are authentic.

They come from a place inside of us that is real.  They are spoken in our own voices and touch on matters that genuinely concern us.


give us back our lives.

They help us remember who we are and what we believe.  In a world where we are continually pushed and pulled in a hundred directions by forces we sometimes only half understand, they help us stay centered and focused on what we most care about

surprise us.

They use language in fresh and interesting ways.  They offer unexpected insights and understandings into ourselves and each other.  They offer new ways of imagining our potential as human beings.

touch the "poles of life."

They don't back away from difficult issues such as birth and death, peace and war, love and hate, elation and despair, the sacred and the profane, but they find ways of talking about these issues, and in doing so, they help us come to terms with essential parts of human experience that might otherwise be passed over alone and in silence.

make every word work.

They value language.  They are high energy structures.  Every word must earn its place in the poem.  Every image must be necessary.  If it doesn't add, it takes away.  Nothing is neutral.

grow out of concrete particulars.

They are made of the stuff of life.  "For all the history of grief/An empty doorway and a maple leaf."--Archibald McLeish. "Compose. (No ideas/but in things) Invent!"--W. C. Williams. Abstractions and generalizations are the stuff of prose, not poetry.  If used at all, they should be "earned."

try to say what can't be said.

They test the possibilities of language by attempting to bring new areas of experience into awareness.  Whether the writer is attempting to resolve a paradox, to recreate a dream, or to discuss the death of a loved one, the poem stretches to say what the writer didn't previously think could be said.

contain a residue of mystery.

They are not quite paraphrasable or translatable.  They evoke strong responses in their readers, but even after rereading and extensive discussion, there remains something elusive and mysterious that invites the reader back for another look.