"At least twice in his life—once in a passing remark and once in a perfect line—Philip Larkin, who played at being merely dour, used the word lovely. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that photography (almost his second art, as this selection of Larkin’s prodigious output reveals) is a close presence in each case. The poet, on a trip to the country, turns positively exclamatory on seeing, of all things, some cows. 'How lovely they are!' he writes in a letter, not having to explain, really, not explaining away. He takes several snaps in close-up. The loveliness on offer at the close of 'Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album' is of another order: 'It holds you like a heaven, and you lie / Unvariably lovely there, / Smaller and clearer as the years go by.'" Another Look at Larkin
William Logan :
"Geoffrey Hill was the major English poet of the last half of the twentieth century. Hill’s intransigence, his clotted difficulty, his passion for the redolent fineries of English landscape—he eyed the woods and fields like a plant hunter—have stood in magnificent solitude. Among the poets long set for A-level examinations in Britain, Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes, good poets in their way, had neither the depth nor the irritating brilliance of Hill—both Gunn and Hughes seem poets of their day, with the manners of that day. That’s the fate of most poets—for many, their highest aim. Hill was never on the syllabus." Geoffrey Hill, 1932-2016
"I think I was enabled to think of myself as a poet during a few years in my early twenties, living in San Francisco, and knowing some of the survivors of the Jack Spicer Circle. It was clear with them that being a poet did not mean being part of any literary establishment or having the sponsorship of any publisher, but an engagement with the craft of poetry—writing, reading, discussing, criticizing, promoting poetry." A Conversation with Marilyn Hacker by Jessica Greenbaum
"I hope... that poems have a kind of resistance: an ability to slough their authors and their authors' small talk as they move forward in time. George Johnston writes that poems aspire to the condition of anonymity. I think that's true." Interview by Ange Mlinko
"The speaker in a John Koethe poem is never skittish about a pause for thought. He courts the reflective moment, he revels in it, he finds it comforting. He has made his peace with the mind's essential sadness, and if the sadness does not rise to the level of misery, still he asks the reader to keep him company. And here is another reason why Koethe's embrace of melancholia does not feel depressing: he is a convivial poet. Far from constituting a protective shell, the surface of his poetry is inviting." Poetry in Review, on collections by James Lasdun and John Koethe
"A reviewer might observe that a particular poet is passionate, raw, visceral, working from the unconscious; another poet might be said to be intellectual, cool and refined. I would say that the adjective that best describes Groark's work as a whole is transcendent. Even in the midst of a grief where 'I find I cannot speak of love /or any of its wind-torn ghosts to you / who promised warm sheets and a candle, lit' she manages to leave the shadows behind, and to keep instead, the 'remembered light' ('The Garden in Hindsight')."
Opening Out, a review of Vona Groarke's Selected Poems
"Dionysus, for me, is the most attractive of all the gods in the Greek pantheon. He's the trickster god and the equivalent to the North American Coyote, or the Scandinavian Loki. He is a protean figure, always transforming himself into other things; more protean than Proteus, in fact. He is the most volatile of all the gods, the youngest god in the pantheon, and the most intriguing, I think. So I've been following his progress and trying to write about him for quite a few years."
At Scraich of Day: An Interview with Robin Robertson
"One day in the last few weeks of his life, when he was having frequent coughing spasms, my father and I explicated Shakespeare's Sonnet 71. We had originally set out to read King Lear, his favorite play in the Shakespeare canon (he had read nearly all of them), but now the aggressive radiation seemed to be working only marginally, its effect outstripped by the destructive power of the spreading lung cancer, and a complete play seemed too demanding. He could, however, take poetic language fourteen lines at a time." Smoothing the Serpent's Tooth
"Despite my new surroundings, and the eerie quiet of Main Street in this small Iowa town that I'll call Ramoth (next door to Gilead), something about the morning's combination of anxiety and excitement feels familiar. I realize that when I'm at home during the middle of the week, working on my own poetry instead of ministry, I assume the same posture, staring out the window with the words of others nearby, my mind clouded with witnesses—or often just cloudy." Listening Unfolding: Notes on Ministry and Poetry
"Has a poetic project like 'General Instin' ever been carried out in the United States? I have never heard of anything even remotely resembling, in scope and approach, this droll, mysterious, and drolly mysterious cultural adventure that has involved dozens of French poets, writers, and artists for nearly two decades, and that has now come to fruition.
"The project began in 1996 when the novelist Patrick Chatelier (b. 1965), who had admittedly 'gone astray' while strolling through Montparnasse Cemetery, came across the grave of one Adolphe Hinstin (1831-1905)..." Who Is General Instin?
"I seem to have a habit, almost a tic, of hearing what's around or just below ordinary phrases, whether my own or someone else's, of listening for surplus meaning or, on the other hand, for missing meaning ...." Rae Armantrout in Conversation with Katie Lederer
Myra Kornfeld and Stephen Massimilla:
"In the deepest cold of winter, this sensuous Romantic poem full of delightful contrasts provides a delectable, passionate partner for the glorious Moroccan feast of Braised Lamb Shanks or Short Ribs, Moroccan-Spiced Bastilla, and all the exotic dishes celebrated in this section..." On Keats's 'The Eve of St. Agnes': A Moroccan Feast
"We must learn to think of Chorale at the Crossing as Peter Porter's last collection, and that is hard. It is a book written in a valedictory register, from the characteristically tongue-in-cheek title of the opening sonnet, 'First Poem of the Last Book', to the wise and profoundly moving closing poem, 'Hermit Crab'. In between, Porter sounds every note he made familiar." Precision and Engagement (reviewing books by Peter Porter, Philip Gross, and Kathleen Jamie)
"Getting off the plane in Newark, New Jersey, a few years ago, before the Dodge Poetry Festival, I looked for the car service hired to transport poets to the festival grounds. It turned out I was riding in the same car as _______, a Native American poet, whom I had not met before.
"'Oh, it's nice to meet you,' I said. 'You and I are on the same panel on Sunday—'Poets on Race in Poetry.'
"Although she and I look pretty much the same—we both could pass for Minnesotans—she looked at me like I was crazy, and burst into laughter. 'What race are you?' she said." Going Crosstown: Four Poems About Race by White People
"'I, too, dislike it', wrote Marianne Moore, referring to poetry – and she must have included syllabic poetry because she was and remains its pre-eminent practitioner. Her opinion is not unusual. My impression is that contemporary syllabics, where the organisational principle in the line is the number of syllables, never was and still isn’t popular. I hear conversations between poets about which journal editors won’t accept a submission in syllabics. I know poets who write in syllabics but hate to be asked about it and dismiss the fact." Syllabics: Psycho-Syllabics / Confessing to Syllabics
"Heartbroken and in mourning, a man describes the terrible sorrow he feels at the loss of his beautiful and irreplaceable 'Perle.' In August, with flowers and herbs decorating the earth and perfuming the air, he visits a green garden, the scene of his bereavement. Tormented by images of death and decay, devastated by grief and overpowered by the intoxicating scent of the plants, he falls into a sudden sleep and begins to dream, embarking on an out-of-body experience that will lead to an encounter with his departed pearl, who we learn is his child, and a journey to the gates of heaven." Introduction to Pearl: A New Verse Translation
"The kind of verse I have in mind gives the illusion of accommodating accidents and hints, guesses, innuendoes and echoes, hints and intimations. Its implications call their own existence into doubt, they are so subtly present. If they were material, its stanzas might be gossamer and bits of lichen, thread, and thistledown stuck together with hummingbird spittle. The bougainvillea bract that seems a dwarf moth suspended in still air and turning as on angels’ breaths hangs from such a wisp of web as might be used in these ghosts of nests." Poetry in Review: Devin Johnston's Far-Fetched
"In 1965, during the seventy-sixth and final summer of her life, Anna Akhmatova encountered the work of Judith Wright, an Australian poet twenty-six years her junior, living more than eight thousand miles from Saint Petersburg amid the subtropical rainforest of Tamborine Mountain, in the state of Queensland. The experience, we are told by Anatoly Naiman, moved the Russian poet to compose a fragment, one of her last..." 'Creation's Holiday': On Silence and Monsters in Australian Poetry
"The great subject of the poetry of Sweden's Tomas Tranströmer—it sometimes seems as though it is his only subject—is liminality. He is a poet almost helplessly drawn to enter and inhabit those in-between states that form the borderlines between waking and sleeping, the conscious and the unconscious, ecstasy and terror, the public self and the interior self." Good Evening, Beautiful Deep
"There's a moment in the Wallace Stevens segment of the old Voices & Visions PBS series when one of Stevens's former co-workers at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company is asked his impression of his colleague. The anonymous questioner is off camera, so the question appears to be coming from the air. You have to imagine the simplicity of the scene. This co-worker is a genuine Connecticut Yankee—craggy, weather-worn, retired. He's wearing a ball cap, as I recall, and is sitting in front of a sort of work shed, its paint chipped and white, in what appears to be his backyard. There's a thoughtful pause before the interviewer rephrases his question. Then, after further thought, the old man says, 'Waalll,' in his sharp Connecticut Yankee drawl, now trying to bring back his memory of Stevens: 'Waalll, if you don't count his personal life I guess you could say he was a happy man.'" Does Ripe Fruit Never Fall?
"Claudia Emerson, who died in December 2014, had come to be known as a poet capable of revealing startling discoveries inside quiet, quotidian circumstances. Her poems are set mostly in Southern rural and small-town scenes, moments in ordinary lives that would normally elude anyone else’s attention—a woman straightening her hair before a mirror, or finding amid old photographs the daybook of someone else long gone; watching patterns that starlings make as they flock, or listening from inside a house to the sounds of horseshoes being thrown outside at dusk."
"The poetry of Sappho gives us the rarest of gifts—a genuine woman's voice from an age overwhelmingly dominated by men. ... What was it like to be a young girl over two thousand years ago? Why were marriage and motherhood at the center of a woman's life? How did life change as a woman grew older in classical times? The similarities between the lives of ancient and modern women are surprising, but the differences can be astonishing." Introduction to Searching for Sappho
"In the striking fables of James Tate, strangers appear out of nowhere. One falls from a tree, another emerges from an alley, a third pops up in the middle of a living room ..." Poetry in Review
"You can spend your whole life thinking of death. Or soaring from it."
On Ghosts and the Overplus
"When Simić looks at it, even a dog heading up the walk with the newspaper in his mouth becomes eerie and touches on an aspect of infinity." A Strange and Quiet Fullness
C. D. Wright:
"Poetry moves by indirection and in so doing avoids the crowd. This does not mean it would not draw others in. But one has to be responsive to its movement. One has to adjust to its unfamiliar configurations. One has to train one's best ear on its retrofitted lyre." Concerning Why Poetry Offers a Better Deal Than the World's Biggest Retailer
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"As the classically trained Thomas Jefferson would have known, the word poet derives from the Greek poetes ('maker'), from poein ('to make, create, compose'). Jefferson was himself a consummate and complicated maker—a compulsive builder and tearer-down and refashioner of houses; a fluent forger of declarations, laws, statutes, nations; the founder of two institutions of higher education, West Point and the University of Virginia; an amateur and innovator in realms as various as gardening and vaccination, viticulture and surveying, beekeeping and Biblical scholarship, architecture and muslins. The author of one incomplete autobiography, Jefferson was also a conjurer of selves—a creator of truths and a creator of fictions." Introduction to Monticello in Mind
"... I'm not a theorist. So I really don't have theories, which means I kind of invent each poem as I write it. Not always true. Too many times I'm imitating myself, and I get crap; but I think when the poems are interesting to me, they surprise me." Honouring the Human (an interview with Ahren Warner)
"A mysterious quickening inhabits the depths of any good poem—protean, elusive, alive in its own right. The word 'creative' shares its etymology with the word "creature," and carries a similar sense of breathing aliveness, of an active, fine-grained, and multicellular making. What is creative is rooted in growth and rising, in the bringing into existence of new and autonomous being. We feel something stir, shiver, swim its way into the world when a good poem opens its eyes. Poetry's work is not simply the recording of inner or outer perception; it makes by words and music new possibilities of perceiving. Distinctive realms appear to us when we look and hear by poem-light. And these realms clearly are needed—there is no human culture that does not have its songs and poems." Kingfishers Catching Fire: Looking with Poetry's Eyes
Tony Roberts :
"It is a potentially disastrous situation – one almost wills it to be: Allen Tate and his wife, Caroline Gordon, are furiously busy with their novels; their house guest, Ford Madox Ford, is dictating to his secretary (the wonderfully named Wally Tworkov) while her sister, his companion Janice Biala, sits painting. Out on the lawn of 'Benfolly' the young and callow Robert Lowell intones his own Miltonic sonnets in an olive-green tent. 'It’s awful here', writes Biala. ‘In every room in the house there's a typewriter and at every typewriter there sits a genius. Each genius is wilted and says that he or she can do no more but the typewritten sheets keep on mounting. I too am not idle. I sit in the parlor where I paint on three pictures at once in intervals of killing flies.'" With the Topnotch Tates at Benfolly, 1937
"At age seven, Stanley Moss announced to his teacher that he knew he was destined to become a poet. Few other modern poets, if any, have been as exhaustive as Moss in mining the post-Whitman ore of a "Song of Myself" for so many decades. Ages seven to ninety. Today, for him to discover that his relentless ongoing "Poem of Self" has suddenly become "obsolete" leaves him with a cataclysmic void to be filled. And he finds that there is to be no turning back from this difficult crossroads in his art." Beyond the Muse of Self
"At issue for both poets is vitality—the 'principal substance,' as Wilson calls it—that propels both 'action' and articulation in a sphere of profound solitude. Each poet situates her distinctly solitary speaker in a 'natural' scene; each represents in that natural site a corresponding interior circumstance. The notable differences lie in position and perspective. In Robert Frost’s lexicon, if Wilson looks 'in deep' at the dazzling, meticulous particulars of a flourishing landscape, then Klink gazes 'out far' into the vast echoing absences of a world iced over, damaged, bereft."
In Deep and Out Far
"He hands me his wire-framed glasses before turning, bowing, and stepping onto the mats. Today's tournament is one of the days my husband fights his visible enemies. Earlier I packed his gi, mouth guard, one-pound gloves, groin cup, bananas, bottled water, and gummy bears, the duffle crinkling with old granola bar wrappers. We spend our Saturdays in old gymnasiums and church basements that smell like weak chili and wet socks. My husband fights new strangers. A curious but easily bored spectator, I watch and read Ovid's Amores. Losing to the Invisible: An Ars Poetica
"At one time or another, when face-to-face with a poem, most everyone has been perplexed. The experience of reading a poem itself is as likely to turn us off, intellectually or emotionally, as it is to move us. Unless patronized by celebrities, set to music, accompanied by visuals, or penned by our own children, poems do a terrible job of marketing themselves. All those ragged lines and affected white spaces make them appear as though they should be treated only as pieces of solemn art. Look but don't get too close, and definitely don't touch." from Poetry: A Survivor's Guide [Start 2016]
"John Keats walked away from the world of science, from the apothecary’s laboratory, to devote himself to the world of the imagination. In the heady days of high Romanticism such things were just about possible. But today, after two centuries of transformative invention and intervention, we cannot ignore science. Today is different, not least because science tells us that science is destroying nature...
"Today we know the Aristotelian tradition of human domination over nature has brought us to the edge of annihilation. Ironically it is the science of ecology which allows us to answer back. And those who answer back live in the wake of Keats’s contemporary the great Prussian naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt, born in 1767, who was the first scientist to see nature as a single organism, as an interlaced Gaia, though he didn’t use the term.
"Cannon’s answer is to have both Von Humboldt and Keats to tea. It’s an edgy business." Earth's Old Bones
"Millions have swooned as Owl and Pussycat danced by the light of the moon. The extreme romance might hint that Lear was too romantic to manage marriage. Edward Lear lived and died a bachelor, a frail and isolated expat, a romantically challenged misanthrope deeply attached to his cat. Lear never courted nor attained union with a human. In his voluminous diaries and letters, Lear was forever pining after lost male friends and elusive women." A Natural History of 'The Owl and the Pussycat'
John F. Deane:
"I crept up to the resinous loft, at times, in the chapel, Bunnacurry, where Mother reigned; the schoolgirls gathered by her, their hair, their scent, and oh how they huddled together, watching me, derisively. The priest, on the altar, took his cue from her, and from that breathless harmonium, the diapason, the celeste. I remember—there by the pamphlet rack, by the window ledge—the unclaimed glove, the beads, the sacred medal, such things lying with a few dead and dying flies, and how that darkwood staircase to the loft came to be a heaviness in my blood, a dare to my spirit. And the Protestants, oh how strange their names, like Sidebotham, like all those colours, Mrs Black, Violet Gray, Mrs White. How strange, too, that they lived in a colony, apart; their minister wore grey pullovers and had a wife!"
Achill, the Island
"As readers of contemporary poetry, Helen Vendler and David Lehman could not be more different or more necessary. In his Best American Poetry series, Lehman has demonstrated a big tent approach to poetry, open to the lively variety of the contemporary scene, and enlisted a range of poets as editors to address that variety and make choices for the yearly anthology. Helen Vendler, on the other hand, like other formidable critics before her, is engaged in constructing something less inclusive, for her job is to identify what will be worth reading in the future among all that is being written today." The Judgment of Poetry
"Language is inherently under pressure, even this sentence. There’s the restriction of time, the constrictions of page space. There are the limits of understanding. 'The thing itself always escapes,' Derrida wrote. And yet, an utterance’s ultimate inability to fully represent the mysterious source material of its existence can reveal other layers of meanings, which ripple outward from a speech act in ways the speaker doesn’t always control.
"I’m just beginning to describe a quality within poetry I’m going to call decomposition, something we as poets can not only identify, but cultivate. For what is a poem other than a tantalizing glimpse at meaning dissolving, a ceremonialized 'experience of almost' slipping through our hands?" Decomposition as a Spiritual Value in Poetry
"The poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), who with the passage of time seems more and more one of the great poets of the twentieth century, is deceptively accessible in translation. He was part of a group of young Israeli poets in the early 1950s who effected a vernacular revolution in Hebrew verse, rejecting the high literary language and the rhetorical thrust of the previous generation of Hebrew poets and finding ways to make poetry out of the plain words of everyday speech. His first volume of poetry, Now and in Other Days (1955), was widely recognized after it appeared as the turning point in the vernacular revolution. This effort to use the plain language and images of ordinary experience is clearly visible in a good deal of what Amichai wrote. It has a lot to do with the enormous popularity his work has enjoyed in Israel from the late 1950s to the present. It is also what makes at least some of his poems seem perfectly transparent in English, almost as if nothing were lost in translation. But his language is scarcely as vernacular, and not at all as simple, as it is often imagined to be." Introduction to The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
Pól Ó Muirí:
"I doubt if many reviewers will be queuing up to tell John F Deane how brave he is in undertaking this poetic examination of his conscience. Faith? Holy God, most will run a mile. More is the pity because this is a good, intelligent read and one which is deserving of a wide readership for the measured and articulate conversation Deane holds with Christianity and poetry in Ireland over his lifetime."
Give Dust a Tongue: A Faith & Poetry Memoir
"Sexing chickens, which is apparently a finely honed skill. 'Ice pick' lobotomies, as evidenced in no less than three efforts, one a rather lengthy sequence on the lamentable career of Walter Freeman, the psychiatrist who—on a annual summer joyride in his station wagon that took him to dozens of states and state hospitals—performed the procedure on upward of three thousand patients. Amy Winehouse, a triolet...
"Is it any wonder that Google searches have produced Google poems, poems that derive from superficial knowledge about an endless number of things but deeper knowledge about very few. I'll call this sort of poem a 'Stuff' poem rather than a Google poem, if only so that Google's lawyers, a very active bunch, don't go after me. And I fear the Stuff Poem is with us to stay." "And Not Releasing the Genie": The Poetry of Stuff vs. the Poetry of Knowledge
"... The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out is Solie's best book. That Michael Hofmann includes her along with Frederick Seidel and Lawrence Joseph as an exemplar of a modern poet is telling: her voice is trenchant, variable, and up-to-the-minute. While some of Hofmann's assertions are hyperbolic, Solie is already one of Canada's most internationally acclaimed poets, needing only five books to ascend to the head of her class." In Transit: The Poetry of Karen Solie
"The story is simple. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, fate intervenes. They are victims of circumstance, timing, each other and themselves. Their story takes place within a city under siege in the midst of a long, intractable war. There are walls within walls, actual and otherwise." Introduction to A Double Sorrow: A Version of Troilus and Criseyde
"I once felt quite famous as a poet. Indeed, now that I think of it, I have felt famous twice. These two periods of really unsettling fame came back to me recently as I dealt with a young poet at the lending desk of the public library where I’ve worked for over thirty years. The young poet had been coming into my city-center branch for over a year, dropping grease-stained envelopes stuffed with five or six poems and then returning a few days later to listen to my responses to his raw and energetic work. But there was this one morning when we’d had a very strenuous, useful exchange of ideas around his improving technique. In that pause when a conversation just ends and an older poet adroitly excuses himself, the young man suddenly said to me: 'You know so much about poetry; you read it so closely. Have you ever thought of writing anything yourself?'" Poetry and the Memory of Fame
"Indeed, the struggle of art against death is [Daryl] Hine's great subject. As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book The Demon and the Angel, 'highly formal and traditional work deepens immeasurably when one feels the primal murkiness threatening to swell up underneath the geometric clarity, the verbal concision and the ironic wit,' and this is precisely true of Hine's best poems. It is not so much that they 'have duende' as the Spanish say; they are not inspired by death, exactly. Rather, they are engaged in what Hirsch calls 'a hard-fought battle with the duende through formal means, in a formal arena.' In this sense Hine is like Horace and Paul Valéry and Anthony Hecht: a matador of art, fighting the toro of death with consummate style."
Foreword to The Essential Daryl Hine
"I seldom go to films. They are too exciting.”
Dream Song 53
"In my retrospective imagining, which is surely inaccurate, I discover them both, film and poetry, on the same day. It’s mid-afternoon, sometime in the mid-80s. I am in high school. On this day I am alone and at loose ends, browsing the shelves of my small town’s public library, uncertain, as usual, of what I am doing, and my hand, for whatever reason, pulls from the shelf a copy of The Pisan Cantos. I open the book. I don’t understand what I see. I take it home. And that evening, at a friend’s house, he has a VHS copy of Blue Velvet, which we watch. I have seen movies before, of course. But not like this.""Just to Watch Them Is to Feel Again": Film & Poetry, Time & Image
"In the later stages of his strange, illustrious, and very long career, Robert Frost was often talked about as if he were two different poets, or possibly even two different people—a phenomenon that continues even now, half a century after his death in 1963. The first poet is the familiar New England icon, the salty, no-nonsense dispenser of rustic wisdom whose lines have the sturdiness and warmth of hearthstones knelt upon by generations of yeoman farmers. This Frost is the Robert Frost of the common reader, the Frost of birches and fields and snow and spring pools. He writes plain poems that make plain sense, or seem to...
"The second Frost—'the other Frost,' as Randall Jarrell described him in 1953—is nearly the opposite of the first." Introduction to The Road Not Taken and Other Poems
"As the once-common formalist aesthetic fades deeper into the past, more and more poets have eschewed the idea that they must first learn to write in received forms before going on to other, looser styles. Now it's more likely that, rather than beginning with strict forms and later evolving out of them, poets begin writing in a freer verse. The three volumes of new and selected poems under discussion here, each by a poet born after the advent of World War II, suggest that the rise of free verse in the late 1950s has reduced the likelihood of poets going through dramatic shifts in style as did so many of their peers from the preceding generation. The verse of Barbara Hamby, Charlie Smith, and B. H. Fairchild may be marked by nuanced adjustments in style over time, but the modernist dictum to "make it new" doesn't assert itself in radical changes during the middle and later stages of their respective careers." To Make It New
"There is such an enormous amount of poetry criticism and poetic theory published at present that it seems impossible that any significant topic is neglected. Yet there are inevitably blind spots. As scholars and critics pursue the themes and theories of the moment, other subjects remain overlooked. Some topics have been neglected so long that they now seem not merely unfashionable but quaint, eccentric, even disreputable. This essay explores one of those disreputable subjects, one that I'm quaint enough to consider important, perhaps essential, to the art of poetry. It is a topic so remote from contemporary literary studies that there is no respectable critical term for it. Lacking a more stylish appellation, I'll borrow an antiquarian term, enchantment. That very word should cause responsible readers to cringe. What comes next? A damsel with a dulcimer? The horns of Elfland faintly blowing?" Poetry as Enchantment
"To call an author—especially a poet—conventional is, usually, an insult. But maybe it shouldn't be. Modernism taught us to prize poets who seemed sui generis, reinventing whatever they used. Yet even those poets—even Gertrude Stein, never mind Yeats—encountered, and learned, and passed on complex conventions, if not from older poetry then from other parts of language and culture. No artist can throw out every convention at once. To learn to enjoy a poet, and to think we understand what a poet is doing, is to learn to understand that poet's conventions: to see what's new, and what's changed, in poets who seem (at first) to repeat themselves, and to recognize patterns, repetitions, inheritance in work that seems alien, chaotic, or all too new." Poetry in Review
"In his last interview, given just weeks before his death in 1987, Carlos Drummond de Andrade (droo-MOHND djee ahn-DRAH-djee) said that his long and prolific career of poetry was not motivated by literary ambition but by 'the need to express sensations and emotions that troubled my spirit and caused me anguish.' Poetry, he explained, had served him as an 'analyst's couch.' It is hard to take seriously his denial of literary ambition, since as a young man his goal in life was clearly to write the finest poetry he could write. Once he became established as Brazil's greatest living poet (his only competitor for the title was João Cabral de Melo Neto, 1920-1999), he could relax, and the decreased poetic tension of his later work shows that he did relax. But what about the notion of poetry as self-expression and psychological self-analysis? It is a notion not necessarily in conflict with the idea of poetry as an artistic pursuit." Introduction to Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems of Carlos Drummond de Andrade
"The opening poem in Gerald Dawe’s latest collection, 'Déjà vu', establishes both the territory of Mickey Finn’s Air and its method. The territory is memory; the poem enacts memory in its loose-limbed, tumbling lines, reminisces of a lost friend ('Now, a short life later, at the drop of a hat, / a mere seventy years on, you go and bow out on us') and of a lost city:
I should say first of all that the Bank of Ireland
on the corner of North Street next to where your pal
Carly’s mother ran the photographic studio
we all went to for annual portraits until that stopped,
in the ’60s, that that wonderful art deco
building, is closed and boarded up, the doors
scrawled over—what would you expect
after all the mayhem?
"It was a dog that introduced me to the work of Ronald Johnson. Or rather it was the dog's owner, a friend and poet, who—having named his dog Ronald Johnson—ensured that I'd never forget that rather forgettable name, or that one could yell "Ronald Johnson" into a field. Years later I'd meet a Milton scholar who had never heard of Johnson, a fact which, though it still surprises me today, was downright heartbreaking at the time. I tried to describe Radi os (a sustained erasure of Paradise Lost) to him in earnest, but kept leaping into my different theories for how best to understand the book. More so than with any other poem I admired, I didn't know where to start." Ten New Ways to Read Ronald Johnson's Radi os
"I take care of Grazina in lieu of paying rent. It's the only way I manage to live and write in New York City on my own. Like most young writers before me, I came to the city hoping to better inform my art. But, more practically, I came to the city to go to school. My single mother, being an immigrant from Vietnam and living in a housing project in Hartford, Connecticut, cannot afford to pay for my education let alone support my vague ambition to become a writer. As the oldest son in a Vietnamese household, it's my "filial duty" to obtain an education and provide a house, a home for my mother to grow old in. It's a responsibility I accept and embrace with pride." Unconventional Bonds
"A poet who has discovered his powers often resorts to a little grandstanding (“We are the lost note in the chord of la / Musique éternelle plus grande that was us,” “Nacre-gnarled écorchés of ought / And nought air”). The book’s youthful exuberance, fatuous in its way—like his taste for sentimental uplift as the poems end—offers a fistful of promissory notes and scribbled IOUs. If too many poems don’t come to much, there are delicious hints of mastery scattered throughout ..."
Doing as the Romans Do
"I'm trying to make Allen Ginsberg's borscht, but it just ain't happening. I've got his recipe: "Boil 2 big bunches of chopped beets and beet greens for one hour in two quarts (1.9 litres) of water with a little salt and a bay leaf, and one cup (190 g) of sugar as for lemonade. When cooked, add enough lemon to balance the sugar, as for lemonade (4 or 5 lemons or more)." I've got everything I need. I read the recipe three more times, although it's not much of a recipe." The Poet Tasters
"[C]ontemporary poetry is endlessly accused, even by many poets themselves, as a “marginal” activity, a cultic endeavor that puts it on a par with people who attend Star Trek conventions or engage in Civil War reenactments. And make no mistake, dear reader, there are quite a few instances of poetry not saving your life, but shortening it considerably or simply making you miserable. The great British Romantic poet John Clare, after his poetry career had tanked, was condemned to live the second half of his relatively long life in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. (He once opined to a visitor: 'Literature destroyed my head and brought me here.')" Can Poetry Save Your Life? A Brief Investigation
Luis Muñoz, translated by Curtis Bauer:
"What always pulls at me, like a persistent hand tugging on my shirt sleeve or at my pant leg, is the poem I haven't written. Hey, it asks me, when is it my turn?
"The blank code of my unwritten poem is inflated with announcements of what it could be and swagger. Much more than a poem already written, where limitations have already ended up imposing themselves and where initial intentions end up lowering their head in embarrassment ... " Fragments / Fragmentos" on poetics — "What Always Pulls at Me" and "Poetry Never Stops Defining and Redefining Its Terrain
"I remember when the Carter administration invited several hundred poets to the White House for a celebration of American poetry. There was a reception, handshakes with the president, the pop of flashbulbs. Concurrent poetry readings in various White House rooms capped off the festivities. In each room a few poets had been asked to read. The rest of the poets, the ones who hadn't been asked to read, could attend the reading of their choice. A year later, Jimmy Carter lost the presidency." The question of poetry and its audience
"In India, I remember reading as a child, there once lived people who were called Sciapodes. They had a single large foot on which they moved with great speed and which they also employed as an umbrella against the burning sun. The rest of their marvelous lives was up to the reader to imagine. The book was full of such creatures. I kept turning its pages, reading the brief descriptions and carefully examining the drawings. There was Cerberus, the dog with three heads, the Centaur, the Chinese Dragon, the Manticore, which has the face of a man, the body of a lion, and a tail like the sting of a scorpion, and many other wonders. They resembled, I realized years later, the creations of Cadavre Exquis, the surrealist game of chance. I was also reminded of Max Ernst's surrealist novels in collage where bird wings sprout from people's backs and rooster-headed men carry off naked women." The Little Venus of the Eskimos
"'I merely live to work.' That's James Merrill replying to David Kalstone. Merrill had been needling him about how slow a writer he was, and Kalstone, a professor of literature, defended himself: 'Some of us have to work for a living'—referring to how little time he had left over after teaching.
"Typical of Merrill to turn a cliché on its head. Typical of him to pack a serious statement into a quip. As his friend pointed out, he had no need to work: the wealth he was born to ensured that. But rather than freeing him from work, his money allowed him to devote himself to the work he wanted to do. It was a kind of work—the writing of poetry—that drew on and shaped the rest of his life, giving meaning and design, a tone and a style, to everything he did. 'Poetry made me who I am,' he commented on another occasion, slyly reversing the usual relation between maker and made." Foreword to James Merrill: Life and Art
"Reading all the works of anyone, especially a poet, can challenge, frustrate, and fatigue as well as please even the most avid fan. Novelists can change their subjects, tell different tales. Poets sing the same songs in different keys. Once someone has—as they say in writing classes—found "his or her voice," it can become wearying in its sameness, unless interesting formal experimentation and compelling changes in subject matter, a refocusing of attention, or subtle shifts in the tone of that voice offer evidence of artistic growth, personal transformation, a sounding of the depths or a reaching for new heights. And if a poet's primary tones are nostalgic, an even greater threat faces the reader: how many times can we hear the same old song without feeling we have been listening to it forever?" Poetry in Review (on Collected Poems by Mark Strand)
"Because poetry operates on allusion and symbol, it is frighteningly open-ended. Ambiguity can impel readers to search for what seems concrete, stable, familiar. Reading literally soothes our anxiety about getting it 'wrong'—a worry I've heard a generation of students express—since we take no risk by repeating only what is on the page.
"Thus Elizabeth Bishop's 'One Art' is about Alzheimer's disease because it describes losing 'names' and a 'you' in addition to keys; her poem 'The Fish' is a rousing tall tale of unlikely angling; W. H. Auden's 'Musée des Beaux Art' concerns animal rights and husbandry, since its one 'innocent' equine belongs to a torturer and 'scratches its ... behind on a tree.' Except that this mode of reading is not in fact saying only what is 'there'; it is more a tendency to make up a story over here while the poem itself languishes idly over there, waiting to be engaged." 'Is there a basement in this poem?' On Making Story of Verse
"It happens more often than I care to admit. Some smarty says in the course of a conversation that he can't stand poems that rhyme, and when he happens onto a poem that rhymes—as if he just trips over them everywhere he goes—he says he's easily bored and can't read on." Three Columns on Poetry
"At a time when almost everyone writes poetry but scarcely anyone can write a poem, it is hard not to wish for a return to some less accommodating era, when the status of 'poet' was not so easily aspired to, and the only hankering was to get something said in a memorable form. Alas, we would have to go a long way back." The Necessary Minimum
"Love, loss, rage, envy, loyalty, heroism, spiritual aspiration, ethical and political dilemmas—the Mahabharata brings to life all these timeless human experiences, and more. I had been familiar with the story in outline for many years, but there came a point, in about 2007, when dissatisfaction with the various translations, abridgments, and versions of it in English prose crystallized into a wish to try to retell it myself—in the form of a poem, as the original is a poem. The sheer scale and grandeur of the epic were both daunting and exhilarating—the literary equivalent of the soaring Himalayan peaks which are a reference point for so many of its characters." Preface to Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling
"When a city puts on a big show, a World's Fair or an Olympics, it tries to contain the undesirables, especially the political undesirables. In 1964, there was a roundup of dissenters who descended upon the World's Fair. They were not permitted the usual niceties, like a hearing or a phone call. My father was arrested and disappeared into the jail on Hart's Island in the East River, which also serves as the Potter's Field for the city of New York. My mother didn't know his whereabouts. Being only seven, I concluded that my father was dead." An Interview with Martín Espada by Chard deNiord
"Keeper, custodian, a traditionalist whose work is stringent, formalist, always elegant: critical judgments on Michael Longley's work fence him round too closely, running the risk of misleading, even discouraging, new readers." Nunc Dimittis...
"Theo Dorgan gathers together poems that seek to go beyond terrestrial experience, but at its heart there is also a desire to write against the feeling of isolation that would leave the self 'one and all alone'. Facing up to the deaths of friends and family members while also acknowledging his own mortality, Nine Bright Shiners is finally a collection that sings and celebrates the self in all of its worldly and otherworldy connections." The Better Truth
"I have had your delightful letter for a long while and I have wanted to answer you sooner, but so many things have intervened, a bad cold and a birthday, —I am twenty-one!" Selected Letters
"Among the representatives of the people at Westminster during [the 1386] session was Geoffrey Chaucer, Esquire, controller of customs for the wool trade, created a temporary 'knight of the shire' for the county of Kent, although he had not been dubbed Sir Geoffrey, specifically so that he could attend Parliament. The historian Gerald Harriss has described the 1386 session as 'the turning point of the reign' in its laying bare the opposition between king and commons; Paul Strohm's argument, in his compact and lively new book, is that it was also a turning point in Chaucer's life." To Be a Pilgrim
"Hyperbaton, in Greek, means "overstepping," and in classical rhetoric it refers to an inversion or dislocation of normal word order. ... Hyperbaton is one gesture among many that poets might use to produce an effect of strangeness, formality, and literariness. It has particular force when it appears in a poem whose general method tends toward norms of natural speech. Instead of illustrating hyperbaton in a poet of stylized eccentricity, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, I'd like to consider two poets who usually respect what Frost would recognize as sentence sounds." Stepping Out and Stepping Over: The Figure of Hyperbaton
"Lorca writes, 'Duende is a force not a labor, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: 'The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning, it's not a question of skill, but of a style that's truly alive: meaning, it's in the veins; meaning, it's of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.'" Duende and Gravity
"It is now generally accepted that Harry Clifton, recent Ireland Professor of Poetry, is a poet of the first rank. His critical writing and statements from the academic podium have been trenchant, unequivocal, and sometimes ill-advised. It’s been clear for many years that he has no conventional wish to make friends, but he is determined to influence people, especially those who intend to add their sod of turf to the damp wall that is Irish poetry... Yet, to tell others what to write, or even how to write, is a daft ambition: if poets don’t strike gold for themselves then they should move on to something else. The work in this new Selected is full of the most glittering nuggets ever exposed in an Irish goldfield. This material, or his use of it, is unique to him. There is nothing in it for someone else..." Sharp Words from Elsewhere
Rowan Ricardo Phillips:
"Marvelous Things Overheard, sumptuous as it is, has nothing to do with philosophy, and this is to its merit. We are hitting our head against the same wall that we do with Stevens: the poetry is not philosophy, not better understood via philosophy, does not enhance our understanding of philosophy, nor is it a replacement for philosophy. It's poetry. Beautiful poetry." No to Aristotle (a review of Ange Mlinko's Marvelous Things Overheard) [Start 2015]