"[Berryman's] protagonist, Henry, stumbles along through life, a kind of antihero or front man, who, according to Berryman, both is and isn't him. 'We touch at certain points,' he explained. 'But I am an actual human being; he [Henry] is nothing but a series of conceptions—my conceptions.' Still, like Berryman, who suffered from alcoholism and depression, Henry is troubled, vulnerable, vehement, libidinous—and he is a white American in early middle age living at some outer boundary where the soul is in crisis. You might say that the speaker of the Dream Songs, Henry, is a modern day Saint Augustine—a writer of particular interest to Berryman—who talks about himself in the first, second, and third person. 'Henry has a hard time. People don't like him, and he doesn't seem to like himself'" Berryman said about Henry. Sometimes he doesn't even know his name ..." "Deep in the Mess of Things"
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"Poetry is broken language. Even in its “prose” incarnations—proems, prose poems—when lineation is not formally observed, poetry works the break. It interrupts, truncates, burglarizes. Poetry ruptures and ameliorates. Hardly ever housebroken, it often acts as a breaker box for the incendiary currents coursing through us. Poems break hearts. They break the news, however difficult. Rarely garnering for their makers fame and fortune, poems may nonetheless embody—in their breaching and bridging of the large distances—a stroke of luck, a stroke of mercy." Breaking Bad:The Outlaw Stylings of Brock-Broido, Cushman, and Wright
W N Herbert:
"Silence in a poet is always interesting—Pound, MacDiarmid, (Riding) Jackson, Longley, spring to mind as writers who endured it in one way or another. Why poets enter silence, and how or whether they emerge from it is always intriguing. But Hill, in my ungenerous mid-Eighties reckoning, was hell-bent not on silence but significance; every poem appeared to be an engagement with another cataclysmic instance of historical brutality—the First World War, the Holocaust—that had to reach a grit-toothed cathexis." For the Time Being
"Omphalos, omphalos, omphalos ... The rhythm of the word that conjured up for Heaney the pump in his childhood yard—the Greek term for the center of things—calls to mind the helicopters hovering over the cityscape of my childhood, a constant part of the soundtrack of growing up. The army would use the racket of propellers to drown out speeches at Free Derry Corner. So in my mind, the blades are related to words, in opposition to our words, slicing up sentences in the wind." Omphalos
"Midway through my freshman year at college, my roommate, Roger, asked if I would read a poem he'd written and tell him what I thought. I was pleased to be considered a literary person whose opinion might be valued. And my roommate, who would major in geology, had previously shown no interest in poetry. 'Of course,' I said.
"The subject of the poem was the death of Roger's father, and I felt a small shock in reading it, since no one I knew had yet lost a parent. Unfortunately, Roger's poem was a very bad poem. I don't now remember the various ways in which it failed, but there seemed no doubt in my mind. Given the subject, however, what kind of criticism would be appropriate or bearable?
"I began by expressing my condolences, and Roger interrupted quickly to say, No, his father hadn't really died. That was just the subject of the poem. 'But you can't do that!' I exclaimed. Perhaps I didn't actually exclaim, or even say it directly. But it was what I felt. This was wrong, a violation of some rule or code. You couldn't do it, or you shouldn't.
"But why not? What if the poem had been good? Would I have condemned it because it wasn't 'true'? Would factual truth have been transformed into a larger 'truth' (quotation marks intended), determined by literary value? This essay is an attempt to think about these questions." Should Poems Tell the Truth?
"A great deal of contemporary poetry concerns itself with its own construction, and the difficulty of syntax and complications of conventional meaning in such work have their value and beauties. Many poets, however, still explore the worlds, both external and internal, that can be known through traditionally sustained imagery and compressed, resonant diction. As media and an expanding number of electronic devices allow instant communication of knowledge and trivia, it might seem that the known world has expanded unmeasurably, but these poets have found that the world is made up of individual experience—and that the lyric may in fact know more about the world than any twenty-four hour news program or Twitter account can tell us." The Known World
"For twenty-first-century poets, Eliot persists as a sonic obsession more vividly than as a poet who leveled important arguments or shaped literary history. As editor, critic, and builder of poetic landmarks from recycled materials, the man overshadowed Anglo-American poetry for generations. For William Carlos Williams, the atomic blast of The Waste Land knocked American poetry out of its groove. For poets born in the thirties and forties—Craig Raine, Wendy Cope, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney—Eliot is monumental, although those writers have different responses to his looming edifice. Poets born since, though, metabolized Eliot differently. It’s not that modernism is less relevant. Younger writers claim certain modernist poets over and over: Williams, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, H.D., Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks. Eliot just isn’t on their public lists quite so often." Undead Eliot: How 'The Waste Land' Sounds Now
"We still haven't taken the measure of Stephen Berg's poetry. His achievement is hard to pin down, and criticism, which runs on fashion, hasn't caught up with him. He had an idiosyncratic voice—forthright, nervous, intimate, self-questioning. I would call him a confessional poet except he kept emptying out and interrogating the self that is the basis of that mode, which he felt was misunderstood."
"Being Here, Like This": The Poetry of Stephen Berg
Brandon R. Schrand:
"Thanks to Walter, on a bright spring morning I poured some coffee and headed upstairs to my office to sift through this book’s pages and give Dickinson her due. I had just taken the kids to school and had the house to myself. It was quiet save the occasional chirping from the parakeets downstairs and the clucking of chickens in our backyard. When I opened the book, I scanned a few lines and flipped back to the table of contents, divided into seven sections: Life, Nature, Love, Time and Eternity, The Single Hound, Further Poems, and, finally, Additional Poems. Then, when I gave the book a quick fanning with my thumb, it fell open to page 188, where I discovered something so strange, so startling, that I caught my breath." Finding Emily & Elizabeth
Carol Ann Davis:
"It can't be an accident that half the artwork I fixate on is devotional in nature; that the other half is abstract is interesting and not, I suspect, unrelated. Just as language is sometimes the medium by which I work and sometimes its subject, these two types of art-making feel, to me, both medium and subject. Or perhaps it's that the spirit is always both subject and medium." Against Exphrasis, or How Naming v. Bridging and Being Lonely Led Me to Gorky's Ghost's Mask
"Apollinaire seemed an unlikely candidate for following orders, not to mention the hardship and violence of war. His battles were aesthetic; his weapons were his tongue and pen.... But for Apollinaire, a soldier's life was a revelation. He loved his training in arms and horseback riding, learning to use and care for the famous French 75 cannon. He delighted in the discovery of his physical prowess, his ability to keep up with men fifteen years younger than he, the manly camaraderie of barracks life, the welter of new sights and sounds and information. 'Soldiering is my true profession,' he wrote his Parisian friends. To another he wrote, from training camp, 'I love art so much, I have joined the artillery.' And because waiting and idleness turned out to be a part of life in uniform, he wrote a great deal..." I Seem to Be at a Great Feast: The War Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire
"This book aims to introduce the reader to Dante's [Divine Comedy]. It is intended for the general reader who loves literature and poetry—for language lovers everywhere, whether or not they know Italian... The way I have chosen to introduce the poem is unorthodox. I do not offer a digest or summary of the facts of Dante's life, or the stages of his journey to the three realms of the afterlife. Such accounts can overwhelm with detail, especially if the reader is new to the poem, and make it difficult to recognise the power of its central ideas. Each chapter of the book is organised around a theme, and illustrated by key episodes from the poem. I have linked encounters and scenes that are widely spaced in the narrative in order to demonstrate their connections, rather than moving in methodical fashion from one episode to the next." Introduction to Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity
"To be a poet: it is a grave and austere responsibility, is it not? Well, yes and no. If you've been pondering Shelley, Arnold, Rilke, Eliot, Akhmatova, Hart Crane, Plath, Celan, Adrienne Rich, or Geoffrey Hill recently, you perhaps feel it is—but even those intensely dissatisfied and sometimes desperate poets must sometimes have felt shots of sheer joy in knowing themselves to be poets and participating in the great endless dialogue of poetry. Perhaps no important poet has more consistently acknowledged the manifold pleasures of the vocation than Kenneth Koch (1925-2002). Throughout his amazingly, indeed almost bizarrely various poetry, we can always hear Koch's charismatic voice urging us not to deny the fun in poetry—the fun in writing it, reading it, arguing about it, daydreaming about it, knowing it is in the world." Koch and the Fun of Being a Poet
Stephen Burt & Maureen N. McLane:
SB: "Some are gay / in an old way." When—if ever—is it important to you that representations of sexuality come across as sexy? What makes language sexy (and for whom)? (Sidelong look at "That Man," and at Sappho, and at the argument, associated with the critic Yopie Prins, that we make up the Sappho we want, sometimes out of nothing. Have you ever made up the poet you thought you would need, deliberately invented a historical or imaginary precursor?)
MNM: Hmm. Sometimes I feel that this zone—of sexuality and/or the sexy—is more controlled or informed by a poetic mode than by me (or any given poet): so, in a lyric zone, there's this pop and zing and swell and pulse, a linguistic erotics one can call on, from Sappho and Catullus and everyone onward. And one might say, for example, that Wallace Stevens's language is very sexy though there aren't many overt representations of sexuality. Emily Dickinson: crazy sexy! in both senses, at times. "Wild nights—Wild nights! ... Might I but moor—tonight— / in thee!"
"Up to this point ... Stevens has been writing increasingly accomplished but straightforward verse, from sonnets in the Harvard Advocate to the book of birthday lyrics he presented to his fiancée, Elsie Moll, in 1908. Suddenly in 1915 come the first poems which are in the unique Wallace Stevens voice, a voice which continues until his death forty years later. It is possible to propose a theory of what changed a competent craftsman into that unique voice. In 1908 and 1909, the two turning points of the life of this man in his early thirties occurred: he joined the staff of a bonding company, and he married. By 1915, he knew he would be spending the rest of his life with these two realities and he knew exactly what they encompassed." Wallace Stevens and the Ability to Deceive
"The room: full, but not crowded, perhaps sixty people. Relatively comfortable armchairs curl in a wide arc. At the front of the room, a moderator. I’m in the second row, an arm’s length from him, as he introduces the four poets to his left. Each reads her or his poems, some from manuscripts, some from a special March 2014 issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. No amplification, no raised platform, no lectern. No physical separation from the audience...." Split This Rock
"How many poets have written poems punning on feet? How many have done so while their days were numbered? I'm thinking of Denise Levertov's 'Feet,' collected posthumously. Is this an ars poetica, like Yeats's final sonnet ('Malachi Stilt-Jack am I...') also written by the poet on his—forgive me—last legs? If so, Levertov takes the via negativa: her poem makes no use of metrical feet, much less the Yeatsian "stilts" of elevated language. Nor does 'Feet' praise vigor and pomp; it grieves for the trudgers of the world, seared with trade and smeared with toil. There are no shapely sonnets here...." Walking on Knives
"All books converse with other books, but few do so in a manner so insistent as to annihilate their own authors. We expect editors to be eclipsed by the writers they assist. That a translator should live in the shadow of the original author goes with the territory. It's an occupational hazard. Yet an author who opts to take a backseat—or share the wheel—in his own vehicle is a rarer breed. Yet this is the tack David Ferry takes in his fifth collection of poetry, Bewilderment, winner of the 2012 National Book Award. By revisiting literature from the past, including his own early work, Ferry jettisons individuality to pursue an inclusive poetry, a kind of poetry as group effort, as ongoing process of absorption and transfiguration." Where Was I? Notes on David Ferry's Bewilderment
"Rilke wrote the following letter in April 1921 to Nanny Wunderly-Volkart. It's not a poem, not a crafted story, only one of 470 letters to one of his most generous supporters. Yet it is also the self-portrait of a poet trying to get the creative juices flowing with the description of a reedy pond (Rilke thought of his letters as an 'ascent into consciousness')... 'I am worried about the frogs. They had already achieved their ideal mating temperature and were behaving quite June-nightishly in the pond. They have such a heart to which their whole rubbery body yields, and with this heart they were singing. Elastically.—But during the night before the weather changed, one of them suddenly stopped, right in the middle of loudly poeticizing, and ceased singing along with the others....'" F for Frogs
"Like any other bearded, navel-gazing backpacker with an MFA, I've been reading the Transcendentalists this summer, sometimes just before gearing up and entering the water to dive. In the first section of "Nature," Emerson writes, "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown." What if once a century the moon, huge and golden on the horizon, showed itself for an hour then disappeared?" The 23rd-Century Nature Poem
"The British exaggerate when they call this a road. It's at best a roadlet, a paved path. Something roadish. Across a fold of the map, and in my dreams for the next month, it has a four-digit, B-road number too blurred to decipher. Call it B-4XXX."
To Land’s End and Back: A 1,512-Mile Drive Around Southern England
I call. You're stone.
One day you'll look and find I'm gone.
"The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan's thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn't allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she'd be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. In her community, as in others, educating girls was seen as dishonorable as well as dangerous. Poetry, which she learned at home from women and on the radio, became her only continuing education." Introduction to I Am the Beggar of the World
"the dozens Playing the dozens is an African American verbal street game of escalating insults. In different communities, it is also called woofing, sounding, joning, screaming, cutting, capping, and chopping, among other things. There is a slight shift in the rules from place to place. Played by both males and females, it is sometimes 'clean,' more often 'dirty.'" .... Six Entries from A Poet's Glossary
"As a title, Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice suggests an earnest, seventies anthology aimed at redressing literary gender inequality, the kind of well-meaning effort that now seems slightly retrograde and isolating to those of us fortunate enough to have benefited from earlier feminist movements. Fried's arch title, and the poem of the same name, which begins, 'I, too, dislike it,' seems to dismiss the relevance of these sorts of movements and classifications, but the book as a whole presents a much more complex picture of the relationships between gender, work, family, and power." Three Reviews
"The spring he was twenty-two, D. H. Lawrence read Leaves of Grass. He had been writing verse for three years. That summer of 1908 he chose twenty-four poems to transcribe into his first college notebook, and two decades later included thirteen, variously revised, in his Collected Poems. His eye for nature and candid insight into romantic psychology are there from the start, as are his profuse musical invention and supple alignment of the shape of verse and sentence, but it was Whitman's song of the Body Electric that sparked Lawrence's vision and catalyzed his work. It liberated him from contending commandments that he regard his body as a trap of sin in a maze of temptation or as an interchangeable part for an economic machine. 'Whitman, this American, this Columbus of the soul' (as Lawrence called him in a 1922 essay) confirmed his own instincts, encouraged his tenderness, made his candor ardent, and freed him to become his time's key poet of love" The Recovery of the Creaturely World
"Reading 'Fine Work with Pitch and Copper' early in my life as a poet, I was still deep under the impression that poems needed a proper subject. More often than not, that subject was ultimately the poet him- or herself... Williams troubled that first understanding about the primacy of the self in poems. In 'Fine Work' and in other Williams poems, I encountered things that were things, and were valuable as subjects in themselves. His poems' things were decidedly ordinary, and were unlikely items to be found in poems precisely because of their ordinariness. The shards of glass behind a building, the weeds by the road, the sacks at a worksite: these images had a lucidity unencumbered by subjectivity or by heavy-handed meaning. The things were things." The Image Factory
"Logan doesn't go so far as to suggest, as Eliot did (and then later repented), that 'the poetic critic is criticizing poetry in order to create poetry.' It's more that Logan the poet has taken Logan the critic along for the ride: 'I began to write criticism,' he told one interviewer, 'because I needed the money, but I kept writing because I needed the discipline,' admitting elsewhere to 'the terrible knowledge that I was a better reader when I read for hire, that I read more intently when driven by necessity.' Despite such downplaying, the two projects are clearly related. How could they not be? The poet doesn't black out, only to come to hours later, a review steaming on his desk." The Perfect Moods of William Logan
"I have never been more aware of different generations of living British poets. First, there are the brilliant and passionate young, whose excellence may be amongst the few reasons for hope in difficult times. There seem to me to be far fewer middle-aged poets: almost a missing generation. Then comes a great galaxy, (including the Poet Laureate), born shortly after the Second World War, whose average age I would guess to be close to my own (sixty). But the most interesting generation may be far older. The ages of the poets in this review range from eighty-five to ninety-two. I feel justified in mentioning this, because the poets' own work is rich with references to time." Hungry Generations
"While he was impeccably diligent I was less so, but when our paths crossed I was always mightily impressed by Dennis’s utter conviction about how much poetry mattered. He was at the hub of an extraordinary nexus of contacts worldwide and though never a dropper of names—his prudential care on that score went way beyond the call of duty—he simply seemed to know everyone who published poetry of the first rank—Les Murray, Miłosz, Holub—you name them, he knew them. I was impressed, indeed a little overawed." The Listener (reviewing Dennis O'Driscoll's The Outnumbered Poet: Critical and Autobiographical Essays)
"John Ashbery once wrote of Frank O'Hara that he was too hip for the square and too square for the hip. The same might go for Robert Pinsky, who, in spite of his achievements and reputation, has not received the kind of scholarly attention one might expect. Of course, I would not want to claim that Pinsky is particularly hip. In spite of the fact that his fierceness increases with age, he is still the master of the Horatian middle style, and his work is still marked by the rigors of his early formalism. But for all that, Pinsky has indeed become somewhat unruly ...."
Robert Pinsky and Modern Memory
"When I called Stanley Kunitz to thank him for recommending me to Yaddo, he warned me about the ghosts that had driven him away after a single night. A tapping noise on his bedroom window had kept him awake. When he switched on the lamp, it stopped. When he turned the light off, the ticking began again, and with such intensity he thought the glass would break. He was sure he was being haunted by one of the two Trask children who had contracted diphtheria from their mother whose family founded the art colony and who died in the room in which he now slept. He left the next morning." A Stay at Yaddo
"We cannot escape metaphor: there are 'metaphors we live by,' according to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Philosophically minded modern writers from Jacques Derrida to William Gass have tried to make sure that we know how thoroughly metaphor saturates even the most apparently plain and clear speech. The sentence you have just read contains, by my count, at least four fossilized or unobtrusive metaphors; the sentence you are now reading has at least three more." "Like"
Jo Ann Clark:
"... Wheeler and Knox speak now, and they are not revolutionary. Instead, they are radically inclusionary, conserving our idioms and conducting ensembles of diverse aesthetic ideals. Their new books, Knox’s Flemish and Wheeler’s Meme, enlarge the scope of contemporary poetry without dumbing it down." Poems Seeking Readers
"Greatly beloved yet little understood, highly esteemed yet barely known outside of English departments, Marianne Moore is a poet of paradoxes. She was generous to a fault in answering queries and granting interviews, yet she revealed her deepest feelings to no one. Although she left to posterity an archive that chronicles virtually every week of her life, the archive reveals little about her private thoughts, emotions, fears, and aspirations. She had lifelong, deeply devoted friendships—including those with T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, and other well-known writers—but she never married and apparently never fell in love. 'No poet has been so chaste,' wrote the critic R. P. Blackmur in 1935." Preface to Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore [Start 2014]
"The profile of the provincial who comes to New York in hopes of becoming a celebrated artist is standard enough, but in Swenson’s case several non-routine factors should also be considered. Her parents were Swedish immigrants, Mormon converts come to the Utah homeland, who brought her up in their adopted faith. But at some point she realized she was a lesbian. This was one more reason to leave behind the Latter-Day Saints, a decision she made without ever publicly denouncing or deriding them." Finders, Keepers
"Who imagines, at the beginning of a life, fifty years of published work? I have neither fifty years of writing nor fifty years on the planet, so I marvel at Louise Glück's Poems, 1962-2012." Of Myths and Trees
"Quoting the Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago in the foreword to his latest collection, Derek Mahon writes: 'To write is always to translate, even when we are using our own language ... Our words convey mere fragments of reality on which our experience fed.' Relying on a different material, the two activities are however essentially linked in this perspective: if writing is the act of translating an experience into words, translating is the act of conveying the written account of this experience in another language, culture and moment."
"I like Gerald Stern's mind. It's the mind of a bear who reads or a flower that talks. It—he—the poems—what's the difference—are always doing and going and falling in love, in love with love, among many other things. If American poetry is a tug of war between the exuberant and the pensive, as it seems to be—we still declare ourselves and each other little Whitmans or Dickinsons—Stern has for decades led the yawpish charge." On 'Waving Good-Bye'
"Though Gottfried Benn can scarcely be said to exist in the English-speaking world, there are a surprising number of prominent mentions of him. T. S. Eliot, for instance, in his essay 'The Three Voices of Poetry' goes so far as to associate one such voice—the first, 'the voice of the poet talking to himself—or to nobody'—with Benn. John Berryman allows him the end of one Dream Song, no. 53: 'and Gottfried Benn / said: —We are using our own skins for wallpaper and we cannot win.' In his novel Plexus Henry Miller is careful to leave the 1927 issue of Eugene Jolas's avant-garde magazine, transitions, lying around, and quotes in extenso from Benn's essay in it. Frank O'Hara has a tilt at him in one of his invariably disastrous and perplexing diatribes, when he seems to have his ill-fitting Hector the Lecturer suit on: 'Poetry is not instruments / that work at times / then walk out on you / laugh at you old / get drunk on you young / poetry's part of your self' ('To Gottfried Benn')." Introduction to Impromptus
"I've relinquished my role as poet in the Bay Area. I cringe at the suggestion of participating in public readings. I don't involve myself in writing conferences, mentoring, bookstore signings, or answering letters that involve questions like, 'Where do you get your ideas?' I've failed in all of these." Book Signings
"Just after World War II, a young Princeton student journeyed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, to visit Ezra Pound. The great poet had been tried for treason for broadcasts he made in Italy for the fascist government and, pleading insanity, wound up serving a dozen years in the psychiatric institution. To the astonishment of his young visitor that day in 1946, Pound greeted him as if he were a serious poet. Like an elder, he also offered advice. 'You don't really have anything to write about at the age of eighteen,' Pound warned. 'The way to do it is to learn a language and translate....'" W. S. Merwin, the Eternal Apprentice
"I first discovered haiku when I was in high school. The tiny genre came to me as part of my larger enchantment with Beat literature and Beat goings-on. On the Road was published when I was sixteen. Perfect timing. To a captive of a Catholic boys' high school in the suburbs of New York, Kerouac's novel offered a glimpse into a world of adventure involving sex, drugs, reckless driving, and bongo-playing that existed far beyond the confines of my parish. Along with Beat thinking came Zen, imported into Western culture at the time by prominent explainers such as D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts and embraced as a daring new sensibility in Beat fiction and poetry. And along with all that came haiku." Introduction to Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years
"Long before [Robert] Bly became permanently identified as the author of Iron John and a leader of the "mythopoetic" men's movement, in the 1960s and '70s he was a dominant force in the literary life of the United States. Primarily via his own little magazine and small press, he lobbed fire like a mutineer at his predecessors, teachers, and literary fathers, fiercely criticized his peers, and attracted droves of ardent younger followers. Surely Bly knew that one day, inevitably, a mutiny against him would arise." Captain Robert Bly, Ortega y Gasset, and the Buddha on the Road
"An unusually successful example of that most easily mangled of verse genres, the philosophical disquisition made fully poetic, Robert Conquest’s intricately argued poem 'A Problem' is in The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, an anthology that was always with me in the last few years before I left Australia in the early sixties. It’s a long time ago now but I can still remember the thrill of reading, for the first time, the line that sums up what he was really after in that poem. On the face of it he takes a painterly approach, meticulously registering all the nuances of the Ligurian landscape, and how the light falls on it from the sky: falls and alters. But he also says that the shifting patterns of light are 'Like the complex, simple movement of great verse.'" Interior Music
"Dear Emily D.,
Your bed is the same as my bed, almost.
You and I are out of fashion. We both prefer small beds.
Most beds of my time now sweep the floorboards in homes and showrooms, wooing the diameters. Even if they are just plywood, with foamrubber stomachs like dirty sheep, they crave epic square footage, acres of sunlight. In an age of despair, however covert, vast must be right.
This winter, I have been trying to choose my first bed, so I am aware of the vanities." Emily's Bed
"A stranger asks me to write an Aesthetic Statement. He demands my notion of the ideal poem, so he’ll know the secret of my love of some poems and my distaste for others. I feel his pain. Perhaps he wants to prosecute me should I praise a poet who deviates from my Platonic ideal. An aesthetic statement is of little use to a critic unless he’s a lover of manifestos, a maker of quarrels, or a host who treats his guests like Procrustes. Aesthetics is a rational profession for the philosopher, but for the working critic it’s a mug’s game. To write about your aesthetics is no better than revealing your secrets, if you’re a magician, or returning a mark’s stolen wallet, if you’re a pickpocket." Against Aesthetics
"The under-examined bone of contention in today’s poetry is the value of affect in art. More and more poets are suspicious of lyrical expression and devote themselves to emotionally neutral methods. The representation of affects—feelings that are often either transports or afflictions—has been increasingly muted in American and European art since the 1960s. Vehemence of feeling nonplusses the modern personality, a hostage to ambiguity and irony."
Against Conceptualism: Defending the Poetry of Affect
Laura Esther Wolfson:
"One week and three days. That is how long my manuscript has been with the agent.
"I came to the agent through a friend, who said that I should expect to hear back in six to seven weeks, at the earliest. That, she explained, was about normal for agents.
"The best, sanest response to sending out a manuscript,' continued my friend, "is to start writing something else right away."
"She has had two novels on the New York Times Best Seller list and is now at work on her third. And so, with her as my guide, here I am: back on the couch. Not the psychotherapeutic couch. Not the casting couch. The writing couch."
On the Couch: Thoughts on Sending My Manuscript to an Agent
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"As for the prevalence of tercets, and more recently, the couplet: my language... is so dense, so textured and damasked, that I find I need white space—to provide clarity, ballast, a matrix: something to pitch the fragments of language against or from which the text emerges. To give the reader (and the lines) some breathing room. The shorter stanza forms provide armature, something over which to trellis syntactically inverted or complicated phrases. Finally: Desire, Eros—these are my preoccupations, so couplets (the pairing, the parting, the reunion of them) feel right to me for that reason, too."—Lisa Russ Spaar, Acoustical Pleasures: An Interview with Lisa Russ Spaar by Emilia Phillips
"There are no rules.
"Or, you can modify that rule by observing that each work of art generates its own unique rules....
"Impulses, swerves, collisions, flights, descents, gags, indirections, surprises, exploding cigars, non sequiturs: all are allowed or encouraged, and all in some sense begin to create their own principles.
"There are no rules, but uniformity in art can make it feel as though there are rules: the more unconscious or unperceived (as with widely accepted fashions), the more confining." Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters
"My parents' friends were more important to me than usual, I think, because I was an only child and they were artists, funny, doing interesting things. Things I almost understood, paintings most of all; and songs, plays, movies, dances. Poetry readings were hard, I was dragged to too many, but by age five or so I got it that the other poets were often using language like my father—to be playful, sometimes like a game or a dance—not language to do weird and boring adult things, but rather language to discover things—the way I did." Love and Irony: Postcards from a Child of the New York School
"Merz raises no rhetorical façade. He does not try to impress with lexical or syntactic brilliance; whatever formal "modernism" he has assimilated, it consists here of little more than some suppressed punctuation between lines. If he is slightly ironic ... the irony does not make us sneer or snicker, but rather meditate more sincerely—this is the paradox of the irony—on a certain feeling of amorous uneasiness from which we may also suffer. Clearly, his goal is to sketch typical human situations in a way that opens the door onto all that is left unstated, unwritten ...." On the Strassenbahn with Klaus Merz's Poetry
A. E. Stallings:
"The financial crisis of recent years has brought periodic garbage strikes [to Athens] and turned every available wall into a canvas for graffiti and street artists. The statues of famous poets, warriors, philosophers, and statesmen now look out over frequent protest marches and occasional street battles, their blank marble eyes assailed by clouds of tear gas. Athens is a Balkan backwater at the omphalos of the world, a confrontation of edgy youthful energy and lethargic pensioner despair, a series of paradoxes, a city of losses and erasures. And Kiki Dimoula is her poet." Brass Tacks
"One of the usual defenses of reading widely in the Western tradition (or, say, in 20th century poetry) is that it improves your writing—that it’s the legwork necessary for the great flights. Being well-versed, and widely conversant, with the literature of the past is a crucial part of a writer’s education. How false this idea is, the Western tradition itself teaches us." Deeply and Irreverently: How and What to Read
"An anthology is like a library, its contents organized not by the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system, but by principles of the editor's own devising, designed to please and educate its readers, to delight and instruct. It is, like any library anywhere, a distillation and arrangement of available material, its poems surrounded by the white space which embodies a library's silence, attentiveness, and inward joy." Anthologizing
"I always write in response to what I read. If I'm not reading anything, I won't be able to write anything. I've said that certain poets wound you, and so you keep on going after them, and because they have hurt you, only they have the power of healing you, and in that conversation, I think, you're able to find yourself, to restore yourself again." Closer to the Water: An Interview with Valzhyna Mort
"If we look in particular at women poets who don't put motherhood at the center, or can't, or won't (and many of these poets are, biographically, living where their poems say they are), we see women in the midst of their own self-made narratives, murky but dynamic, unpredictable but full of self-understood value. They are engaged in a subversive project of renaming. The privilege I claim for them is a lack of a common plot and an ethical intervention that comes from a form of solitude that's both imagined and lived, with all its consequences. That version of solitude—written about, looked for, happened upon, or wandered into—offers lyric poetry a form with its own conventions and aesthetic history."
New Nature: Women Poets Escape Family—and Convention
"What is the difference between a mystery in which, and by means of which, one’s whole spiritual and intellectual being is elated and completed, and a mystery that merely deﬂates one’s spirit and circumvents one’s intellect? The latter, you might say, occurs in quotes. Nothing is more frustrating than listening to an inept or unprepared preacher (or poet!) defer to the 'mystery' of existence and God when more mystery is the last thing in the world his words need or can bear—nothing, that is, except perhaps plowing through some twelve-volume Teutonic tome explicating every last letter of the laws of God. I begin to think that anything that abstracts us from the physical world is “of the devil,” as we said in the baked—and sometimes half-baked—plains of West Texas where I was raised, though there we were more inclined to blame Satan for tempting us too close to the sweet stinks of the earth. What I crave—and what I have known, in fugitive instants—is mystery that utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it, some ultimate insight that is still sight. Heaven is precision." Varieties of Quiet
"What is there in our lives that disrupts time? Love is one thing and poetry is another. In 'Birthplace' I thought, 'In this poem I'm going to let time run free around my life'. It's a journey simultaneously in four directions. I mix the tenses up which does sort of reconfigure time. I think perhaps I couldn't have written quite like this when I was younger; it would have come out as obscure or as a pose, but now at fifty, at the technical midpoint of life, I can." The Slum Landlord, Time: Glyn Maxwell talks to Ellen Cranitch
"No technology of connection is working at my office or the rental house. A New Zealander would understand the cosmic message—it is summer, get off the computer, take a walk. Instead, with an acute sense of duty inspired by a large grant payment, I make an appointment, on a borrowed phone, to meet Bill Manhire, the country's first poet laureate... 'This is my job for five months,' I will tell people. 'To have coffee with poets, go to their readings and workshops, pore over their books.' My description produces envious snorts." Coffee with Poets in New Zealand
"Dickey said that he was, in Wordsworth's phrase, a poet of "the second birth," not one who, like Rimbaud or Dylan Thomas, had a natural instrument for poetry. The way a "made" poet such as Dickey catches up to a "born" poet is, "if at all, by years of the hardest kind of work, much luck, much self-doubt, many false starts, and the difficult and ultimately moral habit of trying each poem, each line, each word, against the shifting but finally constant standards of inner necessity." It could be said that Dickey brought a kind of athleticism to his work, with an athlete's dedication to a perfected performance that he recognized in the story of football player Jim Marshall: determination is more important than physical gifts. Dickey's preferred analogy for his process of composition was the mining of "low-grade ore." "I work like a gold-miner refining low-grade ore: a lot of muck and dirt with a very little gold in it. Backbreaking labor! Infinite! But when this kind of worker gets what he's after, he has the consolation of knowing that the substance he winds up with is as much real gold as it would be if he had just gone around picking up nuggets off the ground." Poets of the second birth often bloom late, and so it was with Dickey." Introduction to The Complete Poems of James Dickey
"To put the matter simply, there is no exact precedent in English verse for Frost’s dramatic narratives. Compare their style and structure to the narrative verse of Crabbe, Wordsworth, Browning, Hardy, and Robinson as well as other major narrative poets of Frost’s formative years—Longfellow, Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, and Bret Harte—and his originality is immediately apparent."
Robert Frost and the Modern Narrative
"Arnold famously argued for poems that provide both "truth" and "beauty." He also asserted that excellent verse possesses "liquid diction" and "fluid movement." Today, many of us would be quick to offer counterarguments to Arnold's pronouncements. Living in a more skeptical age, we might question his use of "truth." Aren't most readers of modern poetry accustomed to believing that there is no one truth; that each person holds to ever-changing beliefs and assumptions, often provisionally; and that the notion of an absolute truth is untenable in an age of science and materialism? After reading Arnold's examples from Homer, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton, mightn't we note that his own perception of "beauty" is too narrowly drawn? For instance, why does he explicitly deny Dryden, Pope, Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth the same status as those on his A-list? By what measure of his twin standards—truth and beauty—do they fail?" Canonicity and the New
"It was perhaps this sense of incompletion, this invocation of the artistic idea conceived, toyed with, and reluctantly abandoned, that drew Donald Justice to that western journey. [Henry] James's impressions survive only in stray letters and a few pages in a notebook, but from their incomplete matter and their troubled grandeur Justice wrote a sonnet as sad and knowing as any in American literature."
Henry James by the Pacific
"In Seamus Heaney's 1991 book Seeing Things, a book more about seeing than about things, one poem "Field of Vision," reminds me that, as Wallace Stevens reportedly said, all poetry is about writing poetry. I like to pretend it is otherwise. At any rate, Heaney's poem begins as a memory, an image, not an action; nothing has happened or, in the poem's moment, happens. We see enacted perception, but somehow we feel narrative structure and force." Why Do You Do Me The Way You Do: Beginnings and Endings in Lyric Poems
"Asked to compile a list of proscriptions, à la Pound, I was a little worried. My first impulse was to try to be funny. Then I started a project that involved reading thousands of pages of new, unpublished poetry. That put me in a more thoughtful and serious mood. It was as if all the young poets had been told beforehand what six or seven qualities would be rewarded and had gone charging after those alone. It comes down to a straining for effect. This is nothing new. But that's part of the point." Make Make It New New
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"In his essay 'Tales Within Tales Within Tales' (1981), novelist John Barth writes that 'we tell stories and listen to them because we live stories and live in them,' and that 'to cease to narrate, as the capital example of Scheherazade reminds us, is to die.' Luckily most of us don't have to spin tales with the life-or-death urgency of Scheherazade, but it is true that some people are better at telling stories than the rest of us. Why do we heed certain voices, hanging on every breath, while the logorrhea of others makes us want to put the phone down on the desk and do our taxes, or suddenly remember a pressing reason—a shrink appointment, an elapsed parking meter—to absent the premises?" Maurice Manning's "Provincial Thought"
"Writers have withered into worldliness and excess; writers have withered into shyness and restraint. Why do the latter virtues so often receive bad press, even from artists who embrace them? In my own experience, plainness can be difficult to separate from dullness, restraint from lack of vision or adequate technique; a young writer may embrace the glamour of excess in order to avoid parsing these discriminations. What's more, the association of artistic achievement with heroic willfulness is endemic, and it is clung to in twenty-first-century America with a fierceness empowered by its fragility: American artists are called great when they are at the frontier, taking the risk, disdaining the status quo, but also landing the movie deal. What happens to the poet who is destined to wither into restraint, the poet whose deepest inclination is to associate risk with submission?" The Various Light
"Poets old and young are often asked in interviews when and how they decided to become poets. The assumption is that there was a moment when the poet came to realize there can be no other destiny for him or her but to be a poet. This was followed by an announcement to his or her family; their mother exclaimed, "Oh God, what did we do wrong to deserve this?" while their father ripped out his belt and chased them around the room threatening to kill them. Telling the interviewers that there was no such decision in my case inevitably disappoints them. They want to hear something heroic and inspiring, and I tell them that I was just another high school kid who wrote poems in order to impress a couple of girls, with no other ambition beyond that." Preface to Selected Early Poems
"I am aware of the knife-edge we walk as artists when we realize that the compulsion to write the hard emotions refuses to be ignored. I am not alone in telling my students that when emotions are hard and overwhelming, the way to come at them is from the side, the 'slant' that Emily Dickinson advocates, and to look 'small'—to focus in on the object, the detail that might have just the metaphoric resonance you need. But I have also been accused of coldness for trying to exercise such restraint, and I suppose that will always be the risk, one I am obviously willing to take time and again." An Interview with Claudia Emerson by Susannah Mintz
"... it is the plight of the great Ulysses, the mighty and valiant hero, now naked, hungry, lost, and for all he knows forsaken by the gods, having to approach and beg succor from a gaggle of girls disporting themselves on the beach—that we should see him in such a situation, that he has come to this point from glory days on the plains of Troy!—this embarrassment itself makes him seem more real to us quite apart from the chivalrous step he takes to lessen it. The encounter, moreover, has a certain comic charm about it, since if Odysseus is in an awkward situation he is in no immediate danger. Indeed, the spark of that charm is so bright that it was able to be communicated across the centuries to reappear in Joyce's witty designation of Ulysses as 'the first gentleman in Europe.' That spark is the subject of this essay, which will consider how the presentation of the hero of the Odyssey as vulnerable wins our sympathy for him and adds to our sense of his human reality." Bare, Unaccommodated Odysseus
"Well, you know, if you bring up a poet like Keats, I mean how can you not love some of those odes? They’re so beautiful, they're so breathtaking, they’re so heart-wrenching, but when it comes right down to the truth of it, I prefer Coleridge's conversational poems. I would rather read Coleridge's 'The Nightingale,' frankly, than Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale.' I'm sure people would say I'm foolish." An Interview with Peter Everwine by Chard deNiord
"When I happened to read Rachel Wetzsteon's Sakura Park in 2008 I was impressed by the candor and courage of its obsessive meditations on loneliness, and by its pursuit of wittiness wanted not only for wit's self-armoring power but for wit's more interesting power to reveal the self in need of armor. I wrote to Wetzsteon in June 2008, praising eight of the Sakura Park poems in particular. In her gracious reply she said "on the one hand I feel it's my best book by far so far" (it was her third) but that she was now absorbed in a newer manuscript. That manuscript would become her posthumous collection Silver Roses, published at the end of 2010—a year after Wetzsteon took her own life on Christmas Day, 2009, at the age of forty-two. A poet's suicide always throws a new light on the poetry—a light sometimes lurid, sometimes in an awful way glamorous. For that reason I'm glad to know that I saw the merit of Sakura Park before its author's death." Art Against Loneliness
"... I do think there's a certain moral obligation towards clarity, because it's an act of communication, isn't it? He said naively. It's two monkeys, and one monkey is trying to say something that's really difficult, and slightly beyond what the language is capable of holding, and is trying to do so by the projection of the principle of equivalence into the syntagm and all that. For that reason alone, I think you're obliged to be as clear as possible. You have a greater obligation to clarity the more complex the idea you're trying to communicate." Interview with Ahren Warner
"I remember sitting in my Greystone apartment in Colorado Springs, gazing out over Monument Park, Pikes Peak looming there, as I turned from Ai on the cover of the American Poetry Review back to the poems printed in those pages, poems that would appear in her first book, Cruelty. Ai’s poetry found me when I was repeatedly reading Ted Hughes’s Crow, momentarily taken by the poetic strangeness of this mythic bird; but her raw imagery and the stripped-down music of her voice seemed even stranger, more foreboding. Ai’s poems are grounded in this world—naturally telluric—even when her characters are almost totemic. And back then her poems seemed like scenes from nightmarish movies imprinted on the eyeballs, yet the images were revealed so matter-of-factly, so damn casually. Upon reading a poem or two, I’d flip back to the APR cover and take another look at Ai. From the outset, she knew how to infect her reader through insinuation." The Method of Ai
"When you read poems of some length—a double sonnet, or a book-length verse diary—you might well envision each poem as a self-contained entity: a 'little world made cunningly,' in John Donne's phrase, or a 'machine made of words,' as William Carlos Williams wrote, propelled by the interactions among its own parts. When you read a very short poem—two lines, or twenty syllables—you might still ask about its moving parts, but you might also acknowledge that the parts do not move on their own: such a small object clearly depends, for much of its meaning, emotion, and force, on the expectations that we bring. Very short poems, in other words, can go a very long way to ask, and to answer, questions about what we expect out of poems in general, about what poetry—or a particular kind of poetry—is."
Games about Frames
"I began with one short, circumscribed, parenthetical, untitled poem, in a language I didn't know, a spark of encounter and revelation, purposely fragmentary, and from these four lines, Paul Celan's poetry has grown outward for me and become immense. The poem first appeared in 1967 in his book, Atemwende—"breathturn," or "change of breath"—a word Celan coined for the turning or breaking point, the crisis in writing and life, that these poems recorded. Four lines, two breaths: a poem that itself enacts a turning." 'The one pierced through': Four lines by Paul Celan
"When Szymborska realized she had been practicing what she elsewhere called 'magical thinking' and was implicated in the deaths of her fellow Poles, she abandoned communism to question the ways stories are made. Szymborska's latest book in English, Here, which combines her Polish book Here (2009) with other poems, contains many revisions of earlier works. The volume can be read as a deepening investigation into the ways in which narrative shapes experience."
Here and There: Wislawa Szymborska and the Grand Narrative
How did I become a very old poet, and a polemicist at that? In the Writers Chronicle of December 2010 I described myself as largely self-educated. In an era before creative writing classes became a staple of the college curriculum, I was "piecemeal poetry literate"—in love with Gerard Manley Hopkins and A. E. Housman, an omnivorous reader across the centuries of John Donne and George Herbert, Randall Jarrell and T. S. Eliot. I wrote at least a hundred lugubrious romantic poems. One, I remember, began
When lonely on an August night I lie
Wide-eyed beneath the mysteries of space
And watch unnumbered pricks of dew-starred sky
Drop past the earth with quiet grace ...
Deep down I longed to be one of the tribe but I had no sense of how to go about gaining entry. Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness