selfie

He had the same author photo for ten years. Doesn’t he know his smartphone has a camera?


small steps

You like to think that the pages of the literary magazine you’ve published in are small steps toward notice and attention.


wordplay poetics

When I hear a poet say ‘wordplay’ is an important aspect of his/her poetry, I feel sorry for them, knowing all the insignificant poems they’re bound to write.


book signing

After the poetry reading, a man came up to her where she was signing books and said: “I found this inscribed copy of your book at the Goodwill—if you’ll just cross out Sally’s name and write Tom over it, I’ll be all set.”


editorial light

The light went out on literature when editors were forced out of publishing by the profit motive or forsook their sacred duty to become cheerleaders.


investigative presence

Too much emphasis on the creative aspect of the arts and not enough on the artist as an investigative presence in the world.


slow for construction

Writing in a notebook makes composition slower and revision harder, and that can be a good thing.


you too will rest

This is the most famous German poem ever written, one which all German children must learn by heart:

      On all hilltops
      There is peace,
      In all treetops
      You will hear
      Hardly a breath.
      Birds in the woods are silent.
      Just wait, soon
      You too will rest.

The idea of the poem is simple: in the woods everything is asleep, and you will sleep, too. The purpose of the poetry is not to try to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.

Milan Kundera, Immortality (HarperCollins, 1999) translated by Peter Kussi


broken things

Scrabbling up the landslide on Parnassus, he realized it was broken statuary he was climbing over.


forget about it

After reading so many ‘memoir poems’ it makes one wish poets had poor memories.


plain and floral

The book’s poems were rather plain, while the book’s blurbs were beyond florid.


slipped off the edge

Poems that veer away from major themes slip easily into oblivion.


poet again

Sometimes all I need to do is to think of those times when I first thought myself a poet, and I’m a poet again.


to see clearly

…the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion—all in one.

—John Ruskin, “Of Modern Landscape”


glories of analog

Makes me sad to think of the young poets who do all their writing on their phones. They will never know the notebook in all its analog glory.


vanity awards

The ‘International Book Awards’: Send us $74 and we’ll send you some stickers to put on the cover of your book. You have to pay for the stickers too.


ways to go wrong

There are many ways for a poem to go wrong, and in composition one would do well to follow all of them.


have you noticed

The quotes on the back of Poetry magazine are like bad Instagram poetry.


need to be

It’s a bad poem, but if you needed to write it, maybe it has worth.


wrenched diction

Lines that are wrenched suggest a powerful emotion has wrenched them, such as Hopkin’s, “My own heart let me more have pity on; let / Me live to my sad self hereafter kind”; but even the slightest displacement of customary acts or values will do it. For instance, “We once were in love, made love and kissed without a harmful history,” [Hardy] puts kissing after love and last in an amorous past blessed by brevity.

—William H. Gass, “The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence,” Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011)


lost & found

Yes, things are lost in the notebook—then things are discovered therein as if you hadn’t written them.


mind the gap

Public consciousness of poetry is bookended by the great themes and humorous ditties, little in between do they know.


water is fine

Not one to dally, Dickinson drops in quickly to her subject: I often think of the her dashes as those wooden docks jutting out into country ponds, where on summer days she may have desired to jump into the cool water.


strength in numbers

One of those times when the open mike readers bested the featured poet.


usual speech

Poet, read aloud the way you talk.


sentence v. line

This is why the sentences rather than the lines of poems are the primary focus of our attention: the function of language is the transmission of meaning, and we’ve attended to sentences as the life-giving instrument of meaning since infancy, long before we ever started reading poems. But language is also a system in which everything is connected to everything else—tout se tient, in de Saussure’s words—which is why the orchestration of sentences through the agency of lines may produce a unique kind of musical meaning that expands the meaning of sentences as they unfold.

—Michael Ryan, ‘Winter 2004’, from Table Talk: from The Threepenny Review (Counterpoint Press, 2015), edited by Wendy Lesser, Jennifer Zahrt, and Mimi Chubb.


on display

I noticed the poet had all his published books arrayed just so on the coffee table.


reading late

As a reader, late in life, it sometimes makes me sad that I hadn’t encountered a book twenty years before or, better would have been, by the age of twenty.


poets dread

The grammarians at the gate.


no need

Using a formal device does drive poems in different and unexpected directions, sometimes yielding a real discovery, but sometimes you just a write a poem that neither you nor the world needed.


good company

He scanned the litmag’s contents page to make certain he was in good company, and then closed the litmag and filed it away for his archives.


sublime flights

There is a sheen upon his utterance like the morning dew upon a meadow before it has been sullied by human footfall. Never before Hölderlin or after him in German literature was poetry inspired to such sublime flights, far above the levels at which we ordinarily move. Everything is seen as by a soaring eagle, from the heights to which Hölderlin so ardently aspires. This is why the beings he depicts appear, as in dreams, to have shaken off the trammels of gravity, to have become bodiless spirits—for Hölderlin never learnt (this is at once his greatness and his limitation) to see the world as it is. He poetised about it; he never knew it.

—Stefan Zweig, “Hölderlin,” The Struggle with the Daemon (Pushkin Press, 2012), translated by Eden and Cedar Paul


embedded poem

Anthology concept: ‘poems’ drawn from works of fiction and prose.


warrant for the common reader

After banning many books, when they come to arrest the common reader, he will not hold up his hands, rather he will clutch the book he’s been reading to his chest in the hope it will stop a bullet.


bad prose or good poetry

A line that could be faulted in prose but would be thought of as a feature in a poem.


word house

Certain poems are the equivalent of shelter.


control of the output

One may not be able to control the reception of one’s work by the public, but one can make certain the output is sufficiently of interest that it ought to be recognized.


see anew

Poet, see anew what is known.


from an open window

The food does not always taste best in first-class restaurants. To me, art almost always speaks more forcefully when it appears in an imperfect, accidental, and fragmentary way, somehow just signaling its presence, allowing one to feel it through the ineptitude of the interpretation. I prefer the Chopin that reaches me in the street from an open window to the Chopin served in great style from the concert stage.

—Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969), Diary (Yale U. Press, 2012), translated by Lillian Vallee


turn heads

The artist should develop a turn of mind that tends to turn things on their heads.


typical hiding place

A book is where one must read through 75 pages to find one poem.


subject to collapse

A line that undermines one’s sense of reality.


epic incapable

A long, long time ago...he admitted that he was epic incapable.


some markson anecdotes

Karl Barth’s surmise:
That while the angels may play only Bach in praising God, among themselves they play Mozart. (8)

Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail. Being Samuel Johnson’s précis of the poet’s life.
Despondency and madness, being Wordsworth’s summation of the end of same. (21)

I cannot endure to read a line of poetry; I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.
Says Darwin’s Autobiography. (25)

Verses of Propertius were found copied out on walls in Pompeii. (27)

The greatest lesbian poet since Sappho, Auden called Rilke. (34)

Pope offended so many people with the Dunciad that he subsequently never left home without pistols.
Or his Great Dane. (36)

A.E. Housman, on the surest source of poetic inspiration:
A pint, at luncheon. (47)

A good-natured man of principle.
Pablo Neruda called Stalin. (56)

A walk? What on earth for?
Asked Auden at someone’s country house. (79)

It is very difficult to understand and appreciate the generation that follows you, Matisse said. (96)

The poetical fame of Ausonius condemns the taste of his age, Gibbon said. (113)

In one of his less balanced periods, Robert Lowell penciled in some revisions in Milton’s Lycidas. And insisted he was the author of the entire poem. (119)

Wallace Stevens once worked briefly as a newspaper reporter. And was assigned to cover Stephen Crane’s funeral. (122)

Samuel Johnson, on criticism:
A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince, but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still. (132)

—David Markson, This is Not a Novel (Counterpoint, 2001)


it's a small world

What is a Pushcart Prize? Is it some kind of insider self-congratulatory back-patting of the small press world?


false to experience

The more artifice the poem has, the more false it is to experience.


higher order

A command of rhetoric that rose to the level of imagery.


more than

Poet, aspire to more than a few published books and an academic post.


must be set aside

A poet must disregard poetics in the act of composition.


what is this

At first the reader didn’t recognize the text as a poem.


radio waves

There were unnoticeable rhythms in the poem, like the radio waves that pass through our bodies.


living color

In poetry, the description itself must happen.

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


workshop of the three little pigs

When the wolf came upon the first poem he could see the lines were just straw. A half-inhale was all it took to blow away the poem. The second poem he came to was made of sticks, and with a great gust of breath he blew apart the poem. But the last poem he encountered was a stanza made of brick, and no matter how hard he tried to blow and blow, the brick box held.



A line that was a dark alley. A line that was a hairpin turn. A line that was a blind curve. A line that was an on-ramp. A line that was a work zone. A line that was the last exit before the toll. A line that stretched to a vanishing point. A line that was a dead end.


no owner

The poem was published as “Anonymous” because no one would own up to it.


like jenga

A poem like Jenga in which taking away a single line could result in sudden collapse.


heavily adorned

An image encrusted poem.


pure and radiant disaster

But opposing and complementary aspects are never as distinct as one might believe. Whether they are medieval or almost contemporary, the vanquished and the suicides whom Ivan Morris depicts for us are distinguished from their Occidental counterparts by a specifically Japanese characteristic: the poetic contemplation of nature at the moment of death. Whether it is the melancholy Prince Yamato Takeru of the fourth century A.D. or Ōnishi in 1945 or the Saigō, champion of oppressed peasants in the nineteenth century, they all die with poetic refinement.

      O lone pine tree!
      O my brother!

sighs in death Prince Yamato Takeru, who had been sent to perish in yet unconquered regions on a desolate plain at the foot of a mountain by his father the emperor, who employed this classic method to get rid of a son who had become an encumbrance.


In the twentieth century, the young kamikazes, the pilots of suicide planes, also bade a poetic farewell to life before taking off with no chance of return. Thus, in 1945, a twenty-two-year-old pilot:

      If only we might fall
      Like cherry blossoms in the Spring—
      So pure and radiant!

Margeurite Yourcenar, “The Nobility of Failure,” That Might Sculptor, Time (FSG, 1992), translation by Walter Kaiser.

[This essay deals with Japanese history and culture in books by Ivan Morris, including his work entitled The Nobility of Failure, as well as the novels of Yukio Mishima.]


epic fail

It was said to be an epic but no one could quote a single line from it.


made shift

He made shift with language, because what else can a writer do.


Ibid, ibid again

There were so many instances of ‘Ibid’ in his footnotes, I thought the author might be someone who frequented auctions.


through or over

One must read through or over the antique poetic diction.


all seen and all said

Poem of an omniscient narrator versus a poem of an overknowledgeable orator.


you walk out

Studio Ghosts

When you’re in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you. Your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics…and one by one, if you’re really painting, they walk out. And if you’re really painting, you walk out.
                  --From a talk with Philip Guston

Audrey Flack, Art & Soul: Notes on Creating (ARKANA/Penguin Group, 1986)


poem as sphere

The lines seem to reconfigure into latitudes and longitudes, making a world.


in another direction

The poem was not derivative but rather dérive-ative.


trust factor

He trusted images more than metaphors.



A poem top-heavy with its best lines; toppling before its close.


poetry stretches

Again and again, poetry stretches words until and so that we are forced to look afresh at them, and by the same token at the concepts, experiences and attitudes behind them. The poet Randall Jarrell quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: ‘The author whom a lexicon can keep up with is worth nothing.’

—James Camien McGuiggan, Meaning beyond definition, Aeon (online) 3 April 2023


believe in

Believe in the poem, if not in poetry.


accidental editor

The publisher mangles a line, misses a word, or drops a whole passage—still, is it better or worse?—and somehow it comes out whole.


playing against archetype

Look for the exception to the archetype.


poets and panhandlers

The dilemma of paying poets for their poems is it's like giving money to panhandlers: you want to help but you don’t want to encourage them.


too distilled

Tanka and haiku may be so distilled to their essential images that they lose all meaning, becoming refined observation without implication.


poem itself

There may be indefinite ranges of symbolic references behind the simplest Japanese poem….If one did not know the mythology he could, from participation in the poem, invent an equivalent one. This is an objective-subjective, fact-and-symbol relationship which is perhaps the defining characteristic of all great poetry. In Japanese verse it stands alone: not an aspect or factor of the poem, but the poem itself.

—Kenneth Rexroth, “Classic Japanese Poetry,” Classics Revisited (New Directions, 1965) [p. 96]


horrid words

The most horrid words are those deployed in poems only to make a rhyme.

the many and the few

Many read the long demanding poem in part, few could aver to having read all.


to build a fire

I have many poetry books. If times get tough, I can burn them for heat.


imagination and integrity

A poem in which the bravura of the imagination is matched by the integrity of the verisimilitude.


striking and prominent

When I compose a poem I generally begin with the most striking and prominent part, and if I feel pleased with my execution of that, I then proceed to fill up the other parts.

—William Wordsworth, as quoted by Alexander Dyce in his Reminiscences.


a few good ones

He wouldn’t write a minor poem. Thus, he wrote very few poems.



Always surprised to find ready kindling in the notebook. A few phrases, an odd sentence or two, and in no time at all a fire is built.



His bastion study fortified with bookcases.


hear it

Poetry: Hear it, hear it first; that’s its heart.


best parts

Sometimes the best things about a book are its preface or afterword, it’s footnotes or its bibliography.


intimate junction

That is essentially what you get in H.D., very static, very imagistic, but if there’s anything that can be said to last from the world of the imagist turmoil around the time World War I, it is H.D.

Again, it’s not for all readers. To some people it may seen excessively cold and excessively distant, excessively static, excessively idealistic; and yet, it’s hard to read it without being disturbed by thoughts of what life could be and maybe has been at one instance of historical time, that maybe on one or two of these Greek islands there has been this intimate junction among flowers and wind and the seasons, a conjunction between that and the utmost creativity of their own hands and imagination, an unselfconscious sexuality and concourse and intercourse among human beings. H.D.’s is essentially an island world, almost platonist, an island world held by an utmost effort of the will in a kind of equilibrium. That essentially H.D.’s world, very small, very intense, very static, and in the best of it, very, very beautiful. I can take a lot of H.D. The only trouble is, there’s not a lot of her. If you want to pursue her further, there’s a Selected Poems issued by Grove Press, in paperback, which you can get. I love to read her when I’m about half-drunk. It’s a wonderful antidote to the easy sentimentality: all of this stuff about marble and being tempered in fiery crucibles to bring forth a perfect shape.

—James Dickey, “The Georgian Poets,” James Dickey: Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry (U. of S. Carolina Press, 2004), edited by Donald J. Greiner [183]


being sharpened

As you read the poem you could hear the poet whetting a last line.


language exceeds

A poet amazed that the poem exceeded his modest expectation. But language is like that.



Like a bad general on a battlefield, the critic underestimated content’s force.


nothing to show

Unlike a person asked to solve an algebraic equation, the poet cannot answer the charge: “Show your work.”


fascinating fascist

Ezra Pound: the dicta dictator.


notebook memory

Memory no match for a notebook at hand.

[Being a digital age, any 'notes app' could suffice.]


brakes on perception

The language of poetry is difficult, laborious language, which puts the brakes on perception. In some particular cases the language of poetry approaches the language of prose, but this does not violate the law of difficulty.
Moreover, there is a strong tendency to create new language, specifically intended for poetry; as we know, Vladimir Khlebnikov is leading this school. Thus, we arrive at a definition of poetry as decelerated, contorted speech. Poetic speech is constructed speech.

—Victor Shklovsky, Victor Shklovsky: A Reader (Bloomsbury, 2017), edited and translated by Alexandra Berlina [94; 95]


faithful record

Though he did create texts he resisted being called a ‘creative’ writer—he preferred thinking of himself as making a faithful record of what humankind he’d encountered and those parts of world he’d experienced.


faith-based readership

For a poet any readership one might imagine is like a belief in God, it has to be taken on faith alone.


big ego book

Is that book about making literature or is it a tome-manifestation of your ego?


all lanes open

There never was or ever will be one way to write a poem.


more than a game

Chess is beautiful enough to waste your life on.
Hans Ree

Poetry is beautiful enough to waste your life on.


unknown poets

All the good poets we don’t notice, or who are simply unknown to us.


hard habit

It had only been a few hours since he’d sworn off poetry, when out popped another poem.


mess up the space

A poet who liked to mess up the page with broken sentences and floating words and phrases.


flinch but look back

The first line made the reader flinch. (But didn’t deter him from reading on.)


don't want to hear

Write beautifully what people don’t want to hear.

—Frederick Seidel, The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 95, (ISSUE 190, FALL 2009), interviewed by Jonathan Galassi


idea dominant

An idea too big for a poem.


be seen

Why are poets, who live by words, who dwell in language, so eager to have their photos on book covers, faces pressed forward in adverts for their appearances? Ah, appearances, now that makes sense.


playing catch-up

Contemporary poets clamoring for my attention, I tell them: I’m still trying to catch-up to the poets I missed during twentieth century.


english to newer english

Earlier English poets who we now read in translations conforming to later conventions of syntax, punctuation and spelling.


predilection and its limits

When it comes to writing, our predilections will inevitably shape our practice, but they should not constrain our purview when it comes to the experience of literature.


poets are but earth

On their leaving the room to get ready for their journey, my friend told me the strangers were the poet Wordsworth, his wife and sister. Who could have divined this? I could see no trace, in the hard features and weather-stained brow of the outer man, of the divinity within him. In a few minutes the travellers reappeared….Now that I knew that I was talking to one of the gentle craft, as there was no time to waste, I asked him abruptly what he thought of Shelley as a poet?
   “Nothing,” he replied, as abruptly.
   Seeing my surprise, he added, “A man who has not produced a good poem before he is twenty-five, we may conclude cannot and never will do so.”
   “The Cenci!” I said eagerly.
   “Won’t do,” he replied, shaking his head, as he got into the carriage: a rough-coated Scotch terrier following him.
   “This hairy fellow is our flea-trap,” he shouted out, as they started off.
When I recovered from the shock of having heard the harsh sentence passed by an elder bard on a younger brother of the Muses, I exclaimed, After all, poets are but earth.

—E. J. Trelawny, Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron (1858), quoted in The Minor Pleasures of Life (Victor Gollancz LTD, 1934), selected and arranged by Rose Macaulay.


walk for one word

I went out for a walk to find the word I was looking for.

Out for a walk, I have often found the words I was looking for lying about in the landscape, as easy to gather as bending to pick up a stone or reaching up to snap off a dead twig.


experience of the encounter

A poem may frustrate understanding without diminishing the experience of the encounter.


listen then think

A poem should make one listen, but then a poem should make one think.


blotting himself out

Publishing and publishing more, he was publishing himself into anonymity.


acknowledged after

If history holds, there will be some lesser known poets more known a generation or two hence.


transfuse not transmit

There a new element has stolen in, a tinge of emotion. And I think that to transfuse emotion—not to transmit thought but to set up in the reader’s sense a vibration corresponding to what was felt by the writer—is the peculiar function of poetry.

—A.E. Housman, "The Name and Nature of Poetry" (1933)



scholarship or sensibility

Distinguishing between a criticism based on scholarship or one relying on sensibility.


follow the leader

That phenomenon of a workshop when the poets start writing poems in the manner of the group’s leader or its most distinguished voice.


numerical clutter

Annoying to read poems made of brief entries—a phrase, a sentence or two—that have been separated into numbered sections. The numbers serve no function other than division, where blank space or at most an asterisk would suffice.


communication in depth

Dickey offers a provocative definition of poetry in the discussion of Alun Lewis: “It’s not ‘literature’; it’s that human communication in depth that the best poetry is.” To say that a poet is great is not to praise indiscriminately. “Human communication in depth” can miss the mark. Dickey cautions the audience during the session on William Butler Yeats: “There are small writers that you can like without equivocation or without reservation, but I think there are no great writers that you have no reservation about whether or not you like them. Toward the end of this volume in the lecture on Dylan Thomas, he identifies two of his choices for greatness: “Of the great original users of the English language, who brought something truly original to the use of English in poetry, the two finest, the most original in whole canon of English poetry, are Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas…But of the two, the more original is Dylan Thomas.”

Quoted in James Dickey: Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry (U. of S. Carolina Press, 2004), edited by Donald J. Greiner


less of the same

You have written and published a dozen books and you are almost unknown among fellow poets, not to mention any greater audience. Is it not time to slow down, to re-set, and to see if you can find a strain of poetry that will be recognized?


is it your move or mine

I played chess for long hours with Jack Gilbert without saying anything of consequence.


not this way or that

No one way to write a true poem.


judge unknown

He knew he was out of his times when he couldn’t recognize the name of the poet judging a major prize.


airhead editor

Speaking about poetics and essays about poetry, the new editor said she was 'against five-syllable words'. Someone unable to lift her head, to strain her neck to look beyond the barrier of what she knows. Does 'responsibility' have too many syllables?


itinerant poet

A Cure for Poetry

Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,
Thro’ which the living Homer begg’d his bread.

(Anonymous; after the Latin of George Buchanan)

[Quoted in The Faber Book of Epigrams and Epitaphs (Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1977), edited by Geoffrey Grigson]


different reasons

Philosophers and poets are fond of the aphorism for different reasons.


responsible reader

It’s not all on the writer—the reader too has responsibilities to the text.


echo form

Two people walk into a poetry reading late, while the reader is reciting her pantoum. The guy says to his date, 'Gosh, there's a terrible echo in this room'.


good parenting

The parents grew concerned finding that their teenage son was reading poetry books, so they purchased many new video game titles for him.


to make of or to listen to

Poets who are not so much makers as they are listeners.


come up for air

In poetry the right margin is not like in a swimming pool, where the swimmer must make a turn against a wall. The line ends where the swimmer in open water comes up for air.


head turning sentence

An aphorism should turn a head.


words in the night

I was in Buenos Aires recently (I know, ‘Don’t cry for me…’). The trip gave me a chance to reread Merwin’s translations of the ‘aphorisms’ of Antonio Porchia (1886-1968). I put quote-marks around the word aphorisms because Porchia objected to being called an aphorist. An Italian immigrant to Argentina, he opened a print shop with his brother, and struggled to make a living in his adopted country, all the while refining his short writings. He published one book, Voices, in several editions. He was never fully embraced by the Argentine literati. But as Merwin says in his intro, “Shortly before his death he had been recorded reading from his Voices, and for some time after he died his voice was used by a Buenos Aires radio station, each night as it signed off. In Porchia’s slow, deep utterance…"

Before I travelled my road I was my road.

One lives in hope of becoming a memory.

He who tells the truth says almost nothing.

A wing is neither heaven nor earth.

The world understands nothing but words, and you come into it with almost none.

When there is no treasure to show, night is the treasure.

It is a long time now since I asked heaven for anything , and still my arms have not come down.

It is easier for me to see everything as one thing than to see one thing as one thing.

A large heart can be filled with very little.

He who has made a thousand things and he who has made none, both feel the same desire to make something.

Night is a world lit by itself.

What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.

The important and unimportant are the same only at the start.

—Antonio Porchia, Voices (Cooper Canyon, 2003) by Antonio Porchia, translation by W. S. Merwin.


no more me

We await the poems that will come after personal and family content are exhausted.


equal levels

Artists should realize the political is no more worthy than the aesthetic of elevation.


in buenos aires

First stanza of Jorge Luis Borges' "Poem about Gifts"...

   Let none think that I by tear or reproach make light
   Of this manifesting the mastery
   Of God, who with excelling irony
   Gives me at once both books and night.

[Borges blind or near so at this point, from Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]

The old Biblioteca Nacional where Borges served as director from 1955 to 1973.