|Denise Levertov's approach to poetic form is often
grouped with the "open field" or projectivist poetics of the Black Mountain
School surrounding Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. Creeley famously said,
"Form is never more than an extension of content." Olson propounded a form
of poetic "objectivism," by which he meant a poetics that focused not on a
poet's subjective state or ego but on the energy that the poem offers by an encounter with
the objects of the world. Levertov's own poetic theory can be found in an essay,
"Some Notes on Organic Form." She proposes that the poem's form arises
naturally from the poet's discovery of an object, idea, or experience's natural shape.
Her theory includes the following:
- She follows Gerard Manley Hopkins' notion of inscape and instress.
Inscape is the idea that every object has an inner structure or nature, while
instress is the force that communicates the structure to the observer (poet).
However, she stresses that an idea or experience can also have instress.
- "A partial definition, then, of organic poetry might be that it
is a method of appreception, i.e. of recognizing what we perceive, and is based on an
intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man's
creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories." In other
words, the act of writing the poem is a way of perceiving the inherent order that exists
in an object, idea, or experience.
- This experience of perceptions is then "brought to
speech" because a constellation of experiences demands a poem.
- The poem arises through a process of contemplation and meditation on
the constellation and results in a "crystallization" or perception of the
correspondences inside the constellation.
- Poetic form is an expression of the feeling of the experience.
Lines represent the breath that one line takes; stanzas represent units of
awareness; rhythm, rhyme, etc. all arise out of the experiences, they are not pre-chosen.
"Form is never more than a revelation of content."
- "The X-factor, the magic, is when we come to those rifts and
make those leaps. A religious devotion to the truth, to the splendor of the
authentic, involves the writer in a process rewarding in itself; but when that devotion
brings us to undreamed abysses and we find ourselves sailing slowly over them and landing
on the other side---that's ecstasy."
object, idea, experience (constellation)
+ poetic apperception (contemplation/meditation)
= crystallization/poetic form arising out of the content.
[From The Poet in the World (1973)]
Question: Test/apply Levertov's theory to her poems
"Of Being," "Flickering Mind," and "A Calvary Path."
A Theology of Presence / Absence
The poems in Part One, "The Tide," of
Levertov's The Stream & the Sapphire noticeably deal again and again with the
question of God's presence and absence, as well as our own presence and absence.
Note some of the following ways this is experienced:
An experience of beauty vs. the shadow of
"purposeless" suffering ("Human Being")
The losing ourselves in trust to grace ("The
Avowal" "Psalm Fragments" "To Live in the Mercy of God")
The kenosis of God's weakness vs. our human
imaginings of spiritual experience ("Agnus Dei")
Our flickering absence before God's presence
("Flickering Mind' "Primary Wonder")
Our multiplicity and fragmentation blinding us to
God's presence ("On A Theme by Thomas Merton")
God's sacrifice and our surly freedom
The incarnation of God in our midst ("On the
Mystery of the Incarnation")
We exist only in God's being ("'In Whom We
Live and Move and Have Our Being'") vs. God's silence being deeply present ("The
Try to summarize in your own words what Levertov is
saying about absence and presence.
How important is Levertov's poetic form to the things
she is writing about in these poems? Explain.
Is is possible to experience what Levertov is writing
about as you are reading about it? Why or why not?