7.15.2024

makes itself new

Unless the world stands still, poetry will change.

7.13.2024

weak critic

A critic who only took on books by no-accounts so as not to offend any of the gatekeepers.

7.11.2024

composition or content

There are people who keep commonplace books for their compositional and calligraphic beauty. Other people will scrawl over the pages or paste in clippings askew, concerned only with the quality of the content they’ve captured.

7.10.2024

discursive control

He was a master of the meander poem.

7.09.2024

no tail no donkey

…one finds it unbearable that poetry should be so hard to write—a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey in which there is for most of the players no tail, no donkey, not even a booby prize. If there were only some mechanism (like Seurat's proposed system of painting, or the projected Universal Algebra that Gödel believes Leibnitz to have perfected and mislaid) for reasonably and systematically converting into poetry what we see and feel and are! When one reads the verse of people who cannot write poems—people who sometimes have more intelligence, sensibility, and moral discrimination than most of the poets—it is hard not to regard the Muse as a sort of fairy godmother who says to the poet, after her colleagues have showered on him the most disconcerting and ambiguous gifts, "Well, never mind. You're still the only one that can write poetry."

—Randall Jarrell, from the brief essay “Bad Poets” (1953)

7.08.2024

faux poems

Poet, if you don’t have anything to say—that’s okay. Just wait. Don’t fall for the faux poems that come from prompts.

7.07.2024

bigger than us

Poetry is bigger than you or me and any of our predilections.

7.05.2024

bad day for poets

It has been estimated that if Brooklyn suddenly slid into the Atlantic, the U.S. would lose 50% of its poets in a single catastrophic event.

7.04.2024

young and beautiful

All the poets are getting younger and more beautiful.

7.02.2024

mere description

I have always thought it was worth paying attention to actions or qualities routinely dismissed as mere when they appear in writing about art, literature, the world. Mere description, for instance, is in reality the most vexing thing to attempt when faced with any form of art, let alone aspect of reality.

—Brian Dillon, “Essay on Affinity II,” Affinities: On Art and Fascination (New York Review of Books, 2023)

7.01.2024

only one-hundred

These days if you are familiar with the work of one-hundred contemporary poets you’re just getting started.

6.30.2024

poem should

A poem should…

slow reveal

Even if a poet doesn’t tend to be autobiographical or confessional, inevitably some personal characteristics will be revealed in her/his choice of observations and in the style of writing.

6.27.2024

severely selected

The kind of poet for whom a selected poems was invented.

6.24.2024

no word in edgewise

The contemporary poetry scene can be summed up by the word "anecdoche."

6.22.2024

in four lines

Often I’ve had the inclination to say, “I could write that poem in four lines.”

6.20.2024

review work

It’s harder to review a book of poems than to write one.

6.18.2024

secret secret

"A photograph is a secret about a secret."
—Diane Arbus

A poem is a secret about a secret.

6.17.2024

mechanical blurbs

AI is the perfect tool for composing blurbs. Drop some positive adjectives into the hopper, turn the crank a couple times, and voila: a paragraph of hyperbole and effusive praise.

6.16.2024

art or nature

I propose a simple distinction: a thing or something is either art or nature.

6.15.2024

diva poet

I love much of Rilke, but he was a ‘diva’ in the negative sense of the word.

6.14.2024

unmoved to making

I may be interested in a particular practice of making poetry without the least desire to practice that kind of making myself.

6.12.2024

exhaustively empiricist

The Russian Formalists were at their best in their earlier, relatively informal texts: [Roman] Jakobson’s “On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets,” for example, written in 1931 in response to Mayakovsky’s suicide, is surely one of the most profound texts ever written on how poetic strength can be dissipated and ultimately end in self-destruction. And Viktor Shklovsky’s famous discussion of ostranenie (making strange) and faktura (density) have become classics. Later Formalist works like Jakobson’s exhaustive analysis of the two versions of Yeats’ “The Sorrow of Love” (see “Linguistics and Poetics”) are perhaps less suggestive because they are exhaustively empiricist, the study counting such things as every instance of the article “the” and so on. Literary criticism, I would posit, will never be an exact science, and Jakobson was at his best when he did not try to give an exhaustive account of every part of speech or syllable count in a given poem.

—Marjorie Perloff, Infrathin: An Experiment in Micropoetics (U. of Chicago Press, 2021)

6.11.2024

monocular vision

Imagine a person wearing a monocle: the image of a bad critic with a single critical lens engaged on a work.

6.10.2024

inert images

Images that don’t rise to the status of insight.

6.08.2024

he can overdo you

When you think you’re overdoing it, read some Swinburne and accept your excess.

6.07.2024

dead or alive

The articles that claim poetry is dead or in decline are counterbalanced by those touting that it’s thriving in our culture or reminding us how important poetry is to our lives.

6.06.2024

unpoetic words

One of those words you feel sorry for knowing they’ll never find a way into a poem. Then sometimes you are surprised when such a word shows up in a poem.

[See “tergiversations” from June Jordan’s “Poem for Haruko”]

6.04.2024

value-add

The advent of AI will only add cachet to human-made works

6.03.2024

poetry's way

“though the material of poetry is verbal, its import is not the literal assertion made in the words, but the way the assertion is made, and this involves the sound, the tempo, the aura of associations of the words, the long or short sequences of ideas, the wealth or poverty of transient imagery that contains them, the sudden arrest of fantasy by pure fact, or of familiar fact by sudden fantasy, the suspense of literal meaning by a sustained ambiguity resolved in a long-awaited key-word, and the unifying, all-embracing artifice of rhythm.”

—Susanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942)

6.02.2024

splinter group

Poets are one of society’s splinter groups.

5.30.2024

unexpected prose

The prose writer was dismayed that a poem could be made of prose.

5.25.2024

against the stream

Poet, don’t go with the flow. Think of the stones in a stream, the way they impede and change the direction of the water. Make that a model for revision.

5.24.2024

no account

The poems were words and phrases strung together but to no account and thus without interest.

5.22.2024

no known poet

It can’t be explained but no one knows if s/he is a poet.

5.21.2024

art and anarchy

...art is a kind of anarchy, and the theater is a province of art. What was missing here, was something anarchistic in the air. I must modify that statement about art and anarchy. Art is only anarchy in juxtaposition with organized society. It runs counter to the sort of orderliness on which organized society apparently must be based. It is a benevolent anarchy: it must be that and if it is true art, it is. It is benevolent in the sense of constructing something which is missing, and what it constructs may be merely criticism of things as they exist.

—Tennessee Williams, “Something Wild,” Where I Live: Selected Essays (New Directions, 1978), edited by Christine B. Day and Bob Woods

5.20.2024

plural difference

Its plural form can change a word quite a lot.

5.18.2024

turn to language

Poetry was part of humankind’s turn to language, and therefore poetry will not end until humankind ends. Particularly in these times, we can imagine a depopulated earth with remnants of poetry spraypainted on walls, carved into stones, on metal plaques hanging tilted from buildings fallen into ruin.

5.16.2024

is quantum

Language is quantum: changing states when observed (by reader or hearer).

5.15.2024

long and longer still

There are some poems that refuse to be shortened.

5.13.2024

always a refuge

Whatever poetry is or becomes, let it always be a refuge for beauty.

5.11.2024

sad privilege of poetry

Athens is a holy name, but
There’s no trace of the gods.
Only Apollo...Apollo is a good tramp,
Now that his women are gone, he gets by
Selling knickknacks and pirates.
One evening at dusk
We noticed him, drunk, raving:
“If the harmony of the spheres ssshloows,
Wha kennai do? Wha kennai do?
Maybe a black cloud
That scolds the treacherous sky,
Or the herd that bleats for the fugitive shepherd?”
Ah, maybe this is the sad privilege
Of poetry, to die last.

—Fausto Melotti, Fausto Melotti (Editioni Charta, 2008), translation by Elene Geuna

5.10.2024

against disgorgement

I’m against disgorgement art: lacking the sifting, selection and shaping that makes art engaging and compelling.

5.08.2024

essence not attributes

A poem fails when it relies on attributes and not essence.

5.07.2024

wordplayers

I’m least interested poetry of wordplay which seems to attract those who consider themselves avant-garde.

5.06.2024

limit test

A sonnet is a poem testing the limits of fourteen lines.

5.05.2024

markson notes

Afflicted by cerebral palsy, the poet Larry Eigner (1927-96) managed to type a prodigious amount of poetry over his lifetime using only his right index finger.

Ludwig Wittgenstein enjoyed peeling potatoes (kartoffeln) as it helped him clear his mind and to think deeply, a routine he learned while serving in the Austrian army during The Great War.

Sigmund Freud was said to accept a sack of potatoes in trade for a session on his couch during the economic struggles in Vienna after The Great War.

5.03.2024

first few

A poem must expose its essence in the first few lines.

5.02.2024

poor word choice

One word ruined the whole poem.

4.29.2024

no return

As with Heraclitus’ famous remark, ‘You cannot enter the same poem twice’.

4.28.2024

no quibble here

To find something to quibble about is not the object of a poetry workshop.

4.27.2024

no exit

The poem as a maze without an exit.

4.25.2024

higher order word

The word finds its apotheosis in a sentence.

4.24.2024

path of the sentence

A path made of irregular stone slabs snakes its way around the full length of the imperial villa of Katsura. As opposed to the other gardens in Kyoto made for static contemplation, here inner harmony is reached by following the path step by step and reviewing each image that your site perceives. If elsewhere a path is only a means to an end and it is the places it leads to that speak to the mind, here the footpath is the raison d’etre of the garden, the main theme of its discourse, the sentence that gives meaning to every word.

—Italo Calvino, “The Thousand Gardens,” Collection of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), translated by Martin McLaughlin

4.23.2024

writing and not finding

So many poems feel like someone writing and writing more lines, trying to find something.

4.22.2024

old warriors

Time turns the avant garde into the old guard.

4.20.2024

not wrong about suffering

After walking through dozens of grand galleries in a major European museum, in my mind arose a different sense to Auden’s line, “About suffering they were never wrong, / The old Masters.”

4.19.2024

offer to redirect

In the poetry workshop model the poet whose poem has been critiqued should be allowed a few minutes toward the end of the session to ‘redirect’ the commentary should s/he feel that the group missed some important aspect of the poem.

4.16.2024

no high claims

Poetry needs no high claims because it’s poetry and that is enough.

4.15.2024

knotted lines

These fibres call to mind the pieces of rope used by the Maori and mentioned by Victor Segalen in his novel Les Immémoriaux (A Lapse of Memory): the Polynesian bards or narrators would recite their poems by heart, with the aid of interwoven strings, the knots of which were counted between their fingers to mark off the episodes of their narrative. It is not clear what correspondence they established between the succession of names and deeds of heroes and ancestors on the one hand and the knots of different size and shape placed at different intervals along the strings on the other; but certainly the bunch of threads was an indispensable aide-memoire, a way of making the text permanent before any form of writing.

—Italo Calvino, “Say It with Knots,” Collection of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), translated by Martin McLaughlin

4.14.2024

on two wheels

Should one hesitate at the end of the line or make the turn on two wheels.

4.10.2024

music box

The poem as music box.

4.08.2024

make it stop

And the calliope played on: Kalliope, the muse of epic poetry.

4.07.2024

save a life

Poetry can save one’s life, and it need not be from trauma; it may be as simple as opening one to the world through language.

4.05.2024

one and done

There is art you are grateful to have experienced but wouldn’t want to own. There are poems you’re grateful to have read but wouldn’t read again.

4.03.2024

poem in mind

In the mind the poem has its essence before the first word is written.

4.02.2024

alt aesthetic

Not everyone need accept your aesthetic.

six-hundred coffee-houses

The Viennese café was the quintessential meeting place of the city, a well-upholstered extension of the public sphere. As one historian of this era writes, the Viennese café ‘was an institution of a special kind…a sort of democratic club, for discussion, writing and playing cards’. There were about 600 of these coffee-houses in the imperial capital in 1900. Some Viennese conducted most of their work in cafés, often alternating between two or three favorites in a day. One businessman was said to have had his hours printed on his cards thus:

          From 2 to 4 o’clock — Café Landtmann
          From 4 to 5 o’clock — Café Rebhuhn
          From 5 to 6 o’clock — Café Herrenhof

—Richard Cockett, Vienna: How the City of Ideas Created the Modern World (Yale U Press, 2023) p 15

3.28.2024

me poets

When you spend time on social media with other poets you realize how needy they are.

3.27.2024

text excerpt is enough

I’m suspect of any book that needs a trailer to promote itself. Save your fancy visuals, a short text excerpt will do.

3.26.2024

bookend critics

I think of Perloff and Vendler as bookend critics, standing each on opposite sides of a shelf marked 'modern and contemporary poetry'.

3.25.2024

chatter not matter

Language as communication interests me more than language as material.

3.23.2024

full of bluster

Young poets have to be full of bluster about what they are doing; otherwise they’d have no confidence to keep writing.

—Charles Simic "The Great Poets’ Brawl of ’68," New York Review of Books, April 23, 2014

3.22.2024

form and content

The postcard being the perfect format for the haiku form.

3.21.2024

what works for me

Except for authors expressing what works for themselves, I’m not in favor of writer’s advice.

3.19.2024

mime poet

His use of language left so much unsaid you felt he missed his calling as a mime.

3.18.2024

under blurbed

Turns out the gathered blurbs were not fulsome enough to please the publisher.

3.16.2024

not easy even in three lines

In just three lines there are thousands of ways to go wrong in writing a haiku.

3.15.2024

stages of experience

First the poetry startled you, then it enthralled you, then by study you became aware of its faults and limitations—but still you admired this poetry.

3.13.2024

what is

Tu Fu is far from being a philosophical poet in the ordinary sense, yet no Chinese poetry embodies more fully the Chinese sense of the unbreakable wholeness of reality. The quality is the quantity; the value is the fact. The metaphor, the symbols are not conclusions drawn from images, they are the images themselves in concrete relationship.
[…]
The concept of the poetic situation is itself a major factor in almost all Chinese poems of any period. Chinese poets are not rhetorical; they do not talk about the material of poetry or philosophize abstractly about life—they present a scene and an action. “The north wind tears the banana leaves.” It is South China in the autumn. “A lonely goose flies south across the setting sun.” Autumn again, and evening. “Smoke rises from the rose jade animal to the painted rafters.” A palace. “She toys idly with the strings of an inlaid lute.” A concubine. “Suddenly one snaps beneath her jeweled fingers.” She is tense and tired of waiting for her master. This is not the subject matter, but it is certainly the method, of almost all the poets of the modern, international idiom, whether Pierre Reverdy or Francis Jammes, Edwin Muir or William Carlos Williams, Quasimodo or the early, and to my taste best, poems of Rilke.
[…]
If Isaiah is the greatest of all religious poets, then Tu Fu is irreligious. But to me his is the only religion likely to survive….It can be understood and appreciated only by the application of what Albert Schweitzer called “reverence for life.” What is, is what is holy.

—Kenneth Rexroth, “Tu Fu, Poems,” Classics Revisted (New Directions, 1986)

3.12.2024

stay humble

Picking up an old poetry anthology, and perusing its contents page: A few names still known, but many more gone from contemporary consciousness.

3.11.2024

where social doesn't mean self

I dream of a social media site where the poets talk about what they’re reading and say very little about their own publications or events.

3.09.2024

the innumerable lost

Being asked to contribute an essay to a book of forgotten or neglected poets—it’s not a small number to choose from.

3.08.2024

you can make this stuff up

Oulipo: mechanical prompts that produce dopey texts.

3.07.2024

secrets of beauty

I have just seen at Picasso’s house a drawing on a large canvas that depicts a mass grave. It was as if the drawing was deepened by innumerable lines that the painter had previously erased. These lines bear witness to a search—not for a better line, but for the only line that will do.

Poetry is not holy just because it speaks of things that are holy. Poetry is not beautiful just because it speaks of things that are beautiful. If we are asked why it is beautiful and holy, we must answer as Joan of Arc did when she had been interrogated for too long:
“Next question.”

Beauty is lame. Poetry is lame. It is from a struggle with the angel that the poet emerges—limping. This limp is what gives the poet his charm.

The masses can love a poet only by misunderstanding him.

Poetry works like lightning. Lightning strips a shepherd bare and carries his clothes several miles away. It imprints on a ploughman’s shoulder the photograph of a young girl. It can obliterate a wall and leave a tulle curtain untouched. In short, it creates unusual things. The poet’s strikes are no more premeditated than lightning.

A poet should be recognizable not by his style but by the way in which he looks at things.

At first a poet is not read at all. Then he is read badly. Then he becomes a classic, and habit prevents him from being read. Eventually, he retains his few early lovers for eternity.

A poet must not refuse honours, but he must see to it that no one thinks of offering them to him. If they are offered to him, it is because he has done something wrong. He must then accept the honours he is offered as a punishment.
[…]
This is what Erik Satie meant when he said, “It is not enough to refuse The Legion of Honour; you have not to deserve it.

All beautiful writing is automatic.

A poet’s laziness, waiting for voices: a dangerous attitude. It means that he isn’t doing what he needs in order to make the voices speak to him.

I used to use a detective agency’s advertisement to describe the figure of the poet: “Sees everything, hears everything, nobody suspects a thing.”

A poet never has enough freedom. Everything that he hoards turns against him. He is fortunate if somebody plunders him, dupes him, abandons him, ransacks his house, and drives him out of his home.

The poet has a truth of his own that people mistake for a lie. The poet is a lie that tells the truth.

The poet uses ornamentation to win people over and to seduce his readers. One day the ornamentation will fall away.

A poem always unravels too quickly. You have to tie and retie it firmly.

Seriousness that imposes: Never believe it. Never confuse it with gravity.

The canvas hates to be painted. The colours hate serving the painter, the paper hates the poem, and the ink hates us. What remains of these struggles is a battlefield, a famous date, a hero’s testimony.

Éluard’s clear water reflected the nature of his soul and so lovingly deformed it. Those who imitate him can only reflect a reflection.

Poetry is ill-served by people who live with their feet on the ground while wanting to look like dreamers. Poetry walks with one foot in life and one foot in death. That’s why I call it lame, and it is by its lameness that I recognize it.

I have noticed that one must write countless pages before a single word strikes a chord with a reader, or a single detail is remembered. The truth is that people will pass judgement on our house on as slight a basis as the catch on the door. This observation give me a sense of vertigo that makes me lazy.

Why do these thoughts come to me, to someone who is so reluctant to write? It’s probably because—having broken down in a street in Orléans—I am writing them on the move, in a third-class carriage that keeps jogging me. I reconnect with this dear work [of writing] on the endpapers of books, on the backs of envelopes, on tablecloths: a marvellous discomfort that stimulates the mind.*

—Jean Cocteau, selections from Secrets of Beauty (Eris, 2024; based on Éditions Gallimard, 2013), translated by Juliet Powys, with an introduction by Pierre Caizergues.

*The introduction states that this book of thoughts was composed in March 1945 on a journey back to Paris from the town of Anjouin. The car in which Cocteau was traveling broke down and was towed into Orléans, where he then took a train to Paris.

3.05.2024

almost a solicitation

When a poet gets a “No, thanks,” rejection, he ignores the ‘no’ and clings to that ‘thanks’ and thinks the editor is saying in code, ‘Send me something again soon’.

3.04.2024

building materials

From solitude and silence, the poet erects a home.

3.03.2024

less is more

A shortened life magnifies the poet’s output.

3.01.2024

attention and ardor

To read poetry requires attention and ardor.

2.28.2024

avant light

Many of her poems were avant-garde versions of light verse.

2.27.2024

black sounds

In his 1930 essay, “The Duende: Theory and Divertissement,” Lorca wrote: “All that has black sounds has duende…. The black sounds are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore, the fertile silt that gives us the very substance of art.” Lorca goes on to describe the three forces—the Angel, the Muse, and the Duende—that “everyone senses and no philosopher explains.”

According to Lorca, when the Angel sees death on the way he flies in slow circles and “weaves tears of narcissus and ice.” When the Muse sees death, she closes the door. But the Duende “will not approach at all if he does not see the possibility of death.” Lorca writes: “Everywhere else, death is an end.” Death’s possibility—the necessity of its proximity—is that which makes art human and alive.

The omnipresent loom of death—the body and its dangers, the heart and its constancy of harm—is what makes the poetry of Thomas James so powerful. So ubiquitous is this power of “black sounds” that—according to a student who, in earnest, made a list of Thomas’ touchstones, his word-hoard, his lexicon (such easy prey—moon, stone, bone, wound)—over a dozen instances of the word “dark” appear in this one book. But Lorca wrote, after all, that poems are works of art that have been “baptized in dark water.”

—Lucie Brock-Broido, Introduction to Letters to a Stranger (Graywolf Press, 2008) by Thomas James.

2.26.2024

missile strikethrough

When writing, you’ll notice that certain words seem to be looking over their shoulders, certain that at any minute a strikethrough was about to hit them.

2.24.2024

form is

He believed that form was the well-described thing.

2.23.2024

language system

Analyzing the poem as a language system.

2.22.2024

bored through

I was bored by your poem…no, what I mean to say, is that your poem bored through me.

2.20.2024

speaking from beyond

Poets are eager to become mouthpieces for the dead.

2.18.2024

lyric audacity

‘Where did this fat, good-natured officer…get such astounding lyric audacity, the mark of a great poet?’ wrote Leo Tolstoy of Afanasy Fet.

[…]

[Afanasy Fet’s] poetic credo he summed up in a few words: ‘Anyone who cannot throw himself head-first from the seventh storey with the unshakable belief that he will be borne up on the air is no poet.’ The fixing of a moment in eternity (‘I look straight from time into eternity’)—the fixing in perpetual stillness of an accidental, transient, elusive moment of the soul, of some everyday detail—is the characteristic texture of his poetry:

     This leaf that has withered and fallen
     Burns with eternal gold in song.

[…]

Lyric audacity is the key to the musicality in Fet’s poetry. Not the communication of meaning, but the inculcation of a mood. Feeling abolishes logic. Fet wrote: ‘Poetry and music are not just related, they are inseparable. All enduring works of poetry, from the Old Testament to Goethe to Pushkin, are essentially musical—songs, harmony--, also truth. I have always been drawn away from the explicit sphere of words to the indeterminate sphere of music, and have gone as far as my strength allowed.’ Tchaikovsky wrote of Fet: ‘I think his poetry is marvellous…At his best, Fet oversteps the bounds of poetry and strides boldly into our terrain. Fet often reminds me of Beethoven.’

[…]

Each poem has its own melody, its rhythmic profile, which is repeated in no other. ‘Seeking to re-create the harmony of truth, the poetic spirit automatically hits on the appropriate musical structure…No musical mood, no work of art’, wrote Fet.

—“The Poetry of Afanasy Fet” by Yevgeny Vinokurov, an essay, which formed the introduction to a Russian edition of Afanasy Fet’s selected poems (1976), translated by Maxwell Shorter.

Afanasy Fet: I have come to you to greet you, selected poems translated by James Greene. Introduction by Harold Gifford and an essay by Yevgeny Vinokurov (Angel Press, 1982).

2.17.2024

marvels enough

A kind of poetry that I resisted on many levels yet there were marvels enough in the language to engage me, to keep me reading.

2.16.2024

lyric spark

The poem may be directed to an other or a beloved, yet the self remains the lyric spark.

2.14.2024

anaphora and other refrains

Do I repeat myself, yes, I contain multiples. [tweaking Whitman]

2.13.2024

poet me

A poet with all the self-satisfaction you’d expect of an egotist on display.

2.12.2024

gambit without the game

The small poem is a flash, a gesture, a gambit without the game that follows. There’s no room for landscape here, or easeful reflection, but there is the opportunity for humor and poignancy. And this minimalist practice has its masters.

—Billy Collins, Afterword to Musical Tables (Random House, 2022)

2.10.2024

the way in

Through poetic imagery we experience immanence.

2.08.2024

chastened reader

Lately what I’ve been reading shames me enough not to write. And that’s a good thing.

2.07.2024

unexpected inevitable

The last line should at first be unexpected but then be inevitable.

2.06.2024

bodily function

I don’t write until I feel a physical necessity to commit a feeling or a notion to text. Writing as a bodily function.

2.03.2024

amid alien circumstances

The substance of the late poetry is, then, the emotion of the Poet as Poet (in the romantic sense) when faced with modern times, when forced to exist and to practice his art in the circumstances of the last forty years. . . . Yeats shifted from the effort to write the “poetic” poetry of the nineties to the concern, as poet, with what it was to be a poet amid the alien circumstances of his age. That is why he is so often, in his later poetry, writing about the artists, scholars, and beautiful women he has known, and their unfortunate lives. . . . The will to seek one’s opposite, the doctrine that one must seek one’s anti-self, is at once the method by means of which Yeats found his genuine and peculiar theme, and one more example of the concern with acting a part which flows from the obsession with Art. The result has been a group of poems which will be known as long as the English language exists.

—Delmore Schwartz, “The Poet as Poet” (1939), Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz, (U. of Chicago Press, 1970), edited by Donald A. Dike and David H. Zucker

2.01.2024

seriously seated

Like avid gamers, writers try to avoid being AFK (away from the keyboard).

1.30.2024

by comparison

AI generated poetry makes flarf poetry look like poetic genius.

1.28.2024

few stitches

To be permitted a few stitches in literature’s great tapestry.

1.27.2024

a book set aside

He'd set aside the book about a decade ago and just today picked it up again as though nothing had happened in between.

1.26.2024

programmed plagiarist

Isn’t writing a poem via an AI assist just a special case of plagiarism?

1.25.2024

personal music

I learned, from Edwin [Denby], that each phrase was an object and that word order was plastic; that each word used all of its space and so had to fill it; that each line floated as well as connected; and that where a sentence stopped and another began was ambiguous, like in speech. I learned that one could place personal suffering in a context that might be communal as of persons or communal as of objects and actions and words—either one worked as community. I thus learned a scale one was being along that began with oneself and others in one’s apartment and proceeded out onto the street and into the imaginary space of painting and ballet on up into the sky above tall buildings, all inside one and one inside it. I learned not to fear the sound of personal peculiarities in poetry, personal “music,” that that’s what the poems would finally be made of.

—Alice Notley, “Intersections with Edwin’s Lines,” Telling the Truth as It Comes Up: Selected Talks & Essays 1991-2018 (The Song Cave, 2023)

1.23.2024

reading together

The beauty of reading literary criticism is that you get to read together with another engaged and thoughtful person, and no matter that the arguments are necessarily unresolved.

1.22.2024

brief dip

A book he could tell early on he would not read in full.

1.21.2024

two types

A memory hoarder v. an experience giver.

1.20.2024

the wrong word

A word may be mildly inapposite and do more damage to the piece than a word that is wildly out of keeping with the whole.

1.17.2024

1.16.2024

no chance

One of the sad things, I have come to think, about making Literature an academic subject is that it doesn’t really give poetry a chance. What poetry has to offer us isn’t easily handled in examinations; everything else about it—formal aspects, tendencies, sources, biographical indications…the trivia, the incidentals of the enterprise—alack, most distractingly, are.

I. A. Richards, "The Future of Reading," The Written Word (Newbury House Publishers, 1971)

1.14.2024

book count

One of those poets who had more published books than readers.

1.12.2024

slash and burn

I think the best poets get more satisfaction from striking whole lines and stanzas than from the composition of same.

1.11.2024

no performance required

Performance cannot enhance a good poem but it may elevate a lesser one.

1.09.2024

tripping hazard

Tripped up by the poem's title.

1.08.2024

mystery first

In the composition of poetry mystery must be foremost and then mastery follows after.

1.07.2024

colossus means

A colossal heroism: order of excess, triumph over formlessness: “For the primitive Greek, colossus does not mean size, but figuration, a little doll could be colossal if it achieved its figuration, if it triumphed over the formlessness. A superior order of excess, a new creationist order of man and of the gods.” (“Homenaje a René Portocarrero,” 1962). To conceive formlessness, according to Lezama, means following the trace of becoming that goes “from a nebula to the cosmos.” More than imposing a form on the formlessness, a sense of finality, we must crown it, capture it without stopping it, and allow it to reach its best sense at the moment it escapes.

—from the introduction to A Poetic Order of Excess: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Green Integer Press, 2019) by José Lezama Lima, edited and translated by James Irby and Jorge Brioso

1.05.2024

fall out

I don’t fall in line with 5-7-5, but I won’t resist a haiku that happens to fall out into that pattern.

1.04.2024

respect the blank page

Poet, have respect for the blank page.

1.03.2024

no pets

He had no pets but many beloved books.

1.02.2024

killer lines

Killer first line. Killer final line. The rest of the poem will fall into place.