sense of an ending

Should the poem end with ‘thus…’, or with ‘and yet…’?


pound for pound the best poetics

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

—Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929)

The safest general characterization of the Modernist poetic tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Pound.


one-sided conversation

I got buttonholed by another talk poet today…couldn’t get a word (or even a thought) in edgewise.


more than carry over

A metaphor must be exploratory, not explanatory.


easy listening

When I slipped into the prose writer’s car, why did I know he’d be tuned to Easy 101.1.


unsure of its surroundings

Often a poetic line is composed in the form of a statement only to be put down on the page tentatively, as though a question.


accurate and modest

Elizabeth Bishop is spectacular in being unspectacular. Why has no one ever thought of this, one asks oneself; why not be accurate and modest.

—Marianne Moore, in a review of Bishop's North & South (Houghton Mifflin, 1946), The Nation (Sept. 29, 1946).


mouth making

Bring a basketful of words, and some spittle for paste.


rules-based writing

A poet teaching composition is dangerous to both student and teacher.


fewer markers

To avoid punctuation he would write the long way around.


half and half

Reading his criticism, I thought to myself: Half deft, half daft.


voices and visions

Sometimes vision involves hearing things.


cover calvacade

Some many books and so few poems.



The practiced reticence of her last lines.


contrarian poetics

A poet in a running argument with the world. [Thinking of Alan Dugan.]


plagiarist's curse

We must pity the plagiarists. For they’re forced to steal second-rate texts in order to escape immediate detection. And thankfully the truly great texts, the treasures of the age, some laying open for all to see, are unknown by anyone.


uncorrected sight

Never let craft eclipse vision.


shaken awake

The purpose of art is to shake us from the stupor of the ordinary. Sometimes it does that by offering an extraordinary view of the ordinary.


accident prone

One should not be afraid of accidents occurring in one’s art as accidents happen only to those who are engaged in accidents. (103)


Composition is a design personified, a design not mechanically perfect but emotionally perfect. A design is of an evocative nature. Design that is magic. In a perfect composition shapes excluded and shapes included are equally important. (104)

John D. Graham, System and Dialectics of Art (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1971), annotated from unpublished writings and critical introduction by Marcia Epstein Allentuck.


higher school

Poets ranked according to the prestige of the institutions where they taught.


image energy

An image is made manifest in language but its force comes from experience.


memory of perfection

I would like my work to be recognized in the classic tradition (Coptic, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese), as representing the Ideal in the mind. Classical art cannot possibly be eclectic. One must see the Ideal in one’s own mind. It is like a memory of perfection.


I used to paint mountains here in New Mexico and I thought
my mountains looked like ant hills
I saw the plains driving out of New Mexico and I thought
the plain had it
just the plane
If you draw a diagonal, that’s loose at both ends
I don’t like circles—too expanding
When I draw horizontals
you see this big plane and you have a certain feeling like
you’re expanding over the plane
Anything can be painted without representation

—Agnes Martin, “The Untroubled Mind,” Writings/Schriften (Kuntzmuseum Winterthur/ Edition Cantz, 1992), edited by Herausgegeben von Dieter Schwarz

[Today Google's landing page featured a painting by Agnes Martin, to honor the 102nd anniversary of her birth.]


serious fun

A poetics of insouciance. [Thinking of James Tate.]


title trouble

Two titles that should never appear above a poem: “Untitled” and “Poem.”



fire in the hole

Perhaps people have trouble understanding poetry because so often a good poem is trying to explode its genre.


patience to see

Unimaginable how much patience is needed to see the simplest things. How much patience I need to write a single verse.

—George Seferis, A Poet’s Journal: Days of 1945-1951 (The Belknap Press, Harvard U. Press, 1974), translated by Athan Anagnostopoulos.


from the desk of the editor #4

You've heard that the Eskimos have a dozen words for snow;
we editors have at least a couple dozen for ‘No’.


important marker

A title should be more than a file tab.


first script

No neatly printed page can equal the beauty of handwritten lines in a notebook.


lit up

Each word illuminated from within by allusion.


scraped panels

In a 1995 New Yorker magazine profile of Mr. York, Calvin Tomkins said he was perhaps “the most highly admired unknown artist in America.” He described a shy man who avoided anyone connected to the art world, who worked slowly and who was perpetually dissatisfied with his work, prone to scraping down his wood panels and starting over.

Ms. Langdale said Mr. York usually wrapped his paintings in brown paper and mailed them to the gallery. She said that when one arrived, unannounced and “practically still wet,” she often felt that Mr. York “had to get it out of the house in order not to destroy it.”

—Roberta Smith, "Albert York, Reclusive Landscape Painter, Dies at 80"
The New York Times obituary, published: October 31, 2009



Version by version the vision made manifest.


art's remuneration

One of those artists who thought the world owed him a living without proof of his worth.


window blinds

Most poems are windows, though the text sometimes blocks the view.


from the desk of the editor #3

Know that no one has read as many first few lines as you.


found objects

My poems (in the beginning) are like a table on which one places interesting things one has found on one's walks: a pebble, a rusty nail, a strangely shaped root, the corner of a torn photograph, etc. ... where after months of looking at them and thinking about them daily, certain surprising relationships, which hint at meanings, begin to appear. These objets trouvés of poetry are, of course, bits of language. The poem is the place where one hears what the language is really saying, where the full meaning of words begins to emerge. That's not quite right! It's not so much what the words mean that is crucial, but rather, what they show and reveal.

—Charles Simic, "Notes on Poetry and Philosophy," Wonderful Words, Silent Truth (Poets on Poetry series, U. of Michigan Press, 1990)


from the desk of the editor #2

Don’t say you’d like to see more of his/her work. If the writer is ready s/he doesn’t need your encouragement.


base matter

Inspiration remains hoped for, but so often art begins in the material of medium.


from the desk of the editor #1

A rejection slip that shows weakness will be responded to viciously by the rejected writer.


slighter verse

Auden with his frequent lapses into vers de société.


logic use

…where Donne uses “logic” he regularly uses it to justify illogical positions. He employs it to overthrow a conventional position or to “prove” an essentially illogical one.

—Cleanth Brooks, “The Heresy of Paraphrase,” The Well Wrought Urn (A Harvest Book/Harcourt, Brace, 1947).


shadow metaphor

Each rhyme pair was a shadow metaphor in the poem.


enjambment mojo

Nothing is more fetishized in free verse poetics than enjambment.


step and breath

Poetry that is not palliative, not a cure for pain and loss; rather it is a course, a way forward if only by the step of a next breath speaking a word.


poetry's lowest life-form

The poet (usually a bad one) who reads at an open mike then leaves before the last reader has had his/her say.


transitions matter

The organization and diction of a poem are completely dependent upon one another, and you should not be troubled if your first attempts to sort out the two elements are not successful. The distinction between the two is a real one, and you will soon begin to discover it yourself. You will see that organization resides not so much in the words themselves as in the transitions that separate words, clauses, sentences, and stanzas from one another. When the poet is in control of his medium, these transitions are decidedly meaningful.

—James McMichael, The Style of a Short Poem (Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1967)


word borders

The margins of the page: invisible fence?


desire path

Despite structure or tradition, the poetic line is a desire path.


it's alive

For a dead thing, poetry sure is a bulging, brimming, humming, oozing, teeming, squiggling and generally astir thing.


many motives

For most people the only motive of poetry is emotion. For the poet, emotion is but one of many motives.


negative space

Poetry is a verbal means to a nonverbal source. It is a motion to no-motion, to the still point of contemplation and deep realization. Its knowledges are all negative and, therefore, more positive than any knowledge. Nothing that can be said about it in words is worth saying.

—A. R. Ammons, “A Poem Is a Walk,” Claims for Poetry (U. of Michigan Press, 1983), ed. Donald Hall, 8.


replete with repetition

Enough already of the anaphora.


genre disregard

Many of the poems he loved tried to shrug off the mantle of being poetry.


propped up

One of those books filled with insipid writing prompts for the uninspired.


photo portal

It was that kind of photograph you could step into and begin making a poem of what you experienced therein.


silence is the invisible kingdom

Silence in poetry is the place where words come from. The space between an event and that event becoming a poem. Silence stands at the gate. At the opening of the field. Silence gives substance to poems the way death does in life. It is the invisible parts of the poetry. It is the invisibility of what is about to appear. Like a king of the play who is invisible, held back in the wings to build up the tension. The invisible all around us in this world without our seeing it until the poem speaks. The invisible and the silence go hand and hand in poetry. Like the night train pounding through the dark town in Texas as the dogs bark. Silence is emptiness just a little afterwards. Silence is what’s invisible until the poem makes it visible. There is a huge silence built up by implication. The silence that fills up our metaphors, pretending one thing and meaning the invisible other. It is the silence of Basho's haiku. It is what's invisible in the fragments of Emily Dickinson. Silence is the invisible kingdom that the poet makes us see.

(Jack Gilbert writes this and pushes the paper across the table to Linda Gregg.)

[The above is something handwritten by Jack Gilbert late in his life. It was transcribed by me in a phone conversation with Linda Gregg, 01-30-14.]


trash poem

A merz poem: A poem constructed of words and phrases most poets would consider clearly unpoetic or just cultural trash.


no turning point

Prose poet: one whose lines run but won’t turn.