me poets

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


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.


bookend critics

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


chatter not matter

Language as communication interests me more than language as material.


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


form and content

The postcard being the perfect format for the haiku form.


what works for me

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


mime poet

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


under blurbed

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


not easy even in three lines

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


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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


you can make this stuff up

Oulipo: mechanical prompts that produce dopey texts.


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.


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’.


building materials

From solitude and silence, the poet erects a home.


less is more

A shortened life magnifies the poet’s output.


attention and ardor

To read poetry requires attention and ardor.