deflategate: please squeeze harder

Reading through various poetry books one wishes that more poets preferred their books with less air in them.


flight granted

Imagination exists only by the grace of experience.



Not just sprinkled on; images ingrained in the lines.


love solved

There is little that a good love poem cannot solve.


a door and a window

My sense of the poem is rather classic. I think of a beginning, a middle and an end. I don't believe in open form. A poem may be open, but then it doesn't have form. Merely to stop a poem is not to end it. I don't want to suggest that I believe in neat little resolutions. To put a logical cap on a poem is to suffocate its original impulse. Just as the truly great piece of architecture moves beyond itself into its environment, into the landscape and the sky, so the kind of poetic closure that interests me bleeds out of its ending into the whole universe of feeling and thought. I like an ending that's both a door and a window.

—Stanley Kunitz, "The Art of Poetry No. 29," an interview by Chris Busa, The Paris Review (Spring 1982, No. 83)


fitted lines

Like in a New England stone wall, the rough edges of words will be what makes them fit together.


words without import

Wordplay and other forms of pseudo-poetry.



In a poem the aphorism is best when it comes sotto voce.


didn't see that coming

The best images are those you thought beneath notice.


experimental me

One suspects he spends more energy asserting his experimental stance than actually writing anything one would recognize as being outside the pattern and practice of contemporary poetry.


everything a door

Everything is a door
all one needs is the light push of thought
Something's about to happen
               said one of us


Everything is a door
              everything a bridge
now we are walking on the other bank
down there look runs the river of centuries
the river of signs
There look runs the river of stars
embracing splitting joining again
they speak to each other in a language of fire
their struggles and loves
are creations and destructions of entire worlds

—Octavio Paz, "Clear Nights" from Salamander, in The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987 (New Directions, 1987) edited by Eliot Weinberger.


covered bridges

Poetry and covered bridges and other anachronistic but beautiful things.


official sanction

A poet who spoke of publication as though a kind of imprimatur.


brick by brick

Each stanza a brick in the architecture of the poem.


uncorralable lines

A poetry no critic could contain by prose alone.


it hovers forever there

Time seen through the image is time lost from view. Being and time are quite different. The image shimmers eternal, when it has outstripped being and time.

—René Char, “Leaves of Hypnos,” Furor and Mystery & Other Writings (Black Widow Press, 2010), translated by May Ann Caws and Nancy Cline.


critical respect

At least acknowledge its accomplishment on its own terms, before denigrating what it is based on your aesthetics.


uneven ends

The ragged right edge of the poem is reminder of our art’s imperfection.


affective force

Only emotion will enliven the lines.


boing and begin again

Your eyes leapt up to the first line at the instant the poem was finished, certain it must be reread.


alpha & omega

The urpoem in the last poem.


noun as adjective

Using a noun as an adjective to good effect. [Thinking Dylan Thomas]


neutral surface

Paper as support, its own materiality is usually ignored. So the sense of a neutral surface that can accommodate any mark seems an ideal way of communicating freedom. At the same time printed material has the capacity to repeat itself endlessly and linked to distribution or manifestos—even freedom however idiosyncratic and inscrutable. And this tension is what surfaces and transforms the amnesia of the paper into a tension between the drawn and the printed. The mark and the letter.

Ellen Gallagher, interview by Jessica Morgan (Institute of Contemporary Art in association with D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2001)


can-do words

The poem was a language hack.


more room

Stanza means ‘room’, but strive to make each one a great hall or a basilica.


running ahead

Poetry is the forerunner to a future language.


dream ladder

Poet, let your lines be a Jacob’s ladder lowered down the page.


shapely figure

Just the shape of a poem on the page has an attractiveness prose cannot match.


one and the world

What I find extremely interesting is that only those poets who are aware of the “solitary mind” and remain faithful to their personal fate (which makes their return to the solitary mind inevitable) while keeping a place within the “banquet,” only those poets produce works at which we stare in wonder. Yet if they cut themselves off from the world of the “banquet” and withdraw into the solitary mind alone, their works mysteriously lose power.

Between the will which seeks to participate in the world of the “banquet” (the world of the collective spiritual body) and the will which seeks to devote itself purely to the self (the world of the solitary mind) there is tension. As long as this tension is present the works which the poets produce give off their highest luster.

—Ooka Makoto, The Colors of Poetry: Essays in Classical Japanese Poetry (Katydid Books, 1991), translated by Thomas V. Lento.


ear candy

A plain villanelle: one without that line tart or sweet to the ear on first hearing.


word is

Unlike in prose, the poem will never turn its back on what the word is in terms of sight and sound.


bubble blurbs

Blurbs are like bubbles, little effusive bursts that the author hopes will buoy the book.


make of the fragments

John Ashbery ends his poem “Street Musicians” with these lines:

      Our question of a place of origin hangs
      Like smoke: how we picnicked in pine forests,
      In coves with the water always seeping up, and left
      Our trash, sperm and excrement everywhere, smeared
      On the landscape, to make of us what we could.

We make of the fragments of self a form that holds, briefly—that’s the poem—then we watch it shatter again—which is, I suppose, that space that the poem fooled us into believing we’d left behind us, for a time, world of fragmented selves, hard truths, glinting ambiguities to be negotiated, navigated through as we make our disoriented way forward, or what we have to believe is forward. Like being mapless in tough territory, and knowing, somewhere inside, we’d choose this life, and this one only, if in fact we could choose.

—Carl Phillips, "Beautiful Dreamer," The Art of Daring (Graywolf Press, 2014)


head case

If you memorize enough poems madness is sure to ensue.


not ready yet

Every time you tried to print out the poem the paper jammed in the printer, until you were forced to revise it before trying again.


world love

A political poem is a love poem to the world.


evenly lit

An outtake from The New York Times obit of the poet Mark Strand:

To critics who complained that his poems, with their emphasis on death, despair and dissolution, were too dark, he replied, “I find them evenly lit.”


willed lines

Let will summons the lines that inspiration was unable to call forth.


anger management

Call my poem a ‘text’ one more time and I’ll knock your teeth out.


wear and tear reader

He didn’t just read poems he wore them out.



some words on a page

I want to give you
something I’ve made

some words on a page—as if
to say 'Here are some blue beads’

or, 'Here's a bright red leaf I found on
the sidewalk” (because

to find is to choose, and choice
is made).

—Denise Levertov, “The Rights,” Here & Now (1957), reprinted in the Collected Earlier Poems 1940–1960 (New Directions, 1979)


eternal question

To explore the tradition or to try to explode it?


cross purposes

A poem that insists on translation even as it resists one at every turn.


utterance not to be undone

The line that is a lie. Yet resists strikethrough utterly.


singular event

That point in composing when you know no poem is going to be like this one.


spare change

The poet always has one more word in his pocket.


time and the visible

Painting is the art which reminds us that time and the visible come into being together, as a pair. The place of their coming into being is the human mind, which can coordinate events into a time sequence and appearances into a world seen. With this coming into being of time and the visible, a dialogue between presence and absence begins. We all live this dialogue.

—John Berger, The Success and Failure of Picasso (Vintage, 1993)


type parameter

Bad typography can damage the text, but good/fancy typography cannot appreciably improve it.


well behaved

Perhaps the poem was too polite.


novel idea

Somehow early on the aphorist realized a novel was out of the question.


new poetry

To go back to that time when one was discovering a new passage, a new poet, almost every day.


landscape and weather

By 1969 Richard Hugo had completed his third and even his fourth book of poems. As we must expect, it is the Northwest poems which conduct Hugo’s trial by landscape, his arraignment by weather, to a further pitch of excruciation: the menace of place is acknowledged to correspond to destructive energies in the self….

—Richard Howard, “Richard Hugo: Why Track Down Unity When The Diffuse Is So Exacting?,” Alone With America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 (Atheneum, 1980)


part of the whole

A good political poem manages to make the specific events that provoked it part of an ongoing universal struggle.


prayed poetry

He didn't read the poems so much as he prayed them.


gender gerrymandering

Remember that time you picked up an anthology and three-quarters of the poets included were women. No, because it didn’t happen. It’s either a 100% women, as in a specifically woman-centric antholology, or it’s well under 50% women.


category error

All the better because it wouldn’t be a poem.


candid kind

Last night we had the Nineteenth Wallace Stevens Birthday Bash at the Hartford Public Library. The guest speaker was Maureen N. McLane and she gave a wonderful talk. One of the poems featured in her talk was section III from "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction." An excerpt:

     The poem refreshes life so that we share,
     For a moment, the first idea . . . It satisfies
     Belief in an immaculate beginning

     And sends us, winged by an unconscious will,
     To an immaculate end. We move between these points:
     From that ever-early candor to its late plural

     And the candor of them is the strong exhilaration
     Of what we feel from what we think, of thought
     Beating in the heart, as if blood newly came,

     An elixir, an excitation, a pure power.
     The poem, through candor, brings back a power again
     That gives a candid kind to everything.


unprejudiced observation

[Bϋchner] believed that the poet must strive to imitate reality, instead of improving upon and thereby distorting it, as do idealistic poets, who create mere puppets devoid of life. The individual, no matter how insignificant or unattractive, must take precedence over philosophical abstractions.
Bϋchner’s concept of beauty appears to be based upon unaffected sincerity among human beings and upon a Goethean perception of nature as an endless metamorphosis of forms and images that art can never fully capture nor transmit. Unprejudiced observation, he insists, leaves one open to an infinity of sensory impressions and human truths.

—Georg Bϋchner, “Bϋchner on Aesthetics,” Woyzeck and other Writings (Suhrkamp/Insel Publishers, 1982), edited by Henry J. Schmidt


teaching moment

In its reading the poem enacts a heuristic.