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Levertov & Howe

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry

Steve Mccaffery's 'Language Writing', in The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry since 1945 (2013), summarizes Language writing as defined by an opposition to the following:

"1) the consecration of the individual voice (linguistically marked by the axis of the “I” understood as a marker of self-plenitude, “truth,” and “sincerity”) in the ego-chamber of the confessional lyric stance that had been entrenched via the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Louise Glück , and Jorie Graham in a multiplicity of MFA programs and those poems that populate the pages of such venues as the American Poetry Review and the The New Yorker;

2) the ego-cosmological syntax that Robert Duncan expounded in “Towards an Open Universe ” and the processual, physiological, and predominantly speech-based poetics grounded on organic models of the poem that had gained momentum through the 1920s via the early Williams , to culminate in Olson’s valorization of breath and syllable in his important 1950 pamphlet “Projective Verse ” and Denise Levertov ’s theorizing of the poem as organic form;

3) the so-called poetry of accommodation: Jerome McGann invoked the term to describe a prevailing poetry of social disaffection that failed to advance into an area of meaningful linguistic critique. All of these tendencies assumed unquestioningly a governing instrumental logic whereby the poem could appear to function as the unproblematic, unmediated transmission of experience or emotion from the writer to the reader. Language writing resisted these familiar poetic tendencies with texts based on nonorganic matrices, and a socio-poetics that confronted the inescapable mediation of all discursive production of both self and experience."

Denise Levertov, 'Some Notes on Organic Form' (1965)

"For me, back of the idea of organic form is the concept that there is a form in all things (and in our experience) which the poet can discover and reveal. . . . On the one hand is the idea that content, reality, experience, is essentially fluid and must be given form; on the other, this sense of seeking out inherent, though not immediately apparent, form. Gerard Manley Hopkins invented the word “inscape” to denote intrin­sic form, the pattern of essential characteristics both in single objects and (what is more interesting) in objects in a state of relation to each other, and the word “instress” to denote the experiencing of the perception of inscape, the apperception of inscape. In thinking of the process of poetry as I know it, I extend the use of these words, which he seems to have used mainly in reference to sensory phenomena, to include intellec­tual and emotional experience as well; I would speak of the inscape of an experience (which might be composed of any and all of these elements, including the sensory) or of the inscape of a sequence or constellation of experiences.

A partial definition, then, of organic poetry might be that it is a method of apperception, 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. . . . there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech. . . .

Rhyme, chime, echo, reiteration: they not only serve to knit the elements of an experience but often are the very means, the sole means, by which the density of texture and the returning or circling of perception can be transmuted into language, ap­perceived. . . .

In organic poetry the metric movement, the measure, is the direct expression of the movement of perception.

Form is never more than a revelation of content."

Susan Howe

"During the 1980s I wanted to transplant words onto paper with soil sticking to their roots – to go to meet a narrative’s fate by immediate access to its concrete totality of singular interjections, crucified spellings, abbreviations, irrational apprehensions, collective identities, palavers, kicks, cordials, comforts. I wanted jerky and tedious details to oratorically bloom and bear fruit as if they had been set at liberty or ransomed by angels" – Souls of the Labadie Tract (2005)

"When I was a visiting poet at Temple, I encountered two huge volumes called Melville’s Marginalia. . . . Earlier, when I was writing the poems that would become Frame Structures, I stumbled on Longfellow’s wife Frances Appleton, who died by fire in their home library. She was trying to paste locks of her children’s hair into an album, using a candle to melt the wax, when a spark fell on her dress. . . . In the same way, I came upon Jonathan Edwards’s sister Hannah by chance when I slipped her “private writings” out of a folder in the Beinecke Reading Room at Yale. I don’t want to be so arrogant as to say these are recoveries. Maybe certain people find me.

William James says that in times of trauma and crisis a door is opened to a place where facts and apparitions mix. I wrote Frolic Architecture shortly after my husband Peter Hare’s sudden death from a pulmonary embolism in 2008. I was constructing what I thought was a collaged text, often while listening to Morton Feldman’s music and John Adams’s Shaker Loops. As I moved between computer screen, printer, and copier, scissoring and reattaching words and scraps of letters, I thought, I’ve never gone as far or felt as free.

It’s far more acoustic than visual. That’s the strange thing. I honestly don’t think that Hannah telepathically spoke to me, but something is odd there. I mean, the material—the fragment, the piece of paper—is all we have to connect with the dead. That’s why I have this passage in That This where a page from her “private writings” is laid open on a light table at the Beinecke to be photographed. Pinioned under the lights, she is Narcissus, reflecting and reflected. There’s a level at which words are spirit and paper is skin. That’s the fascination of archives. There’s still a bodily trace." - 'Susan Howe, The Art of Poetry No. 97,' The Paris Review, 203 (2012)

Morton Feldman, Piano and String Quartet (1985)