31 July 2011

Robert Duncan

[from The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, ed. Robert J. Bertholf & Albert Gelpi, Stanford, 2004]

[Duncan to Levertov, 13 May 1963]

convention as "form" =

goes along with the natural is formless; man puts the world in order//or(2) with God formed the world as a paradigm in the beginning and disorder enterd thru man's sin. Only by conventicle, good behaviour, does man return to the lost order. A poem (subject always to man's sinfulness) attempts to atone by obedience to prescription. Here freedom = (a) disorder or (b) sin.

organism as "form" =

all experience is formal – We feel things at all only in so far as we awake to the form. Here the form of the poem is the feeling (and where form fails, feeling fails). "Inner" and "outer" are, if we could grasp the terms of cosmic form, in tune. We have only to discover the scale (so here I am organic as well as linguistic).

"linguistic" form =

the artist uses language to make forms, and in this he [is] in a creature/creator relation to a god who is also creature/creator of the whole. Where "organic" poetry refers to personal emotions and impressions – the concourse between organism and his world: the linguistic follows emotions and images that appear in the language itself as a third "world;" true to what is happening in the syntax as another man might be true to what he sees or feels.

free verse =

the poem does not find or make but expresses, and the poem has its virtue in the ecstatic state or emotional state aroused by rhythms and rime even, where the poet can pour forth what he feels//and/or God speaks thru the poet once his voice is free. Here form = restriction I'm thinking of a Hassidic interpretation of the law against making a graven image meaning that speech should not be made in that sense but speak from the heart. Free verse just doesn't believe in the struggle of rendering in which not only the soul but the world must enter into the conception of the poem. Experience is an engagement and responsibility to outer as well as inner.

Two forms of free verse would be Amy Lowell's impressionism and Ginsberg's "Howl."

[Duncan to Levertov, 28 November 1961]

You see you have three presences for me, Denny, that touch the deepest life feeling. One is the Denise I have been able openly to speak of, the companion in art – where in certain poems of yours, by grace of your “poet,” I am brought into that heart of life that poetry opens: then this poet you are I love because you are most true. No . . . it seems more that through loving this you so I come to love what is most true. And then, sometimes you are a poetic conscience for me. Not that my truth will be like yours – but that just where I fail my own poet, I betray this love.

Then there is, related, another presence: an idea of you or something you mean to me – yet it also seems to be really you and to reach the heart. I am troubled here, Denise, to make it clear, but just as my poet has existed in the light of your poet, my self does. And the "to thine own self be true" has existed, for always now it seems, as if that meant being true in your eyes. So I am always just that shy of, just that troubled in thinking of your love or mine because so often I seem to fail so miserably to "be myself." Maybe, I wanted to say "Be loyal to my self" but also "love me as I am not my self."

The third is just your real actual presence, where I have never felt these ghosts of conscience. When I've been with you, Denny, you are at last just you and I could no possibly not be just me as I am. That's what I did want to write most – how real all the rest is – but the pure joy, all the ever-lasting delight of these times in my life when I am actually with you.

Robert Duncan, Yosemite Park, 1922

23 July 2011

Elena Milán

[from Elena Milán @ Mouth to Mouth: Poems by Twelve Contemporary Mexican Women, ed. Forrest Gander, Milkweed, 1993]

Alucinación I

Supongamos que una zona del mundo se ha unido
del Atlántico al Pacifico,
de Portugal al Japón;
desde el Mediterráneo y Mar del Norte,
al Artico hacia el este.
Supongamos que soplan mitos extraños
desde las viejas cavernas de Altamira
y las ruinas del Turkistán,
algo así como naves vikingas
y nuevas leyendas de tártaros y samurais.
Supongamos que el gobierno yanki no les gusta
y deciden desestabilizarlo.

Hallucination I

Let's supose a zone of the world falls together
from Atlantic to Pacific,
from Portugal to Japan;
from the Mediterranean to the North Sea
to the eastern Arctic.
Let's suppose strange myths lift
from the ancient caves of Altamira
and the ruins of Turkistan,
something like Viking ships
and fresh legends of Tartars and samurai.
Let's suppose the Yankee government doesn't please them
and they decide to destabilize it.

tr. Forrest Gander

17 July 2011

Denise Levertov

[from Denise Levertov's Collected Earlier Poems, 1940-1960, New Directions. 1979]


Under the harvest sun the heart
ripens on its wall,
under the heat of noon the mind
like a leaf is cool.
The angelus and the goatbell
sway across the grass;
butterflies in blue mid-air
touch and spin apart.
Any attempted dream must fall
to ruin in this light, must pass
before the mocking glance
of idle animals.
There is no need to escape
from the motionless mountain
there is no need to escape
when here the indifferent lake
accepts a nervous image,
demands no affirmation
of innocence or faith.

Switzerland, 1946

A Dream of Cornwall

Footprint of fury quiet, now, on the salt sand
hills couched like hares in the blue grass of the air
water lifting its glass . . .


Kresch's Studio

Easels: a high & bare room:
some with charcoal, one with a brush,
some with loud pens in the silence,
at work. The woman
in taut repose, intent:

under violent light that pulls
the weight of the breasts to answer the long
shadow of thighs,
confronts angles with receding
planes, makes play with elements.

That they work, that she will not move too soon,
opposes (as Bartok's plucked strings oppose)
the grinding, grinding, grinding of lives,
pounding constant traffic.

On paper, on canvas, stroke, stroke: a counterpoint:
an energy opposing
the squandered energy.

New York, early '50's

Tomatlan (Variations)

. . .


The green palmettos of the
blue jungle
shake their
green breasts, their stiff
green hair –
the wind, the sea wind is come
and touches them
lightly, and strokes them, and
screws them, until they
are blue flames,
green smoke, and
screws them again.


At the touch
of the sea wind
              the palms
shake their green breasts, their

              rustling fingers –
flames of desire and pleasure. . . .

Denise Levertov

11 July 2011

François Rabelais

[from François Rabelais, Gargantua, tr. Thomas Urquhart, Peter Antony Motteux, 1500s]

There he played at flush, at love, at primero, at the chess, at the beast, at Reynard the fox, at the rifle, at the squares, at trump, at the cows, at the prick and spare not, at the lottery, at the hundred, at the chance or mumchance, at the peeny, at three dice or maniest bleaks, at the unfortunate woman, at the tables, at the fib, at nivinivinack, at the pass ten, at the lurch, at one-and-thirty, at doublets or queen’s game, as post and pair, or even at the faily sequence, at the French tric-trac, at three hundred, at the long tables or ferkeering, at the unlucky man, at feldown, at the last couple in hell, at tod’s body, at the hock, at needs must, at the surly, at the dames or draughts, at the lansquenet, at bob and mow, at the cuckoo, at primus secundus, at puff, or let him speak that hath it, at mark-knife, at the keys, at take nothing and throw out, at span-counter, at the marriage, at even or odd, at the frolic or jackdaw, at cross or pile, at the opinion, at ball and huckle-bones, at who doth the one, doth the other, at ivory balls, at the billiards, at the sequences, at bob and hit, at the ivory bundles, at the owl, at the tarots, at the charming of the hare, at losing load him, at pull yet a little, at he’s gulled and esto, at trudgepig, at the torture, at the magatapies, at the handruff, at the horn, at the click, at the flowered or Shrovetide ox, at honours, at the madge-owlet, at pinch without laughing, at tilt at weeky, at prickle me tickle me, at ninepins, at the unshoeing of the ass, at the cock quintin, at the cocksess, at tip and hurl, at hari hohi, at the flat bowls, at I set me down, at the veer and turn, at earl beardy, at rogue and ruffian, at the old mode, at bumbatch touch, at draw the spit, at the mysterious trough, at put out, at the short bowls, at gossip lend me your sack, at the dapple-grey, at the ramcod ball, at cock and crank it, at thrust out the harlot, at break-pot, at Marseilles figs, at my desire, at nicknamry, at twirly whirlytrill, at stick and hole, at the rush bundles, at boke or him or flaying the fox . . .

François Rabelais, 1494-1553

04 July 2011

Denise Levertov

[from Denise Levertov's Selected Poems, New Directions, 2002]

Relearning the Alphabet

(June, 1968 – April, 1969)

For G. who could not help it, I. who saw me, R who read me, and M. for everything.

"The treasure . . . lies buried. There is no need to seek it in a distant counter . . . It is behind the stove, the center of the life and warmth that rule our existence, if only we knew how to unearth it. And yet – there is this strange and persistent fact, that it is only after . . . a journey in a distant region, in a new land, that . . . the inner voice . . . can make itself understood by us. And to this strange and persistent face is added another: that he who reveals to us the meaning of our . . . inward pilgrimage must be himself a stranger"
                    – Heinrich Zimmer


Joy – a beginning.          anguish, ardor.
To relearn the ah! of knowing in unthinking
joy: the belovéd stranger lives.
Sweep up anguish as with a wing-tip,
brushing the ashes back to the fire’s core.


To be. To love an other only for being.


Clear, cool? Not those evasions. The seeing
that burns through, comes through to
the fire’s core.


In the beginning was delight. A depth
stirred as one stirs fire unthinking.
Dark    dark    dark    . And the blaze illumines


returning, endless
revolution of dream to ember, ember to anguish,
anguish to flame, flame to delight,
delight to dark and dream, dream to ember


that the mind’s fire may not fail.
The vowels of affliction, of unhealed
not to feel it, uttered,
transformed in utterance
to song.
              Not farewell, not farewell, but faring


forth into the grace of transformed
continuance, the green meadows
of Grief-Dale where joy grew, flowering
close to the ground, old tales recount,


and may be had yet for the harvesting.

I, J

Into the world of continuance, to find
I-who-I-am again, who wanted
to enter a life not mine,
                       to leap a wide, deep, swift river.

At the edge, I stand yet. No, I am moving away,
walking away from the unbridged rush of waters towards
‘Imagination’s holy forest,’ meaning to thread its ways,
                                                  that are dark,
and come to my own clearing, where ‘dreamy, gloomy,
friendly trees’ grow, one by one – but
                         I’m not looking where I’m going,
                         my head’s turned back, to see
                                 whom I called ‘jester’: someone dreamed
                         on the far bank: not dreamed, seen
in epiphany, as Picasso’s bronze Head of a Jester
was seen.
                 I go stumbling
                                           (head turned)
                                                                    back to my origins:
(if that’s where I’m going)
                                              to joy, my Jerusalem.
Weeping, gesturing,
I’m a small figure in mind’s eye,
diminishing in the sweep of rain or gray tears
that cloud the far shore as jealous rage
clouds love and changes it, changes vision.


Caritas is what I must travel to.
Through to the fire’s core,
an alchemy:
                      caritas, claritas.
But find my face clenched
when I wake at night
                                      in limbo.


Back there forgetting, among the
letters        folded and put away.
Not uttered.
                      ‘The feel of
not to feel it
was never said . . .’ Keats said.
‘Desolation . . . Absence an absolute
                calling forth . . .’ the jester said
from the far shore (‘gravely, ringing his bells,
a tune of sorrow.’ I dance to it?)
‘You are offhand. The trouble
is concealed? Isak said,
calling me forth.
I am called forth
from time to time.

I was in the time
of desolation.
What light is it
waking me?
                      Absence has not become
a presence.
                    Lost in the alphabet
                    I was looking for
                    the word I can’t now say
           and am called forth
           unto the twelfth letter
           by the love in a question.


Honest man, I wanted
                        the moon and went
                        out to sea to touch
                        the moon and

                        down a lane of bright
                        broken vanishing
                        curled pyramids of
                        towards the moon
                and touched
                the   luminous dissolving
                half moon

I am
come back,
humbled, to warm myself,
honest man,

our bed is
                  upon the earth
your soul is
                     in your body
your mouth
                     has found
my mouth once more
– I’m home.


Something in me that wants to cling
to never,
              wants to have been
              wounded deeper
              burned by the cold moon to cinder,

shrinks as the disk
dwindles to vision
                                 numb not to continuance
                                 but to that source
                                 of mind’s fire

                                 waning now,
                                 no doubt to wax again –

                                 yet I perhaps not be there
                                 in its light.


Hostile.             Ordinary.             Home.
Order.              Alone.            Other.

Hostile longing.            Ordinary rose, omnivorous.
                            Home, solitude.

Somnolence grotto.
Caught. Lost. Orient almost,
Own.        Only.

Pain recedes, rising from heart to head
and out.

                       Apple thunder, rolling over the
attic floor.
                               Yet I would swear
                               there had been savage light
                               moments before.

P, Q

In childhood dream-play I was always
the knight or squire, not
the lady:
quester, petitioner, win or lose, not
she who was sought.
The initial of quest or question
branded itself long since on the flank
of my Pegasus.
Yet he flies always
home to the present.


Released through bars of sorrow
as if not a gate had opened but I
grown intangible had passed through, shadowy,
from dark of yearning into
a soft day, western March;
a thrust of birdsong
parts the gold flowers thickbranching
that roof the path over.

Arms enfold me
tenderly. I am trusted, I trust
the real that transforms me.
                                                 And relinquish
                                                 in grief
the seeing that burns through, comes through
to fire’s core:   transformation, continuance,
                        as acts of magic I would perform, are no longer
                        articles of faith.


Or no: it
slowly becomes known to me:
articles of faith are indeed
rules of will – graceless,
The door I flung my weight against
was constructed to open       out
                                                  towards me.
In seeing
to candleflame’s
blue ice-cavern, measureless,

may not be forced by sharp
            The Prince
            turns in the wood:    ‘Retrace
                                                thy steps, seek out
            the hut you passed, impatient,
            the day you lost your quarry.

            There dwells
            a secret. Restore to it
            its life.
            You will not recognize
            your desire until
            thou hast it fast, it goeth
            aside, it hath
            the cunning of quicksilver.’

I turn in the forest.
About me the tree-multitudes
twist their roots in earth
to rip it, draw

hidden rivers up into
Their crowns in the light sway
green beyond vision.
                                     All utterance
takes me step by hesitant step towards


– yes, to continuance: into
                                              that life beyond the dead-end where
(in a desert time of
dry strange heat, of dust
that tinged mountain clouds with copper,
turn of the year impending unnoticed,
the cactus shadows brittle thornstars,
time of
desolation)                                                      I was lost.

The forest is holy.
The sacred paths are of stone.
A clearing.
The altars are shifting deposits of pineneeedles,
                         hidden water,
                         streets of choirwood,
not what the will
thinks to construct for its testimonies.


Relearn the alphabet,
relearn the world, the world
understood anew only in doing, under-
stood only as
looked-up-into out of earth,
the heart an eye looking,
the heart a root
planted in earth.
Transmutation is not
under the will’s rule.


Vision sets out
journeying somewhere,
walking the dreamwaters:
not on the far shore but upriver,
a place not evoked, discovered.


Heart breaks but mends
like good bone.
It’s the vain will
wants to have been wounded deeper,
burned by the cold moon to cinder.

Wisdom’s a stone
dwells in forgotten pockets –
lost, refound, exiled –
revealed again
in the palm of
mind’s hand, moonstone
of wax & want, stone pulse.


Vision will not be used.
Yearning will not be used.
Wisdom will not be used.
Only the vain will
strives to use and be used,
comes not to fire’s core
but cinder.


Sweep up
anguish as with a wing-tip:

the blaze addresses
a different darkness:
absence has not become
the transformed presence the will
looked for,
but other: the present,

that which was poised already in the ah! of praise.

Denise Levertov