Reader, I am trying to write an essay about the work of Larry Levis.
This feels like an impossible task since so much has already been written about the work of Larry Levis, and because his work is so singular and, well, completely amazing.
I’m trying to write about the shape of his poems and his unique handling of the elegy.
I’m trying to do this during a stretch of time that has included only two full days of school in two weeks (“ski week,” half-day, late start, another half-day…).
It struck me a day or two ago: this is why I cook. Because it’s not hard. Because I can do it with one hand tied behind my back and any number of children doing any number of things in the near vicinity. Because I am actually good at it.
May I recommend, Reader, always having something you are good at in your back pocket while you are attempting the impossible.
Anyway… on to the roundup.
gaps In attempting to write about the shape of Larry Levis’ poems, I’ve been thinking and reading about form. I turned to the venerable old work horse “Some Notes on Organic Form” by Denise Levertov. Her argument is basically that the perception of an experience that triggers a poem, and the form of the poem itself, are inextricably linked. In Levertov’s framework, the poet discovers the form of a poem in the process of its making. Formal elements are put in place because of the demands of the content. She says:
“Form is never more than a revelation of content.”
This all makes sense to me, and has accompanied my thinking on form since I first read the essay many years ago. But what didn’t stay with me was the last bit of the essay, which I’ve now rediscovered:
“(T)here must be a place in the poem for rifts too —(never to be stuffed with imported ore). Great gaps between perception and perception which must be leapt across if they are to be crossed at all.”
I think one of the things I love best about poetry is leaping across the gaps.
a finding place Someone posted a quote about poetry from Jeannette Winterson on Facebook yesterday, so then I had to go find where the quote came from, and Reader, I found gold. You can find gold, too; it is right here.
What you’ll find is Winterson’s essay on the necessity of poetry, through an exploration of T. S. Eliot’s work. Here are my favorite nuggets:
” So when people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language—and that’s what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.”
“Art lasts because it gives us a language for our inner reality… .”
“Pain is often a maimed creature without a mouth. Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying (sic?) feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”
That’s my favorite bit right there: Language is a finding place.
“The Last Move” And speaking of finding places… . Fans of fairy tales will know there’s a whole group of stories that scholars believe came into being to help ease courtship anxieties. “The Robber Bridegroom” is a prime example—yeah, the one where bride narrowly escapes being chopped up and eaten by her groom and his buddies. And then there’s “Bluebeard.”
You must read it: here.
Suffice it to say, I’ll never look at a water tank in the same way again.
Thanks for reading!