My friend Jordan suggested I revisit Denise Levertov’s “Some Notes on Organic Form” some time ago and I must have tried to print it because out it came a few days ago when I went to print an authorization for appraisal form for the bank.
I first encountered the essay in Hadara Bar-Nadav’s Contemporary Poetry class in spring 2016. Many of the other materials for the class I’ve just now had the pleasure of punching and fitting in three-ring binders for the move to Independence. Another personal connection I have to it I can trace as far back as fall 2009 when Professor Klatt ended my first poetry workshop with a lecture and slideshow in which he demonstrated organic forms in the Levertovian way with reference to Frank Lloyd Wright. The architectural analogy. Possible first inspiration for her “Notes.”
In the historical context of poets like James Wright making the turn away from the prescribed forms that were synonymous with poetry itself in his day, “Some Notes” obviously has great significance as a harbinger of things to come. For better or worse, I don’t mess with prescribed forms at all. No interest.
So where does that leave my relationship with Levertov?
1) I’m not sure I’m all the way on board with “the mystical” Denise Levertov “channels,” according to the intro on Poetry Foundation. There’s something very American Beauty about her opening statement that there is a form “in all things.” Things later reprised as objects. Some kind of “form beyond forms” as if it weren’t enough for A and B to be in some way similar without reference to a third entity in which both participate (“partake” is Levertov’s word). The world of the forms is Platonism 101. And apperception may be another version of the philosopher king. I see Socrates scratching in dirt to demonstrate geometry for a slave boy in one of the dialogues.
That said, I don’t know what I’m paying so much attention for to the birds and the trees and the wind in my contemplative writing practice if there’s nothing out there to [a]perceive. In a way my entire life project has been to find out if there is a God by listening hard for the voice of one. Obviously something’s brought me to speech but I’m always just trying to figure out what it is and that’s, yes, the exploratory in my writing.
2) Wasn’t sure, at first, what to make of Levertov’s use of the word apperception until I looked it up. Defined as conscious perception, the term seems to gesture at the very nature of what it is that we are doing in poetry. It is not enough to perceive. Not sufficient simply to receive sensory input. No, we must bring it into consciousness through attentiveness, that is, Levertov’s active listening and hang the shingle of language on the ineffable things, objects, whatever’s, of experience. That’s the whole point of poetry.
3) When it comes to her description of how organic poetry transpires, I find a lot to relate to with perhaps one caveat: Levertov says it won’t work to force a beginning before a moment of crystallization or vision of a “correspondence of elements.” I believe I experience moments of vision but they usually come later for me after I force a start in blind faith almost every day that they will come if I simply begin.