Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Denise Levertov, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems [with a Note on the text by Paul A. Lacey.

Levertov's poems are spare. Each carefully chosen word seems to be distanced from each other word, and yet would not work without it. At her best, she describes specific images--the feet of a homeless man, in "Feet"; the branch, in "Drawn in Air"--and lets the description offer what other atttendant ideas that would be reflected upon.

I borrowed the book from Wayne to read "Feet," as I was looking for poems for the Maundy Thursday service at church. It's a gorgeous poem, perhaps the best in this odd collection, that I didn't end up using: image piles on top of other images, and demand time to be considered, require time for the reader to construct a sense of what's being talked about. It was so beautiful a poem that I thought it wouldn't quite work, aloud as background: it, like the best of her poems in this book deserves the full attention of anyone who encounters it.

I referred to it as an odd collection because it is not ordered by anything other than date of composition, far from Levertov's normal method. It's a book that I'm going to have to find a copy of for my own library.

I'll end with an excerpt from the beginnng of another of my favourite poems in the book, "Mass of the Moon Eclipse":

Not more slowly than frayed
human attention can bear, but slow
enough to be stately, deliberate, a ritual
we can't be sure will indeed move
from death into resurrection
As the bright silver inch by inch
is diminished, options vanish,
life's allurements. The last sliver
lies face down, back hunched, a husk.

The pauses and caesuras in the lines slow down the words in a reading even as the poem talks about slowing down. The line breaks leave ideas not hanging but suspended, like the moon as it slowly vanishes behind Earth's shadow. The rest of the poem is just as good. Go look for it.

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