Reactions: “Some Notes on Organic Form”

Having been over Levertov’s essay a few times, I can’t say that I’m totally sold on what it presents me with. Initially, I was intrigued by Levertov’s “partial definition” of organic poetry as “a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories,” thinking that the author was drawing connections between organic poetry and archetypal criticism, which is something I’ve been reading about lately and find myself increasingly drawn to. If Levertov is stating that poetry, like the rest of human art, continually explores and examines specific facets of a larger awareness, then I’m in agreement, but as her argument progresses she begins to lose me. Firstly, what’s the distinction between organic poetry and everything else? As I understand it, Levertov’s description of art drawn from a “form beyond forms” can apply to all art, so it seems that any poetry can be designated as organic poetry. Levertov’s continuation from this point is where “Some Notes on Organic Form” starts becoming troublesome – she describes exactly how an organic poet would “go about such a poetry,” which seems inherently presumptuous to me. There are, obviously, similarities among the poems of specific eras or literary movements that can be pointed out, but to assume that a poet’s creative process follows a precise path because they belong to one of these eras or movements is a much larger leap. When you consider that organic form might be all poetry, then Levertov is claiming to be aware of every poet’s process.
My issues with “Some Notes” weren’t helped by the fact that Levertov chooses to write about the organic poet’s experience in language that felt to me as romanticizing the process: “first there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech.” I can understand the moments of inspiration that Levertov talks about, but I’m also aware that many of the poems that I have written started out with completely different subjects and motivations than they ended on. The author says that “condition of being a poet is that periodically such a cross section, or constellation, of experiences (in which one or another element may predominate) demands, or wakes in him this demand: the poem,” to which I would respond that the only condition of being a poet is being someone who produces work that can be called poetry. Later in the “Some Notes,” Levertov does make what I think are valid points about rhyme and echo as well as the interactions of content and form, but to generalize about the experience of all poets – and in saying “the condition of being a poet,” Levertov is talking about all poets – doesn’t feel particularly useful.

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