Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Check out Nancy Taylor Everett’s poems from her “Juliet As Herself” series in the current Blackbird. Nancy is a member of our group although currently “on sabbatical.”

While you’re at Blackbird, also check out the feature on Larry Levis, one of my absolute favorite poets. I liked Tom Andrews’ moving and funny review, “The World as L. Found It,” of Levis’ Elegy, made more moving (and perhaps funnier, in a way Levis and Andrews would appreciate, I think) because Andrews, like Levis, died at a young age.

I was particularly interested in this statement by Andrews:

I’m thinking of John Koethe’s helpful essay on Ashbery, “The Metaphysical Subject of John Ashbery’s Poetry” (in David Lehman’s collection, Beyond Amazement). Koethe makes a distinction between poets who write out of a “‘voice,’ which basically amounts to a projection of a personality—either the poet’s actual personality or one he assumes” and those, like Ashbery, whose work “is informed by a nonpsychological conception of the self . . . .
This also reminds me of Beverly's comments below about poetry and psychology. I think it’s probably true that poetry is divided between poets whose work is profoundly psychological and poets whose work is based on “a nonpsychological conception of the self,” and that the two are so far apart they hardly speak the same language. That’s why some poets are so contemptuous of the “Poet looks at a daffodil (or a dune buggy) and has a shattering insight” type of poem: it’s because it’s psychological, so even if the insight really is shattering (and not a sentimental cliché), it still can never get beyond (from their point of view) the limitation of being psychological.

I don’t know if it’s possible ever to bridge this gap, but if anyone does bridge it, I think it’s Larry Levis. Andrews (whose essay is a lot funnier, in both senses, than I’m making it sound!) argues that Levis is, like Ashbery, on the nonpsychological side of the fence. I agree that Ashbery is, but it’s awfully hard to categorize Levis. Andrews quotes this wonderful passage (“Swollen with the eucharist of failure”!) from Levis’ “Elegy with an Angel at Its Gate.” It seems both psychological and nonpsychological, and beyond both:

We were never the color-blind grasses,

We were never the pattern of the snake
Fading into the pattern of the leaves,
Never the empty clarity one glimpses

In water falling, in water spreading itself
Into the thin white veil of what is never there,
The moment clear and empty as a heaven

Someone has just finished sweeping

Before the moment clouds over and again
Becomes only an endless falling of water
Onto stone, and falls roaring in the ears

Until they ring, and the throat suddenly
Swollen with the eucharist of failure,
A host invisible and present everywhere,

Or, anyway, present everywhere we are.


Beverly said...

But depends on the sense of the word psychological. Limited to something like "the study of the self," the distinction may hold up. Used in its truest (?) sense, i.e., about the human mind rather than about the individual self, maybe all poetry is psychological. The poem you quote is a great example, i.e., "present everywhere we are."

The poem challenges the relationship between the world and the perception of the world (what John Ashbery does, when he does it well, or rather, when I like or can understand what he's doing). What can we experience of the world beyond our cognition & perception (our psychology)? Nothing. That's what I meant about how poetry and psychology, even psychotherapy, have this much in common: opening up the view

Robert said...

It always interests me when people make blanket dismissals of whole worlds of poetry for one reason or another, like it's "psychological." Some people won't read any further if the first couple lines of a poem rhyme because they're convinced that form is dead, even if it's

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky

Some people won't read any further a poem that begins

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.

And others won't read any further a poem that begins

Kandinsky nature nacreous fóuntain - pachyderm

(Thanks to T.S. Eliot, Mary Oliver, and Jackson Mac Low.) I guess I just hate the idea of people dismissing my poetry without even reading it because it's "psychological." They're welcome to hate it after they've read it.