8.30.2015

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.]

8.27.2015

8.26.2015

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.

8.25.2015

out past the breakers

An epic poem is oceanic, each line another wave.

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

8.24.2015

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?

8.23.2015

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.

8.20.2015

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.

8.19.2015

can't go there

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

8.18.2015

straw nail

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

8.16.2015

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.]

8.14.2015

safe harbor

Tired of pobiz, I turn to Thomas Merton.

[Thomas Merton lectures].

8.13.2015

attica, attica...

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

8.06.2015

just sing

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

8.05.2015

chimera

A novel in verse is merely a novelty.

8.03.2015

game playing

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

8.02.2015

tomb poem

The poem was a mausoleum of dead poets’ influences.

8.01.2015

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.

7.30.2015

satellite attention

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

7.29.2015

the quick and the dead

A clever poet is never a poet.

7.28.2015

it's all out there

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

7.27.2015

step into space

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

7.26.2015

trusted structure

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

7.25.2015

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)

7.24.2015

not seeing out

Too many poems are mirrors when they should be windows.

7.23.2015

on time rime

Those expected rhymes that arrived on time.

7.22.2015

7.20.2015

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).

7.18.2015

critic v. artist

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

7.17.2015

write without

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

7.15.2015

unbreakable

All good sentences naturally resist enjambment.

7.13.2015

new world everywhere you turn

To a poet every word is a wonder.

7.12.2015

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.

7.11.2015

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)

7.10.2015

love over

A love poem must have an undercurrent of loss.

7.09.2015

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.

7.07.2015

übersprache

The poem absolute, above all other human utterances.

7.06.2015

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?

7.04.2015

chugging forward

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

7.03.2015

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)

7.01.2015

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.

6.27.2015

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.]

6.26.2015

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.]

6.25.2015

knows the difference

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

6.24.2015

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.

6.23.2015

mark making

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

6.22.2015

small conundrum

A poem so simple it must be misunderstood.

6.21.2015

dragline

The poetic line: a dragline in the universe.

6.17.2015

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.

6.15.2015

audible line

Meant to be uttered, a line that resisted ink.

6.14.2015

own the moment

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

6.13.2015

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).

6.11.2015

unfit to print

This poem is shredder ready.

6.10.2015

not enough there there

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

6.09.2015

ink over utterance

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

6.08.2015

pancaked structure

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

6.07.2015

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).

6.06.2015

poem above me

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

6.03.2015

sentence sense

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

6.02.2015

mistake proof

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

6.01.2015

library of unfinished books

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