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.