avant light

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


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.


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.


form is

He believed that form was the well-described thing.


language system

Analyzing the poem as a language system.


bored through

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


speaking from beyond

Poets are eager to become mouthpieces for the dead.


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).


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.


lyric spark

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


anaphora and other refrains

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


poet me

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


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)


the way in

Through poetic imagery we experience immanence.


chastened reader

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


unexpected inevitable

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


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.


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


seriously seated

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