Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 11.1 (Denise Levertov)

Levertov, Denise
New & Selected Essays


I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books, but I don't remember clearly.

I find Levertov's essays to be a little fussy.

They are impeccably written, well-crafted, etc., but their formal elegance seems to me to repress all that might be interesting about them. She seems to always have a point to make and, having the skills to make that point in clear, declarative sentences housed in well-structured paragraphs connected by perfectly managed transitons, she always seems to make it.

Thus, while she often speaks of being on a spiritual journey, it always feels as if she had arrived at the conclusion of said journey at just the moment she sat down to write. I never get a feeling of her having discovered something new along the way that might have changed the course of what she intended to write.

In other words, I find her essays didactic, and I don't find I have much use for didacticism.

from New & Selected Essays

We have long assumed that it is an aesthetic truism to assert the indivisibility of form and content--but there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in that statement, after all. Perhaps it needs to be reformulated, to say that although inadequate formal expression always diminishes or distorts content, yet form itself can be perceived, admired, and experienced as pleasure or stimulus even when the reader's attention is not held by content. Thus, while content cannot be fully apprehended without a fusion with form equal to its task, form can be apprehended and absorbed in and of itself. The assertion of indivisibility does not cover this contingency. At all events, I as a younger poet was often drawn primarily to the structure or technique of poems I read, and paid less attention to what was being said; whereas the older I grow the more I find myself concerned with content, and drawn towards poems that articulate some of my own interests. This primary importance given to what doesn't imply a loss of interest in how; if a poem strikes me as banal, trite, flabby, pretentious or in any other respect badly written, I'm unlikely to read further no matter what its subject matter. But the poems to which I look for nourishment and stimulus are more and more those with which I feel an affinity that is not necessarily stylistic at all.

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