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.