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.


severely selected

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


no word in edgewise

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


in four lines

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


review work

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


secret secret

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

A poem is a secret about a secret.


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.


art or nature

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


diva poet

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


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.


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)


monocular vision

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


inert images

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


he can overdo you

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


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.


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”]



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


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)


splinter group

Poets are one of society’s splinter groups.