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)