Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Break me apart, build me up again. (the poetry of Denise Levertov).

I hate to admit this, but when I think of all the writers whose works (fiction, poetry, non-fiction) totally blow my world apart, I realize that they are nearly all male. That is not to say I don't love women writers, I do, but I am not sure they have affected me as profoundly as their male counterparts. Profoundly is the wrong word, but I can't think of another one this early in the morning. It seems wrong to say that their effect on me is...quieter, less...explosive, somehow.

All of this changed when I encountered Denise Levertov.

It started with Breathing the Water, which felt a bit like diving into the sea, falling into a river, being carried away by the slow current of words. A sudden movement followed by a stillness that seem to echo down into the bottom of my soul . Not so much a shattering explosion as a...disintegration. I had to read more.

Now I've managed to amass a whole pile of poems, essays, collected memories. I've only just begun, but already I feel myself cracking apart, my heart on fire. I open the cover, flip through the pages, slide into her words. It feels like that one autumn evening on the Washington coast, camping on the beach, when, as night plunged us into darkness, we all fell into the shallow dark water with our clothes on after dinner (sort of accidentally-on-purpose, I would say, my classmates and I stumbling closer and closer as the tide came in), waves foaming around us. That cold sting of seawater, the warmth of the campfire as we dried off. When I read Levertov I feel the same way as I did that long-ago fall day.

I can't find my copy of Milosz's ABC's at the moment, but Milosz said something about how Levertov's style evolved, changing almost from volume to volume, and scanning her poems from different times you can see transitions in content, themes, ideas, patterns but her voice, something in her words, the rythms of her words, the feeling of them, remain undisputably hers. And I when I stretch out my arm to reach for one of her books I feel my mind prepare itself for that moment when everything blows wide open and I have to build myself from the ground up all over again...

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