The story goes that once upon a time, in belle epoque Paris, the painter Degas was talking shop with his friend, the poet Mallarmé. Degas voiced frustration over his own abortive attempts at poetry. Mallarmé made it look easy, he said. The problem was he had all these ideas that he knew would make beautiful poems, but when he put pen to paper, nothing. “But I’ve got lots of ideas—too many ideas,” he said.

Mallarmé schooled the painter: “But my dear Degas, poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made of words.”