3 Questions for Dana Levin

3 Questions for Dana Levin


1. What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

Line and stanza break actually interest me more than the line per se, though I do feel and teach a difference in affect between the long and short line. For instance, Ginsberg’s Howl just could not be as affecting, effective, if it were in little short lines: the poem’s urgency, its sense of claustrophobia and rage for release, depends on and is enacted by the rangy, bursting long line: a line so in desperate need of relief and liberation that it practically careens  off the page! 

So too, if you were to take an early WCW poem and write it as one or two long lines, it loses all impact, sense of “poem.” It becomes a fairly boring sentence. So often, these poems rely on short, heavily enjambed lines to evoke a sense of unfoldment-in-time, or deep noticing. 

I get excited about enjambment because of the drama it affords a poem. Line and stanza break go a long way towards signaling dramatic turn, emphasis. When Eliot says “Do I dare/disturb the universe” the white space following “dare’ is pregnant with hesitation, doubt, incipience. It’s an incredibly dramatic moment in the poem!

I also feel a close relationship between line-break and the pace of speaking. Not only in terms of breaking a line where a natural pause might occur in speech, but also to capture the sudden and intense moments that silence speech: confusion, shock, pain, epiphany, joy, grief–which brings us back to drama!

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

Funny you should ask this as yesterday, while teaching an undergrad workshop, we were discussing the different effects enjambment might afford the poem at hand. I said, “I feel pacing in my body—I sort of dance with the lines of a poem—” and this is really true! Perhaps this has something to do with my general aversion to strict left-hand margin, long stanza, homogenously lined poems: can’t dance to it! Feels like marching.

And certainly my own ambivalence about being in a body has given me lots and lots of poems! Nothing like ambivalence for poetic fuel.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Professional jealousy, my own and others, while inevitable, is really a drag and so beside the point, especially in poetry’s little tiny world. So too the style-schisms: narrative vs. lyric vs. experimental vs. accessible vs. difficult vs. etc. I’m all for informed disagreement; it’s the knee-jerk nature of allegiance—even feeling one must pledge allegiance—to a poetic approach that feels destructive to me, especially as it prejudices younger poets’ reading lists. The older I get the more these arguments lose interest for me. It seems to me the tool-box for writing poems today is bigger and more varied than ever; should we not be reading widely, beyond our predilictions, to see how all the tools are being used? And what awesome, inventive, new-to-you poems such tools create?

When my friend GC Waldrep (a poet camping out on the experimentalist end of things) was recently asked in his own interview at Porter Square Books Blog, “Who is the most important poet not being read?” He answered: “By whom?” and went on to say:

“The saddest aspect of the various warring camps in contemporary American poetry is that even many poets are making a point not to read certain other poets, not to hear certain voices, certain songs. Years ago I was told, in all seriousness and with some heat, that I couldn’t like both W.H. Auden and Gertrude Stein. It wasn’t allowed. This is almost mind-bogglingly self-defeating, in terms of the possibilities that dwell in language.” 

I could not have said it better. Viva variance! 

Pure Land

of the autumn djinns–

His Consort, Golden-

You’d brushed by chamisa. A
honey-palaced air–

As if a smell
could be a place, musk-heavy and gold,
a glorious

Who could breathe in it.

Who got to breathe
in it

without a body, dimmed
of form–

Could the dead breathe,
scorched and bright,
in a sun come

to scour the skin from each waiting face,
snip the lid from each
sleepless eye–saying You

who’d wanted to feel
the true burn,
who’d wanted not meat

but light–

You must settle
with your deck of flesh–

an antique notion, I know.

This poem originally appeared in APR (July/Aug 2008). It will appear in my new book (my third), SKY BURIAL, due out from Copper Canyon in Spring 2011.

One thought on “3 Questions for Dana Levin

  1. Pingback: A Festival of Women’s Voices

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