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 of self

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.


presidential library

Visiting Mt. Vernon last Sunday, the tour guide was heard to say that George Washington’s library was filled with books on science, military history, and poetry.


defiant end

When a poem defies an ending it’s perhaps finished.


organizing principle

He would spend many hours arranging each poem within a book, but a collected poems by convention is just one book after another in chronological sequence.


language x-ray

To view poetry as the skeleton of prose.


occupational disease

And we must at all costs avoid over-simplification, which one might be tempted to call the occupational disease of philosophers if it were not their occupation.

—J. L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (Harvard U. Press, 1962)

And we must at all costs avoid over-elaboration, which one might be tempted to call the occupational disease of poets if it were not their occupation.


parasite adjectives

There are many dangerous adjectives, being naturally parasitic of certain nouns.


stop sign

In order not to fear the period, the writer must think of it as a way station or jumping off place.


not domesticated

She respected words, treating them like they were wild animals.


essential reins

Imagination, like wild horses, pulls hard and fast under the reins of reality.


elder influence

Influence follows, but seldom comes from those who came after.


sound architecture

One very often finds that in a Moore poem every phrase is load-bearing. This is sound architecture, the weight brilliantly distributed.

—Maureen N. McLane, “My Marianne Moore,” My Poets (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)


hidden in the negative space

All the words and passages cut away from the poem form a shadow poem that seems to stalk the final draft.


intermittent narrator

The journal is only the form of memoir I can abide, being piecemeal, fragmentary, sequential only in fits & starts, like life.


low bar

The only writer I ever knew who actually washed out of his MFA.


lesser editions

Book collectors seek nearly unread first editions. I love finding a dog-eared, beaten, heavily marked edition. I know then I’m in good company.


poetry's province

Poetry claims all texts not immediately recognized as such.


strong pair

Compound words: The power of coupled words that rivals metaphor.


poet within the poet

What is probably new and startling in the work of Dylan Thomas is that, in dragging into light his versions of “the hidden causes” which he mentions, he has given an articulate voice to other parts of the body than the romantic heart—to the glands and the nerves, that is—and has, in considerable measure, freed them from the poetically sterile reason.
Although he is suitably interested in most phases of life, his impulse comes primarily from within his own body. He is the poet within the poet, and is generally dependent upon no externalities for his subject. This, then, I would say, is one of his main contributions to poetry: he has given voices and eyes to the part of the being which had formerly been dumb and blind; he has given the body a poetic aura…

—Henry Treece, Dylan Thomas: Dog Among the Fairies (Lindsay Drummond Ltd., 1949)


pace coleridge

Available words in the only possible order that would be a poem.


pristine copy

I saw an inscribed copy of your book at the Goodwill. It was in excellent (likely unread) condition, I must say.


bird nest

She built her poem as a bird builds its nest, with strands of this & that found at large in the world.


32 feet per second per second

Are the gaps in the poem capable of being bridged by the mind or are they meant to be moments of mental free fall?


recycled crit

The kind of criticism that recycles familiar quotes and formulaic clichés of poetics, and thus uncovers nothing original, gives us nothing from which to learn.


one conversation

     Much has the human experienced.
     Named many of the heavenly ones,
     Since we have been a conversation
     And can hear from one another.*

From these verses, let us first select one that immediately fits into the context so far: “Since we have been a conversation…” We—human beings—are a conversation. Human Being is grounded in language; but first properly occurs in conversation. This, however, is just one way in which language takes place; language is only essential as conversation.
Yet Hölderlin says: “Since we have been a conversation and can hear from one another.” Being able to hear is not merely a consequence of speaking with one another, but is instead the condition for this. Even being able to hear is itself in turn based upon the possibility of the word, and needs it. Being able to talk and being able to hear are equally originary. We are a conversation—and that means we are able to hear from one another. We are a conversation, and that also always means: We are one conversation.

—Martin Heidegger, “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry,” Heidegger Reader (Indiana University Press, 2009)

*lines from an unfinished poem by Hölderlin



less is more

A perfect short poem that could‘ve been written on the lint from one’s pocket.