muse of fire

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
   The brightest heaven of invention...

" —William Shakespeare, Henry V, "Prologue"

[I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC yesterday.]



those who come after

Let us praise the après-garde, those who come after with brooms & dustpans, sweeping up the debris left behind when others blasted forward, salvaging this scrap & that bit, making simple things from their leavings.


out past the breakers

An epic poem is oceanic, each line another wave.

[Thinking of Olson. Nod to Homer, of course.]


one and done

He blamed his good memory for not rereading more good books…but is it because there are so many unread books still ahead of him, or could it even be envy?


an inch from stopping

What’s annoying about literary criticism is that it judges something that cannot change.

Nothing is more entertaining than the fate awaiting human beings who are determined to hide, to flee from others. Neither Valéry nor Rimbaud nor Lawrence would have managed to become so universally well-known so quickly had they desired such fame. Imitate them, you young people in quest of great glory. And if no one seeks you out, don’t weep because you’ve succeeded where geniuses have failed. I’ll not say another word.

A writer is always merely the ghostwriter of the child who’s already seen everything.

You always write only an inch away from stopping to speak.

A poet has no memory. But is one.

It’s not in order to be read that you write. It’s in order to be experienced, a little.

We should read a poem only in Braille. With our fingertips.

The poet is the one who accepts to be the attentive slave of what goes on beyond him.

In poetry, the poem is the least thing.

Words that open like oysters.

—Georges Perros, Paper Collage (Seagull Books, 2015), translated from the French by John Taylor.


three variants

There are three kinds of aphorists: The aphorist pure, who composes his/her brief utterances for effect. The aphorist embedded, whose aperçus arise here and there within prose or poetry. The aphorist accidental, who often uncorks a good one in casual speech recounted by others.


can't go there

When the urge to experiment is the urge to evade experience.


straw nail

Think of the poetic line as that straw they say in a hurricane can be driven into a telephone pole.


not impossible

In a note to himself while working on The Maximus Poems, Charles Olson wrote: "It's all right to be difficult, but you can't be impossible."

[Yesterday on a short birthday trip I went to Gloucester MA for the first time and the first thing I did was to find the house where Charles Olson once lived and wrote his poems.]


safe harbor

Tired of pobiz, I turn to Thomas Merton.

[Thomas Merton lectures].


attica, attica...

Sometimes you work on a poem for so long you feel you’re staring out of a cage.


just sing

Let there be singing…singing will always aid one’s poetry.



A novel in verse is merely a novelty.


game playing

It may not help a poet to be good at word games.


tomb poem

The poem was a mausoleum of dead poets’ influences.


other kind of hero

Hölderlin’s heroism is splendid because it is free from pride and devoid of confidence in victory. All he is aware of is his mission, the summons from the invisible world; he believes in his calling, but has no assurance of success. He is forever vulnerable…It is the feeling that he is foredoomed to destruction, that a menacing shadow dogs his footsteps, which makes his persistence in his chosen course so courageous. The reader must not think that Hölderlin’s faith in poesy as the profoundest meaning of life implies a like belief in his own poetic gifts. As regards these latter he remained humble-minded…Yet for all this personal modesty, for all this sensitiveness, he had a will of steel to animate his devotion to poesy, to fortify him for self-immolation. “My dear friend,” he writes to one of his intimates, “when will people come to see that in our case the greatest force is the most modest in its manifestations, and that the divine message (when it issues from us) is always uttered with humility and sadness?” His heroism was not that of the warrior, not the heroism of triumphant force; it was the heroism of the martyr who is ready, nay, glad, to suffer for the unseen, to perish on behalf of an ideal.

—Stefan Zweig, “Hölderlin,” The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (Pushkin Press, 2012) translated by Eden and Cedar Paul.


satellite attention

Forever my mind will orbit this poem, ever unable to penetrate its atmosphere.


the quick and the dead

A clever poet is never a poet.


it's all out there

Most ambitious poems show their flaws before they demonstrate their merits.


step into space

Poet, your first line should feel like a skydiver’s step out of an airplane.


trusted structure

The first line like a sturdy lintel above the house’s doorway.


missing person

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
"You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?"

James Tate (1943-2015)


not seeing out

Too many poems are mirrors when they should be windows.


on time rime

Those expected rhymes that arrived on time.



speak up

The only danger to poetry is the reticence and silence of poets.

—Eavan Boland, "Letter to a Young Woman Poet," American Poetry Review (May/June 1997).


critic v. artist

An art learned only from books or earned by the trials of making.


write without

The root of most bad poetry is the eagerness of poets to write even without something important to write about.



All good sentences naturally resist enjambment.


new world everywhere you turn

To a poet every word is a wonder.


time lapse

Browsing through old anthologies should be enough to humble even the proudest poet. Not only because a few great poems remain…but because so many names have evaporated in time.


intimate and total

…in the best lyrics, that is: in the poems of love and deprivation and mourning—the art of communication seems on the one hand private or intimate; and on the other hand, total. It is private and intimate in the sense that Hardy seems to speak very clearly but only to himself, or only to a single reader, whereas most nineteenth-century poets speak as though to a large public, more or less authoritatively. This is obviously true of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Speaking as to a large public normally involves some falsification of tone, some shifting of the poetic persona. We have the sense with Hardy that the poetry has been little modified by the implicit existence of readers, or by the likelihood publication. Many of Hardy’s early poems went long unpublished; some were saved for the very last volumes in the 1920’s.

—Albert J. Guerard, “The Illusion of Simplicity,” Thomas Hardy (New Directions, 1964)


love over

A love poem must have an undercurrent of loss.


marked not marred

Often I’ll pull down a poetry book from our local library’s shelf only to find its pages marked by a prior reader. But I don’t mind reading through another avid reader’s scratched window.



The poem absolute, above all other human utterances.


one more question

I’m all for some Socratic doubt in a poem, but this poet had a question mark in every other line. Did the poet want the reader to write the poem by giving all the answers?


chugging forward

Powered by anaphora the poem was a locomotive of insistent locutions.


shapely fountain

Yeats said that he wrote in form because if he didn’t he wouldn’t know when to stop. Like Samuel Beckett I prefer the word ‘shape’ to ‘form.’ At Trinity [College Dublin] during a course on Aristotle’s Poetics our Greek professor W. B. Stanford told us to come back the following week with our own definition of poetry. Mine was: ‘If prose is a river, then poetry’s a fountain.’ I still feel that’s pretty good because it suggests that ‘form’ (or ‘shape’) is releasing rather than constraining. The fountain is shapely and at the same time free-flowing.

—Michael Longley, “A Jovial Hullabaloo,” One Wide Expanse (The Poet's Chair: Writings from the Ireland Chair of Poetry, University College Dublin Press, 2015)


escape artist

The confessional poem is a ‘Houdini box’ from which the self emerges gasping. To gasps of the audience…and then to their rising applause, for having transcended such distress.


matter of interest

Poetry, as other object matter, is after all for the interested people.

—Louis Zukofsky, preface to A Test of Poetry (1948)

[Poetry after all, one might add, is for interesting people.]


dorothy and emily

Dialogue from the film, The Wizard of Oz (1939)...

   Oz: I am Oz—the Great and Powerful. Who are you? Who are you?!

   Dorothy: If you please, I am Dorothy—the small and meek.


   Poetry: I am Poetry—the Great and Powerful. Who are you? Who are you?!

   Dickinson: If you please, I am Emily—the small and meek.

[You know how this story ends.]


knows the difference

I’m fine so long as the poet knows he’s writing prose in poetry lines.


not poetry itself

We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

—Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958), lectures delivered at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, Winter 1955-56.

We have to remember that what we observe is not poetry itself, but poetry exposed to our method of questioning.


mark making

Stone, paper, pixels, air, mind…poems will try to fix upon anything


small conundrum

A poem so simple it must be misunderstood.



The poetic line: a dragline in the universe.


hot prospect

Some critics are like baseball scouts looking for the kid with the sinking fastball. Only instead of sitting along the left field line in an almost empty minor league stadium, they scour the pages of nearly unread literary magazines.


audible line

Meant to be uttered, a line that resisted ink.


own the moment

Each week to find that moment that opens, widens out into a poem.


against the sunset

In the “Evening Walk,” composed partly at school, partly in college vacations, he notices how the boughs and leaves of the oak darken and come out when seen against the sunset. “I recollect distinctly,” [Wordsworth] says nearly fifty years afterwards, “the very spot where this first struck me. It was on the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside, and gave me extreme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetical history; for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances, which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them; and I made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency. I could not have been at the time above fourteen years of age.”
It would be hardly too much to say that there is not a single image in his whole works which he had not observed with his own eyes. And perhaps no poet since Homer has introduced into poetry, directly from nature, more facts and images which had not before been noted in books.

—J. C. Shairp, Studies in Poetry and Philosophy (Hurd and Houghton, 1872).


unfit to print

This poem is shredder ready.


not enough there there

The content is suspect when you realize you couldn’t write the poem any better than you did.


ink over utterance

A spoken word artist who wasn’t up to his tattoos.


pancaked structure

There were some good phrases in the poem, but they seemed like distressed cries coming from a collapsed building


freedom in form

There is such a complete freedom now-a-days in respect to technique that I am rather inclined to disregard form so long as I am free and can express myself freely. I don't know of anything, respecting form, that makes much difference. The essential thing in form is to be free in whatever form is used. A free form does not assure freedom. As a form, it is just one more form. So that it comes to this, I suppose, that I believe in freedom regardless of form.

—Wallace Stevens, "A Note on Poetry," Opus Posthumous (Knopf, 1957).


poem above me

The poem should stand above the poet’s force of personality.


sentence sense

With a sixth sense for sentence structure, a poet who could dispense with punctuation.


mistake proof

Blunders, once recognized, become the poem’s building blocks.


library of unfinished books

Many books started, some finished—some deserving of being set aside, others casualties of restlessness or lack of attention.