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 consersation

     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.


no mean feat

Capable poets all struggling to be consequential.


gods gone to ground

The more you know of the masters the less you are impressed.


amoebic ambit

With an amoebic ambit, my love of art is capacious, not being one who draws or respects lines as boundaries.


to fill the silence

Many individual voices rise again in the dusk. Yeats dead, Pound silenced, Eliot lost to the theatre, Thomas gone before his time—it is the hour of the twittering machines. We listen to them as we drink our martinis or smoke a cigarette, and for an hour or two we feel content. Then the night comes and there is no voice to fill the silence. That is not as used to be. Poetry used to be in speech, in transaction, in worship; at the banquet, before the battle, in the moment of birth and burial. Why is poetry no longer our daily bread? We have to search for an answer to this question, and the search leads us to the foundations of our society. We have the poetry we deserve, just as we have the painting we deserve, the music we deserve; and if it is fragmented, personal, spasmodic, we have only to look around us to see the satanic chaos through which nevertheless a few voices have penetrated. The voices are pitched high and may sometimes sound discordant; but the image they convey has crystalline brightness and hardness, and cannot be shrouded.

—Herbert Read, “The Image in Modern English Poetry,” The Tenth Muse (Horizon Press, 1957)


desperate apotheosis

The apotheosis of Romantic poetry came after the age was over in the form of Dylan Thomas. An apotheosis is often that desperate late flowering.


it's like uhmm

Aspire to a style that can’t be adequately described.


somehow fits

Somehow a poem makes human experience conform to the meager means of the word.


stream of story and theme

The same stories and themes follow us because we as a society are constantly breaking camp and moving on.


locked in line

If you can relax your mind, you’ll find that line.


both philatelist and pirate

He wrote his poems against the gravity of language. Images, therefore, speak in his poetry solely on his behalf.


He was almost a philatelist with words. (He saw, long before we did, the fact that the boundaries of language are the boundaries of the world.)


A man of the Golden Age. “Poeta pirata est,” he would say?

From “Oktay Rifat

—Ilhan Berk, Selected Poems by Ilhan Berk (Talisman House, 2004), edited and translation by Önder Otçu.


image for the ages

The underside of any good image is an archetype.


unfortunate pub date

His book was released in the fall of 2001, while the world was otherwise occupied.


more than was asked

A poet who had smart answers to even the daft questions posed by the interviewer.


meditation train

However discursive/recursive, a meditation must retain its momentum.

under the hull

Reading a beautiful but obscure poem, like gliding over a shimmery surface trying to read the weeds swaying in the currents below.


lithic in their singleness

There are certain poems I have long thought of as “pebbles”: small, a little intractable, lithic in their singleness of perception. Like an actual pebble, cold until warmed by an exterior heat source; like an actual pebble, unwavering in outlook and replete in simple thusness. The conception of this term, I’m sure, bows more than a little in the direction of Zbigniew Herbert’s famous poem; but I recognized the type long before reading his “Pebble”…

—Jane Hirshfield, “Skipping Stones,” Circumference is My Business: Poets on Influence and Mastery (Paul Dry Books, 2001), edited by Stephen Berg.


trapdoor word

Just when he thought he’d painted himself into a corner with his style, he found an unexpected word, and through that trapdoor he escaped.


chance audience

Not to write for a requisite audience; but to welcome an audience by chance.


low coverage area

A high ratio of white space to printed text. [Scientific definition of a poem.]


remaining words

Don't be afraid to forget some words. Nor worry if they don't come to you. There are too many words for the purposes of a poet.


mythic figure

The common reader and other mythological creatures.


timing and spacing

The English language is like a broad river on whose bank a few patient anglers are sitting, while, higher up, the stream is being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck. The English language has, in fact, so contracted to our own littleness that it is no longer possible to make a good book out of words alone. A writer must concentrate on his vocabulary but must also depend on the order, the timing and spacing of his words, and try to arrange them in a form which is seemingly artless, yet perfectly proportioned. He must let a hiatus suggest that which language will no longer accomplish. Words today are like the shells and rope of seaweed which a child brings home glistening from the beach and which in an hour have lost their lustre.

—Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (Persea Press, 1981; first published in Curwen Press in 1944)


under the influence

That fine line between riffing off, and ripping off.


the stacks

They say it’s the age of the end of the book. Yet, at major libraries, you have to show your bona fides, then fill out a form and wait for someone to retrieve that book you wanted from the stacks.


didactic art

All good art is didactic. In that good art moves us or it makes us think, and thus it shapes our lives. Bad art is art without influence over its intended audience.


poets' opinions

Poets can’t be trusted when it comes to their opinions of their contemporaries. Their lack of distance causes deafness to rival voices or results in a chummy humming in tune.


city of words

Poetry is a city of words, a complex heterogeneity that functions both as its parts and as a whole. It’s full of systems—metaphoric, symbolic, sonic—analogous to the sewage, electrical, and transportation systems that animate a city. You look at a jagged skyline, and see the ragged right margin; you read through the quick shifts of much contemporary poetry, and think of a busy intersection in which your view is cut off by a bus one moment, then opened up the next, and then filled with a crowd crossing the street the next.

—Cole Swenson, "Poetry City," Identity Theory, (Oct. 26, 2004, identitytheory.com)


nor song nor poem

The poem will never be as simple as the song. The song will never be as nuanced as the poem.


writer's retreat

She got a small grant that allowed her to live for a year and to write. At the end of it, she felt a low-wage job may have been a better move for her writing.


imaginative limit

Imagination at its height forgets (or ignores) reality, and in that moment it fails utterly.


parasite found

A poet is one who’d rather find a tick on his body than a typo in his published poem.


no beginning and no end

A poet who fell in love with her process at the peril of all else.


nothing is safe

A poet is one for whom the whole world is metaphor fodder.


created an equivalent

I simply function when I take a picture. I do not photograph with preconceived notions about life. I put down what I have to say when I must. That is my role, according to my own way of feeling it. Perhaps it is beyond feeling.

What is of greatest importance is to hold a moment, to record something so completely that those who see it will relive an equivalent* of what has been expressed.


I want solely to make an image of what I have seen, not of what it means to me. It is only after I have created an equivalent of what moved me that I can begin to think about its significance.

Shapes, as such, do not interest me unless they happen to be an outer equivalent of something already taking form within me. To many, shapes matter in their own right. As I see it, this has nothing to do with photography, but with the merely literary or pictorial.

—Alfred Stieglitz, quoted by Dorothy Norman in Alfred Stieglitz (The History of Photography Series, Aperture, Inc., 1976).

*After 1922 Stieglitz used the term "Equivalents" to describe his photographic series of clouds.


go at it like that

Like words gouged into stone with fingernails.


slave labor language

Language easily becomes enslaved by falling into its habitual and customary means of expression. The poet breaks those word chains.


everything mien

A poet who scoffs at the uncontainability of the cosmos.


little pieces

A long poem that lives on by its excerpts.


silent tribute

Cavafy was as reticent and decorous in conversation as he was outspoken in his poetry—some things, he said, needed art to make them beautiful. But it is related that if a beautiful face showed itself in his house, he paid it the silent tribute of lighting another candle.

—Robert Liddell, “Studies in Genius, VII – Cavafy,” Horizon, Vol XVIII, 105, 1948.



It takes more than regular meter to give a heartbeat to a poem.


image machine

Perhaps the ascendance of the camera pushed painting to explore abstraction.


poetry third

The secret of being a great poet lies in having an abiding interest in the world and in humankind, and not in one’s attention to poetry.


obsessed or possessed

If only this poem would let me alone so that I might live.


mind the gap

Recall that audio admonishment inside the London Underground, ‘Mind the gap’: A metaphor’s power is ‘the gap’; and the mind must leap that gap.


embrace the anarchic

To make life...to create interest and vividness, it is necessary to break form, to distort pattern, to change the nature of our civilization. In order to create it is necessary to destroy; and the agent of destruction in society is the poet. I believe that the poet is necessarily an anarchist, and that he must oppose all organized conceptions of the State, not only those which we inherit from the past, but equally those which are imposed on people in the name of the future.

—Herbert Read, Poetry and Anarchism (Faber and Faber, 1938)


broken box

A poem is a genre wrecking literary instrument.


derived value

Perhaps the poem is a derivative product; its value pegged to human experience.


executable file

It may show up attached as .doc or .pdf, but a poem is really an .exe file.


ropes that rub

Paradox is apt to strike the poet as metaphor.


cased the joint

He cased the poem thoroughly like a good critic always does.


exploded world

Critics talking about ‘supertechnology’ and ‘the mediated eye’ in the seventies and eighties couldn’t know they were living in the Stone Age.


subtleties of the game

Gradually, in what at first had been purely mechanical repetitions of the championship matches, an artistic, pleasurable understanding began to awaken in me. I learned to understand the subtleties of the game [chess], the tricks and ruses of attack and defense, I grasped the technique of thinking ahead, combination, counter-attack, and soon I could recognize the personal style of every grandmaster as infallibly from his own way of playing a game as you can identify a poet’s verses from only a few lines.

—Stephan Zweig, Chess (Penguin Mini Modern Classics, 2011: Copyright Stephan Zweig 1943; translation copyright by Anthea Bell, 2006)


twenty-six tones

A whole alphabet of musical notes.


numbing mumble

Academic speak lacking the least spark of insight.


catching glories

10. Poetry catches the sheen and sound of glory in the here-and-now—in, between and among words, and between words and phenomena. That is to say, in the words themselves and also at all their borders and interfaces—with each other (when two); with one another (when more than two); and with the non-linguistic universe that is both ‘out there’ and ‘in here’, which is itself by definition not only the source of glory but also ineffable and speechless.

11. “Poetry catches…” This catching includes all senses and contexts of the English verb: (i) unwittingly, as one catches something contagious (e.g. laughing, yawning, a more or, unfortunately, a virus); (ii) whether by chance or conscious effort, as one catches something that is not necessarily obvious (e.g. a hint, a clue, an undertone, an implication, a suggestion, a purport, an intention, a meaning); (iii) deliberately, as one catches something thrown or dropped, before it lands elsewhere (e.g. a ball, a leaf); (iv) equally deliberately, as one catches a creature that one has been searching for or hunting (a lion, a fish, a butterfly); (v) or as one can be caught unawares (in a situation, by a memory), etc.

12. So catching glory or catching glories is not a bad definition of what poetry does. And is.

—Richard Berengarten, “On Poetry and Catching Glories,” Imagems 1 (Shearsman Books, 2013)



Perhaps the model of a good MFA program would be a kind of revolving hub, centered around a workshop set spinning with its aesthetic energy, generating critical friction, throwing off sparks—those MFA graduates who start their own creative fires across the cultural landscape.