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.


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.