Friday, October 21, 2005

From my Poetry Speaks page a day calendar for October 21:

One of the obligations of the writer, and perhaps especially the poet, is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language. --Denise Levertov

I’m not sure if I agree that writers are obligated to do this. What if you are only interested in writing about an aspect or two of the world? I don’t think as an artist that you should burden yourself to take on writing about the entire world if your passions don’t take you there. Levertov does say in this quote, “…all that her or she can….” Perhaps she is recognizing here that not all writers can do this or want to.

The emphasis on “all” is curious. I take this emphasis to mean that we should stretch ourselves to write about as much of the world as possible.

There seems to be an exhortation in this quote to catalogue the world or at least interpret as much of the world as possible. Does Levertov imply that writing is a way to preserve the world for posterity? Perhaps she means by writing about as much of the world as possible we will better understand the world and so will our readers.

Levertov seems to recognize in this quote that language has its limits: the limits of the individual writer’s command of language to convey the world and the limits of language in general.

Why does Levertov suggest that poets are more obligated than other writers to deal with as much of the world as possible? Unless you are writing a long poem, most poems metaphorically are a circle drawn over a small piece of life and amplified in language. I think this particularly applies to the lyric poem. It seems to me that prose is better suited to take on the world—novels in particular. Prose proceeds while verse turns (turns in on itself).

That’s enough of dissecting a quote that’s taken out of its context.


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