Ramblings & ephemera

Matthew Arnold’s 4 words that describe Homer

From Edwin Frank & Andrew McCord’s interview of Robert Fagles in “The Art of Translation No. 2” (The Paris Review: Summer 1999, No. 151): I think it’s through that effort, trying to turn Homer into poetry, that we just may come a little closer to Matthew Arnold’s unforgettable touchstones—Homer is simple, direct, swift, and above […]

Philip Larkin on modernism

From Robert Phillips’s interview of Philip Larkin in “The Art of Poetry No. 30” (The Paris Review: Summer 1982, No. 84): It seems to me undeniable that up to this century literature used language in the way we all use it, painting represented what anyone with normal vision sees, and music was an affair of […]

Ray Bradbury on what you know & how to write

From Sam Weller’s interview of Ray Bradbury in “The Art of Fiction No. 203” (The Paris Review: Spring 2010, No. 192): I learned this early on. Three things are in your head: First, everything you have experienced from the day of your birth until right now. Every single second, every single hour, every single day. […]

Richard Wilbur on Edgar Allan Poe

From Helen McCloy Ellison, Ellesa Clay High, & Peter A. Stitt’s interview of Richard Wilbur in “The Art of Poetry No. 22” (The Paris Review: Winter 1977, No. 72): INTERVIEWER That was one of your criticisms of Poe’s poetry, wasn’t it, that it wasn’t grounded enough in the concrete. WILBUR Yes. He is hurrying away […]

Richard Wilbur on the advantages of being a poet

From Helen McCloy Ellison, Ellesa Clay High, & Peter A. Stitt’s interview of Richard Wilbur in “The Art of Poetry No. 22” (The Paris Review: Winter 1977, No. 72): INTERVIEWER Are there what one could call advantages to being a poet? WILBUR Well, one is allowed enormous license in behavior, one is forgiven everything, one […]

Richard Wilbur on the difference between imagination & fantasy

From Helen McCloy Ellison, Ellesa Clay High, & Peter A. Stitt’s interview of Richard Wilbur in “The Art of Poetry No. 22” (The Paris Review: Winter 1977, No. 72): To me, the imagination is a faculty that fuses things, takes hold of the physical and ideal worlds and makes them one, provisionally. Fantasy, in my […]

Richard Wilbur on what poetry is

From Helen McCloy Ellison, Ellesa Clay High, & Peter A. Stitt’s interview of Richard Wilbur in “The Art of Poetry No. 22” (The Paris Review: Winter 1977, No. 72): I think of poetry in terms of the compressed expression of the whole of one’s experience, all at once; the combining of things; the bringing together […]

James Dickey on Philip Larkin

From Franklin Ashley’s interview of James Dickey in “The Art of Poetry No. 20” (The Paris Review: Spring 1976, No. 65): INTERVIEWER: We’ve talked a good deal about American poets, but English poets are always on the scene; some critics contend that the best contemporary English poet is Philip Larkin. DICKEY: Oh, my Lord. Philip […]

James Dickey on the personalities of poets

From Franklin Ashley’s interview of James Dickey in “The Art of Poetry No. 20” (The Paris Review: Spring 1976, No. 65): INTERVIEWER: You’ve known a great many poets personally. Do you find some common characteristic—in their madness, their vision, their discipline? DICKEY: I would have to put the answer in the form of a paradox. […]

Poetry: Johnny Mercer’s “Early Autumn”

Man, these are beatiful, evocative lyrics by Johnny Mercer: When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze and touches with her hand the summer trees, perhaps you’ll understand what memories I own. There’s a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down, a winding country lane all russet brown, a frosty window […]

David Foster Wallace on the importance of writing within formal constraints

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): You’re probably right about appreciating limits. The sixties’ movement in poetry to radical free verse, in fiction to radically experimental recursive forms—their legacy to my generation of would-be artists is at least an incentive to ask very […]

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade“: I work all day, and get half drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when […]

A grammarian’s haiku

So my friend Carrie is helping me edit my latest book in progress, and we got into an email discussion about the way I write & the edits she made. She sent me this haiku, which I thought was great: I cannot abide a run-on sentence, ever. Sentence fragment, yes.

Wordsworth’s “spots of time”

From Wordsworth’s The Prelude 12.208-218 (1805 edition): There are in our existence spots of time, That with distinct pre-eminence retain A renovating virtue, whence–depressed By false opinion and contentious thought, Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight, In trivial occupations, and the round Of ordinary intercourse–our minds Are nourished and invisibly repaired; A virtue, […]

A programmer’s poem

From dive into mark: First, the poem itself (there are many versions, this is just one): < > ! * ' ' # ^ ” ` $ $ – ! * = @ $ _ % * < > ~ # 4 & [ ] . . / | { , , system halted In […]

Another awful poet

Scotland’s worst poet, William Topaz McGonagall: From “The Tay Bridge Disaster”: Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay! Alas! I am very sorry to say That ninety lives have been taken away On the last Sabbath day of 1879, Which will be remember’d for a very long time. … Or here’s a few lines from […]

She’s a poet and don’t know it

So I’m listening to Car Talk on NPR, hosted by Tom and Ray, AKA Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and this woman calls in, and she says this: Well hello, Click and Clack, My name’s Mary Mack, And I’m from Portland, Oregon. And I thought, my God, but that scans really well. Try it […]