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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Poems of Winter, Written in Summer

One of my Latin American pseudonyms has written a sequence called "Poems of Winter, Written in Summer." I think it turned out pretty good. I liked the idea of imagining the winter, but from the perspective of the summer. Some of the poems here are deliberately bad, but some are actually not that bad.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Two Poems

These are not deliberately bad in execution. The idea is just to use a kind of silly premise but still do the best with it. I wrote them in my head when I woke up in the middle of the night and don't know what they will look like in written form yet:



violins fly

south for the

winter. Flocks of

oboes, too,

migrate. So

in temperate

southern trees

we listen to January's

woodwind foliage


With Swiss Army hands--

each finger a tool--

I could open wine,

cut, file, screw...

Making love, though,

would not be so convenient.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Sam taught Emily and I how to make tortillas"

I saw someone I respect on a social media site use this construction... [cringe] Of course this is the error of the well-educated person for whom "Emily and me" sounds like a mistake even when it is the object of the verb, not the subject. So much the worse.

Of course I would never be so rude as to point out this mistake to the person making it. But be warned: I will judge you for this even if I don't say anything.


I'm using this phone app to learn Irish. The app is base on a simple principle of practicing every day. My daughter is visiting and doing it with Spanish, a language that she never studied despite having two Spanish professors as parents. She will progress more rapidly than I.


I think I have a different metabolism because I often find even short poems to be too long. I think, I could say that in about half the words. That could explain too why people don't find my poems very good: maybe they think the poem is just not enough, that there is not enough there there.

Here is one that I wrote as part of a bad book that ended up being good (imho).

There are skyropes

If you find one

you can climb quite high

past cold clouds

Here's another one:


My book Pristine

was rejected 14 times

but never so cruelly

as by the woman for whom it was written

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Parodic Swerve

It takes very little swerve to transform a serious imitation into a parody, or a seemingly good poem into a bad one. Sometimes it is only the failure to mimic the original faithfully. The way a caricaturist will exaggerate the most prominent feature of the subject's face. Of course I prefer a slightly more subtle form of parody in most cases. Elizabeth Bishop would be almost impossible to parody, not only because she is so good, but because there is almost no endearing weakness. I like poets more who open themselves up to gentle mockery.

Someone at last...

Someone at last will recall
the resting silences
of the birds.

We are impulses
in the jungle
of desolation.

childhood has awakened
all the imperceptibility
of a kiss
ancient as the color
of paradise.


found this in an old file of poems. I am not sure if it is a translation or a poem I wrote. I will have to see if it is by Lola V. or not. It is not a super-bad poem, but just sounds like a parody / translation of her work.

Theory of Poetry

The poet feels an emotion

puts that emotion into words

the reader reads those words

and does not feel that emotion

unless the poem is really, really good

Friday, August 19, 2016


if you get lost in vague ideas and forget that there's any kind of melody and rhythm and forget how funny words can be, and forget to make even a picture then naturally the poetry gets boring. or, you know, nobody wants to read it but if you stick with the picture and some music and some intelligence about the words then naturally there's something to interest, like a little toy puzzle, to interest anyone. And if you do it in your own language, that is with your own rhythms, the way you speak, vernacular, then it's like regular speech of everyday, but all of a sudden heightened by your own intelligence of speech and mindfulness that you're putting into it - extra-picture, extra-pretty-music, and extra-sense to the words. So it's just ordinary mind heightened by a little more awareness, or intelligence, or energy, that you put into it (even more energy that [sic] you put into it)
That's pretty obvious, right? My entire graduate seminar is going to be based on this.

Interestingly, I was reading yesterday something Borges wrote, quoted in an essay by Guillermo Sucre, and Borges just says the logos is the thing. For pictures, go to painting, for music, go to music, he says. I don't agree, but that's a revealing kind of difference from the Lorquian / Poundian poetics of music / image / intelligence all at once to a kind of poetics that Borges favored, or said he did.

Ginsberg keeps repeating the phrase "the dance of the intellect among words." Perloff used that phrase as the title of a book. The late poet and my friend Ken Irby also used the Poundian trilogy of ideas.

Logopoeia linked to the vernacular. That's a powerful idea, since it is much easier to see verbal wit in non-vernacular poetries, based on baroque models, than in more vernacular forms of poetry.


I guess I don't like a willed, overwrought kind of poem. I hardly revise a poem at all. With my bad poems there is little point! If I hit on something good head on, on the first attempt, I'm not going to spoil it with second thoughts. This is probably a weakness of mine, because I can see how limiting it is. It almost sounds arrogant, but it is not.

I don't really like Elizabeth Bishop, I decided. She is very good, but I don't find much that appeals to my sensibility of careless ease. Everything she writes seems so effortful. There's one sestina she wrote that I do like, but I have a soft spot for sestinas.

There is nothing wrong with Bishop. She is not sentimental, or a bad writer. She never uses cliché language. I would never argue with someone for whom that aesthetic was the ideal, because she does embody it. Yeats argues that a line can take hours to perfect, but that if it does not seem "a moment's thought / all our stitching and unstitching is for nought." Revision is not bad, then, but the poem still has to sound as fresh as if it were not revised.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Ambicionamos no plagiarnos ni a nosotros mismos, a ser siempre distintos, a renovarnos en cada poema, pero a medida que se acumulan y forman nuestra escueta o frondosa producción, debemos reconocer que a lo largo de nuestra existencia hemos escrito un solo y único poema.

Our ambition is not to plagiarize even ourselves, to be always different, to renovate ourselves in every poem, but as our narrow and flowering production grows and accumulates, we must acknowledge that in our entire existence we've written one solitary poem.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


April surprises. Its

skinny legs running toward you, like

every other April you've ever seen. But still...

Its blatant sex appeal: leaves,

bees, birds, flowers. Its fake

Iris brogue. Its cornball sensual appeals.

April is a phony, but you still want to sleep with it.

You've seen it all before, but you want to kiss it.

It is stunningly obvious that it has fooled you once again.


You wore lipstick and said you were from the future

We were confused, because in the future they didn't do that

You made grand entrances, as grand as grand pianos

Your lips and lashes filled rooms with perfumes

You never really told us your name

Your tiny heart beat rapidly and we frequently worried

You said you would go back there, to your future that was really a past

Where impressionable youth would swoon whenever you came and went

We were worried but there was no need

The matchbook you dropped on the floor carried an unreal date

Not quite the present but not too far removed either

Enough to etch your kiss in our memory forever

Is there a pathway from Bad Poetry to Good?

I think there is. Let me outline what I mean:

1. Permission-granting. Writing a bad poem allows me to do things I would never do in a "good poem." It allows me to write in the first place, for one thing. I don't have to worry about talent or the lack of it. I am immune from criticism. The worst they can say is that my poems are not bad enough.

2.Humor is built into the process. I am a funny guy.

3.Voice. I don't have to be myself in a tedious way, or try to occupy someone's idea of a poetic speaker's identity. I can be myself easier in a persona, even if it is only slightly different from my own personality.

4. A lot of poetry fails from trying too hard. You'll never find me doing that. Ars est celare artem.

5. At the same time, I can sneak in any "good" poetic effect I want to.

Because I bought whisky

they think I want to buy more of it

and special glasses for it

I see fine with the glasses I already have on


Like any petit-bourgeous Latin American man

I published a slim volume of verse in my twenties

I had a girlfriend named Geraldine

She was warm-hearted; her make-up was immaculate

She was easy to write love poems for

Nothing was extraordinary about me; I was good-looking

But isn’t everyone at that age?

Now I look back on those days and I miss Geraldine

Though I am still married to her


Although I decided to become an expert on poetry, I read a lot of fiction. With my first asthma attack I spent all night reading Chaim Potok. I read all of Updike and Bellow, and Roth. All of Vonnegut. I read Lord of the Rings every summer until I didn't want to read it any more. I read Robert Penn Warren's The Cave multiple times. When I learned Spanish I read almost all of Galdós. I've read every Borges and García M. short story, every Cortázar short story. Novels by Vargas Llosa. I re-read Catch-22 over and over.

Much later, I went on an Elmore Leonard binge.

At a certain point fiction did not interest me much any more. There are only so many New Yorker stories or Great American Novels you can read.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lorca as reader

I'm reading this book about Lorca as a reader. It is ok; not the greatest but I am prejudiced against the author LGM. Anyway, there is always something to be learned even if the information is not presented efficiently here.

I was thinking that my life as a reader might be of some interest. After all, I belong to those whose identity was formed by reading. LGM points out that this might not be the case for subsequent generations. It was not the case for my own generation, but it was for me, and might be increasingly uncommon in future generations.


I think my first author was Milne. We had some poetry books by him, like When we were very young. I was taught to read using a phonetic alphabet in first grade, and then switching to the normal alphabet in 2nd. Some kind of educational experiment. So this was my first poetry too. I liked the odd reversal of perspective in the poem in which Christopher Robin does not allow his mother to go into town by herself. I don't remember any prose by Milne from that time. I think there was another book called Now We are Six.

I wasn't yet a great reader. My next big discovery was a library in my third-grade school. We had moved from Ann Arbor to Piedmont, a suburb of Oakland while my father did a visiting thing at Berkeley. My other school had not had a library where you could just go and check out books. It was here I was born as an intellectual. I checked out books on history, mostly. I wanted to know the history of the entire world and loved ancient civilizations most of all. It was like the Zukofsky line Creeley quotes: "Born very young into a world already very old." I read a child's illustrated book about the First World War and memorized all the information therein. Although the information could not have been very complete, I'm thinking, I never had any problems the rest of my life remembering anything about that war.

I read the Bible and wondered about the weird logic of events there. The Israelites would just never learn from their mistakes, and kept getting wicked over and over again. It was pretty obvious what would happen each time they got wicked again. I wasn't quite sure what they were doing wrong, because there was kind of a vagueness there, whereas the God seemed very immediate and real. "Walking with God" I took as a literal expression. You could find him and walk with him, so why would anyone do any different if it was an actual guy who seemed all powerful and would punish you immediately if you messed up. This was the cause of my loss of religious faith about a year later (one of the causes). But anyway, it was fun to cheer the Israelites invading a country that God had promised them, but then frustrating when they couldn't keep their act together. I read Beverly Cleary, and when I pictured the house where Henry or Beezus lived it was my house. Their mother looked like mine.

I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on from around then. I liked old boy scout manuals. When the class would order Scholastic Books the box would come and each student would get a book or two and I would carry home the box with my 12 or 14 books, go home, and read them all at once. There was a book about a polar bear terrorizing an island, another about a boy building his own canoe. Later I would read Dr Seuss and Frank Baum to my brother, who had all the Oz novels, but fairly soon I switched to adult novels.

Reading then was absorption. The outside world disappeared and you were simply living inside the book. This is a strange way for identity to be formed because you are not yourself when reading. When you lift your head you wonder why you are you and not someone else. Identity is arbitrary because you were someone else, mentally, for several hours.

My main interest was in Greek mythology from age 9 or 10-11. It seemed like many years at the time, but looking back I see it was not a long stretch of time. I simply learned from books my father already owned about this subject. I was also interested in primatology and other subjects and became a reader of encyclopedias. It seemed that the encyclopedia was simply where the knowledge was, in complete form, A-Z. It was inexhaustible. I learned from those more than at school, which seemed a waste of time as far as learning was concerned, especially in those subjects which interested me. We had child's encyclopedia's and normal ones as well, and at one point we bought the newest Brittanica.

My first real novel was Of Human Bondage. I think my father must have explained what the title meant. Another reading that distanced me from religion.

Ginsberg on Lorca

I wish I'd seen this before I wrote my book:
I was talking about this toward the end of last term [1980], particularly when you get it in Lorca. Sometimes you can take an abstraction or a general word and out put next to it a particular word or a concrete word and the combination will turn you on - "animal shoes" - or, my own favorite was in my own writing - "hydrogen jukebox" ("jukebox, which is a relatively common, vulgar word - and then "hydrogen", which is somewhat scientific and abstract, sort of). So if you take "hydrogen" and "jukebox" and put them together you get a little explosion.
People underestimate Ginsberg's logopoeia, his verbal wit (and Lorca's too), but here you see him being very precise and analytical about what he is doing. You don't even get a sense of him bragging about it, he is just describing exactly what the effect is.

Home Base

What Allen Ginsberg calls "home base" in one of his Naropa lectures / workshops. Home base is vision, what you see, concrete reality, the music of the words of a poem. This is similar to what I emphasized in my good poetry tricks. Abstract language gets you away from home base or the sensory base. A woman named "Francine" in the workshop reads a poem she wrote that is very abstract, and he objects to it for this, its lack of concrete referentiality. (He also call home base "the breath.")

It is a good metaphor because you don't always have to be at the home base, but you should know where it is!

Ginsberg is very astute and analytical, actually. He identifies the exact moments in another poem by Francine where something good happens, like "leave the water trickle so the pipes don't freeze."

(Francine's poem is “There is no telling, even showing/is missed, and being best to worst, best/ to worst leaves me alone with wild/thoughts.”)


My idea is that the "prosaic" is only a valid category for a poem. Elsewhere it is just invisible, but when you put a "prosaic" clause in a poem, then you are marking it as such by way of contrast. The same with anything else "anti-poetic" or "conversational." It isn't that you can't use it, but that it has to be on purpose. Elevated language and lowered language have the same function, and even neutral language, surprisingly. Pared down, neutral language with apparently no emotion at all is used for its poetic charge. You could even have a poetic charge to abstraction, for example, but it has to be deliberate, you have to exploit that exact quality of the abstract as such, its funny-sounding abstractiness. Maybe the funny sound of an abstract word, as in Wallace Stevens, will convey the fact that the abstract is meant to be there or fits.

In one of my bad poems I use the phrase "music notation software." It is fine for what it is, but the three word noun phrase is hard to use in a good poem, because that kind of phrasing is stigmatized as bureaucratic ("department awards committee report"). You could say "cow dung fire," I guess. Maybe "silk road calluses."


By the same token, language is a social medium, so letting in the social aspect of language and leaving it out are two kinds of social gesture that work in parallel. To include social intercourse in a genre where it has been excluded is a deliberate gesture that plays against that previous exclusion.

You can't just write poetry badly accidentally, just assuming that every element is valid there.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


In the animal wisdom of the archaic I stake my claim

in a time before claims, before stakes

in the oneiric, the telluric, the cthonic

My lizard mind jumps ahead, in mineral rhythm

In a clearing I rest a bit, then resume my way

through the dense vegetation

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


I remember when Riffaterre gave a lecture one that I heard at Ohio State possibly, he said that jokes were not really ambiguous. He told a kind of sexist joke, like

"Steve makes love to his wife twice a week. So does his neighbor John."

It's only a joke if you understand it a certain way. If you think John makes love to his own wife, then you won't laugh.

But isn't it also true that it's only a joke because you sense the "straight" reading intended?

So joking about second amendment people dealing with Hillary is only a joke if you are talking about them shooting her. Trump's audience wouldn't laugh if they didn't understand that. If he meant that 2nd amendment gun nuts would take care of her by organizing politically against her, it makes no sense. What makes it a joke (unfunny to me of course) is not the ambiguity, but the vagueness. He doesn't even have to complete the thought because it's understood.

It also seems like you can't be provocative and then have a right to complain that people are being provoked. It's a fundamentally dishonest strategy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Rules

Here's an exercise. Take a book of poems and write up what its rules might be.

For example, I'm reading a Latin American poet (excellent by the way) and I notice in her poems the following rules apply:

Everything takes place in a dreamscape. There is no social reality, no other people. (There is a you and an I, but they seem to be the same person. There is one other figure that might be referred to vaguely.) There are no references to daily life and its routines. All poems are in prose and less than a page long. No proper names. There can be no references to modern technology (trains, planes, telephones, cars). No humor is allowed, no variations from a single tonal center, mostly negative and despairing. There are body parts and nature but no bodily functions to speak of, no eating, drinking, smoking.

It's all just the poet's self and existential threats to it. There's nothing wrong with this claustrophobic mode of writing poetry. For me it's great. I wouldn't assume though that everyone will like it and wouldn't really complain about someone who didn't like this kind of thing. It even took me a while to get in the mood for it today.

Cheap Surrealist Poem Tricks

1. Contextlessness. Create an aura of mystery by presenting landscapes and events with no narrative context, or an ill-defined one in an archaic past. Perfectly ordinary events become enigmatic when they are deprived of context. "A man stopped in a clearing in the woods." Who was he? Where are those woods? It never matters very much because it is all symbolic anyway. Pseudo-reference is also good: the technique of referring to something as though your readers would know it: "The archers had exhausted their arrows." Vagueness of reference is an essential surrealist technique.

2. Dark and deep. Use words like these that suggest, by their very meanings, the mood you want to create. I wouldn't use the word "mystery" or "enigma" though. Anything evocative of profundity and darkness is good, like caverns or underwater passageways.

3. Landscape. Refer to non-existent landscapes. In my cheap surrealist poems I like to use qualifications like "skies of salt" or "mineral winds." Mineral, in fact, is a good all-purpose surrealist adjective, for anything not mineral: "your mineral gaze." "The days of mineral."

4. Pseudo-wisdom. You want to suggest that there is a profound, arcane wisdom to had in dark, mysterious caverns. Pretend you are listening to oracles.

5. Substances. I just add salt to everything to make a poem surrealist. "The days of salt and ash." Ash and chalk work well. (See mineral above.) Use the generic names of things: bird, reptile, rock, stone, skin. Vagueness creates mystery.

6. Animals. Animals are inherently surrealist because they possess a deep animal wisdom that we have forgotten. "In your animal darkness." Vegetation can be surrealist too.

7. Oneiric. Everything must happen as though in a dream, laden heavy with symbolic content.

8. Fable. Little absurdist surrealist fables are excellent: "A man was drinking his own blood. The mineral sky turned reflected seas of ash."

9. Prose poem. A good way to write surrealism is to do it in prose, especially if you doing oneiric fables with the pseudo-wisdom of animals.

10. Avoidance of everyday life. Try not to mention anything everyday in your surrealist poems. Everything most occur in that contextless dream land of caverns measureless to man.

11. Archaic. I've mentioned this before, and should really call it pseudo-archaic. Use words like "ancient" or "antique." What happens in your cheap surrealist poem could have happened 10,000 years ago.

12. Humor. You can be funny in a kind of absurdist, oneiric way, but not funny in a way that undercuts that mood by introducing elements from day-to-day life or otherwise breaking the mood.

There. Now you can write the cheap surrealist poem. You can combine these tips with good poem tricks and the bad poem tricks as well, depending on whether you want to write the good or bad cheap surrealist poem.

Good poem tricks

Here are some good poem tricks:

*Statistically improbable combinations of words. Here you want to surprise the reader by putting words together that don't normally fit, but that still sound like an apt characterization. This is also a good prose trick. It shows a greater degree of awareness and sensitivity to language. You are not thinking in clichés like "makes a valuable contribution to the field." If you are statistically improbable but also slightly absurd, then that is a bad poem / prose trick.

Think of the word arcane. Now think what could be arcane? Where is the sweet spot between something that is a cliché (arcane calculations) and absurd (arcane crackers).

*Directness and specificity. In James Schuyler's poem "Almanac" there is a nice list of things that might happen in a particular season:

Shops take down their awnings;
women go south;
few street lamp leaners;
children run with leaves running at their back.
In cedar chests sheers and seersuckers replace flannels and wools.


It's just a list, sure, but it's Pound's "direct treatment of the thing." Concrete sensory imagery always works in a poem. Notice Schuyler doesn't use words like autumn, cold, or I here. He just observes things. Think of Stevie Smith: "and although I collect facts I do not always know what they amount to." There is feeling in the poem but it is implicit. He won't write "birds go south..." because that would be cliché.

If your details are too specific in a kind of haphazard or irrelevant way, that is a bad poem trick.

*Shapeliness. Even a simple list poem can be made shapely. Don't think of form as something exterior to the poem, but as the shape that it takes. Think of Kenneth Koch's exercises for children's poems. Those work for adults too. "Things to do in Lawrence Kansas." You don't have to worry about writing a sonnet, but think of the shapeliness of it in terms of its argument: one part of the poem answers the other. You can use parallelisms or question / answer phrasing. Think of contours.

*Knowing when to stop. I'm not very good at this, I admit. I usually just try to write extremely short poems and stop before I do anything wrong. That works for me but then again it stops me from writing other sorts of longer poems I might want to write. In my bad poems I stop too abruptly, or go on just a tiny bit more than is necessary.

*Tone. I probably rely too much on carefully calibrated tonal effects, and I know I respond to them in other poets. In a poem by the Canadian poet Kroetch I was reading the other day I found a line about how he found the mountains pretentious one day. I immediately knew this was a poet I could read. We know mountains can't be pretentious and that poets are supposed to admire them.

*The speaker. The speaker doesn't have to be yourself in your idealized form. Imperfect speakers are more interesting that the lyric poet who is always searching for that perfect tender moment. In my bad poems the speaker is very foolish or stupid.

*Listening. Another good poem trick is to listen to your own thoughts. Valery called it the "vers donné," or given line. This is a phrase that you haven't really written, but that pops into your head. You won't get these lines if you aren't listening attentively. I often write poems in my head in the shower because that is where it happens for me.

This is a bad poem trick too, because some ridiculous idea for a poem can occur to you in the shower if you are listening.

*Concision. The idea that you can use fewer words to express yourself is a reliable one for writing the Good Poem. I recently found a bad poem that had language like "but there are issues between us which, though of my making, exist." Well, no. You can't do that in a good poem, can you? "There are" and "exist" mean the same thing. You cannot even revise this to make it better, because "issues" is a boring word already. You don't have to be lyrical all the time, and you can even be prosaic if you want to, but be prosaic on purpose, not just because you don't know any better. Don't confuse the virtues of good colloquial language with the mannerisms of wordy prose.

*Not trying too hard. This is a difficult one, and controversial, and verges on a bad poem trick. The idea here is to make it seem effortless, like the poem just came out spontaneously. I happen not to like, as much, the overworked, overwrought poem. "If it does not seem a moment's thought..." etc... If you revise, I'd revise in the direction of spontaneous casualness, not in the direction of belabored fastidiousness. But that's just me. "A sweet disorder in the dress..."

This is controversial because many poets think that they should work on a poem until it is an elaborate verbal structure that others will admire for that. Maybe because I don't think I could do that I disdain it, but poets who do have skills I don't and I shouldn't reject their aesthetic.

I also respect poets who pare everything down in extreme condensation. That is another form of overworking that is respectable, although it doesn't happen to be my aesthetic. I like letting more things into the poem.

*Story. You can always tell a story in a poem. If it is a good story, the poem at least has that, right? If it's told well...

*Words. Good poemwords are savory words, not words like issue. Of course you can write an entirely good poem without using any words with a texture or taste to them, but then you would be doing that deliberately for some other effect, not because you don't know the difference between poemwords and prosewords.

Think of these things: names of plants and animals, proper names, adjectives that sound like their meaning, funny words, words that are very long... On the other hand, words that feel dead to the touch, abstract or long but not in an interesting way, words use to fill space, or set phrases like "in a manner of speaking..."

*Lines. The idea here is to make every line good.

These are just a few of of my favorite good poem tricks. (Note these are not tricks, that are good, for a poem, but tricks to write the Good Poem.)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bad Poem Tricks

Ok. So what are the steps to writing a bad poem? In the first place, just a write a poem! It is likely to be bad already.

So even the attempt to write a bad poem implies, doesn't it, that you have a few good poem tricks at your disposal? Concrete imagery, a way with a phrase. And ways of avoiding some of the bad poem tricks as well. You must have some models of poetic concision and directness.

Then you must know some of the bad poem tricks already, right? A lot of them come down to tone: the speaker is portentous or preachy. The vocabulary is ever so slightly elevated. So take a phrase that you think the bad poet might use. Ezra Pound's idea that such a poet would write "dim lands of peace" is a good place to start.

Some of my favorite devices are

*The simile. The simile is such a basic device that everyone who thinks they can write poem uses it, and is a mainstay of mainstream, workshop style poetry of Professional Poets. You can write a bad simile just by putting down the first thing that comes into your head. I like putting an adjective: "like antique lace."

*Bathos is the figure of falling or deflation. What you're going to want to do here is set up an epiphany and then undercut it. Abrupt shifts of tone (downward).

*The line break. Just break your lines in the worst possible way. Just think of a how a bad poet might do it. Also a good way of introducing a comic twist or bathos. There are two or three kinds of bad line break. One is just arbitrary, when you just break it because you think the line looks long enough. The other is cutesy, where short lines create the aspiration to pseudo-profundity.

*I sometimes just add an extra phrase. So if I have line "hitting a ball / like a kid." I would say "hitting a ball / like a kid / or young man or woman." Going on a little too long is always effective, especially if you can do it bathetically.

*Wisdom. Fake wisdom is always good. My daughter got the right idea when she ended the poem with the line "Will there ever be a time when nature has taken its toll?" (She was trying to write a bad poem, needless to say) The best place to put lame epiphanies or fake-sounding wisdom is at the end of poem.

*Epiphany. This technique is essential. The Really Important Insight the poet has gotten from the experience.

*Present tense. Many bad poets just use the present tense just because it sounds more poem like. "I lean over / and inhale / the fresh breeze." Since people don't talk like that really it is a really easy way to sound poetic but without even distinguishing your language from that of ordinary people.

*Portentous tone. What I am telling you is really important. My vocabulary communicates that. Use "shimmering" a lot. An elemental vocabulary with words like "stone" and "darkness" is very good to use along with the "shimmering" words.

*Cliché. I actually don't recommend the overuse of cliché. It's too easy. Try for the near cliché.

*Prepositional phrases. Here what you want to do is find some phrases like "dim lands of peace" but make them original. Imagine the bad poet proud to have discovered them. Like "the bitter wages of emnity."

*Translationese. Here the idea is to be a little unidiomatic, as though you were translating from another language with a profounder culture. Think fortune cookies.

*Rhyme. Bad rhyme is too bad even for a bad poem. I don't recommend that. The same goes for heavy-handed alliteration. You can do better than that.

There. At the risk of putting myself out of business I have given you some of my best bad poem tricks.

I've discovered something

I"ve discovered something in my work in the genre of bad poetry. When you read an actual bad poem, one not written in order to be bad, but one that simply fails, it is always worse than one that is deliberately bad. It is either a kind of non-existent poem, not a poem at all, or a poem that aims to be good but is confined by its expectations of what a good poem ought to be. Sometimes, the poem falls into the crack between these two options.

Take my poem "Textiles" for example:


Once I did not understand textiles. I read about them as a child in

encyclopedias, how some countries or regions produced them

in abundance, and were known for their finery, but the word itself

bore no meaning for me. I wore shirts and socks

but had never seen a textile in my life. What could it be?

I think about this, Diana, as we take on and off clothes

morning and night, changing and choosing them,

bathing and making love without them on, washing

and repairing these fine textiles of our domestic bliss.

Ok. I'm glad I got that off my chest. I think I am looking for that sweet spot between the actor who thinks he is talented and hams it up, and the actor with no illusions who is merely wooden, who cannot even emote. Or, we could say: taking poetry seriously, as the conventionally good poet does, but de-MFAing her work. Nothing should be in the poem because it's supposed to be a poem.
Is poeming an art
for the many or the few?

Either answer is wrong
Either answer is wrong

Saturday, August 6, 2016


I will start a new book calle Hommage. The idea is pretty simple. It will pay tribute to things I like or parodic tribute to things that maybe I don't like so much.

Friday, August 5, 2016


I've written two books of bad poetry in the past two weeks or so. One is called The Dreams of my Youth. It is bad poetry written by me. The other is called Pristine. These are bad poems translated by me from the Spanish, in the mode of Kenneth Koch's "Some South American Poets." Now I need to publish these books.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I Hear Voices

Not in a schizo way, but I am able to hear voices in my head. I get a certain voice of a poetic speaker in my head, a particular tone, and then I am able to write in that voice. Often it is by reading someone else, and then doing a kind of misinterpretation of that voice. For example, I got an idea of Neruda's exile in Southern Chile and wrote a kind of fake Neruda-like thing. In the middle I put in a pseudo-Robert Frost type line. I also was reading some Alice Notely. Wonderful poems, and in a voice I could never replicate and wouldn't want to, because I am not her, but her work gave me permission to be more openly, emotionally raw.

The voice might start with a single thought in my head, that is from my own inner voice, but then it has to be twisted a bit to be made a little stupider sounding, maybe. Usually the first poem of the day comes to me when I am still in bed or in the shower.

Here be an example

Seriously? I thought this was a Rod McKuen poem at first. This is a Mark Strand poem? Warm bouquets of air?

Dream of Bad Poetry

In my dream of bad poetry I was reading The American Poetry Review. It was all bad, but in a way indistinguishable from my own deliberately bad poetry. I realized my project was pointless because nobody would be able to tell a poem written bad on purpose from any other poem.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

While in the Harvard library

The other day in the Harvard library I discovered this unpublished poem by a major American modernist. This is the first time it is being published:

your sweestest erasure directs me to a place I have never been;

small rainhands of dew springtime me again as I have never been done

among which; weeds; slightest kisses among; your gestures lilac

and rose me; however you might do; it is never the same syntax;

but then, the rude capitals; sorrowful derelicts rebuke

your enormous tenderness; pay them no mind, though

everyday teardrops drop dew in your facelpalm, but

that is enough; nothing ever was as sweet as your tinyness;

enough but still, in stillness of rebuttal; pay them no heart;

they have never known directness as direct as thou art;

blinking you might have missed it; how tender the reality seems

under snow; snowdrifts of salt. I’d love to stay and explain

but hours grow late; later than lates have latented.

Only the snarks complain. You and I not.


I realized recently that the word trope has changed meanings in my lifetime. A trope, for me, is any one of several figurative devices with fancy Greek names. But recently it has come to mean an overused narrative device or television cliché. Of course, those clichés might also be tropes in the sense that they are figurative. How did this shift take place.


I want to have total freedom in what I do in a poem. Fall into bathos, one of my favorite new tropes, expose something uncomplimentary about myself, have radical shifts in tone, break all the rules, not give two shits, abhor violence, refer to myself in the third person, translate from imaginary poets and set them at odds with one another (my first published poem actually did this in '78), skewer the laureates, write badly and even well at time, riff on odd themes.


I was telling an artist I know, Wayne P, about my bad poems. He said he would say "What would Wayne write?" In other words, you think yourself as the arbiter of what you like, not someone else outside of yourself or some superego telling you what you can and cannot do.

Of course, when you're younger you take more seriously some things like that. You give credence is someone is a published poet, or you want to get published, not so people will read your poem even, but as a stamp of legitimacy. I'm sure that's why we don't read each others' scholarship often. We know it is not meant to be read, but is a stamp of legitimacy for a career.

I have written more poems this week than ever before. After writing my chapbook of bad poems, I invented many Latin American poets and translated their work. It is as easy as taking dictation. Before I even get out of bed I have many ideas. Now if only I could get "published."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


I've actually written more poetry, good and bad, recently than ever before in my life.


Take a poet like Jane Kenyon. She is regarded as a significant poet, etc... I went to the Poetry magazine website and the poems of hers there use phrases like "I believe in the miracles of art" or "in a frenzy of delight." If I used phrases like that, it would be because I was trying to write a really bad poem, but these phrases are used in earnest. Even the phrases that aren't this bad lack the sharpness of language you would expect in good poetry. People talk about taste, but can this really be a question of taste, understood as individual differences? No. In what universe can you use "in a frenzy of delight" in a poem and mean it earnestly? The taste defense is just a cop-out, used in order to end arguments without violence.

Monday, August 1, 2016

They Called me Teo

They Called me Teo

They called me Teo on the tough streets of Buenos Aires

I was feared, more for my wit than for knives or fists

It was short for Mateo, you probably knew that

I was an art student, with the grace of a non-violent boxer

fooling nobody, small like a boxer in a lighter weight division

Those boxers are some of the smallest people you will ever see

Uninvent this

I have a copy of the New York with a feature called "Uninvent this." High heeled shoes, dancing, Chinese characters, are among the examples. I would "uninvent" the New Yorker poem, just temporarily, but replacing the type of poems that appear in the New York for one week with poems from my bad poem book. Then the poems would be funnier than the cartoons.

One Thing I Don't Like

One thing I don't like in poems, or like doing in poems myself, I've discovered, by writing deliberately bad poems, or translating imaginary bad poems from a poet I've invented, is a lyric speaker who is, well, lyrical. The speaker who is an idealized version of the poet's self and talks in hushed tones about weighty feelings inspired by nature or whatever. What I like is a poetic speaker who is myself but somewhat as I really am, maybe a lot worse than I would present myself socially to other people. Sometimes it is a dumb speaker, in a parodic poem. I'm just not interested in having other people identity with some ideal version of myself. They might identify with my bêtîse or something like that, or laugh along with me. I am wary of self-congratulatory tones. I don't even know where the circumflex goes.


This part of my body does not belong to me.

In some ways it is the center of me, though.

It centers me. It is not one part of the body

but a plural: guts. Several organs comprise it.

Metaphorically speaking it is central

and literally too. Literally I feel things there.

More than the heart it is the center of disappoitment.

A Few I Things I Know About But Haven’t Told you About Yet

A Few I Things I Know About But Haven’t Told you About Yet

I know a few things about roads, I’ve written about them

extensively. About the skies too, nightskies,

dayskies. I know the names of species

of birds, but not the names of individual birds

or plants. I have given them names sometimes

but these are secret. I know of secret skies

of and about them. Secret names of stars

and fields, those having yet no name given to them

by ranchers or boxers. Ranchers who are ex-boxers.

I know rivers and mountains.

I know rivers and mountains.


Hayroads? Snowroads?

These are not as profound, as deeply cut into the stone

As the chalkroads

These I have traveled

Not merely in dreams

A stranger came to my door once to offer to show them to me

Trustingly, I accepted

I have not been home since

I have been a traveler of roads