Ruth Lepson to Dispatches, 6 June 2016

As published on:

A Poetry Innocent: What Comes to Mind

Which is not to say that I don't have strong feelings about the necessary relation between poetry and sound. Without it, poetry is to me faded old drapery. With it, there is the movement of molecules that pervade the world.

Having no idea until recently about the Olson disputes I am inclined (like someone reclining after a seder) to say here I am in the middle, which seems to be a kind of muddle but to my mind isn't. There is room for discussion of Olson and gender without being dismissive of his work. It takes nothing away from the poetry though it may modify it in our minds.

Bill Berkson recently sent me Merleau Ponty's essay on Cezanne. There it's all spelled out, systematically. The knowledge that who we are born and what our early life is limit us profoundly but that the choices we make in our art are what free us. The two are inseparable--and how could they not be, given that every choice we make comes from our sensibility--how could it be otherwise? Yet given that sensibility one could move in a number of directions and therein lies a certain amount of freedom and even an earth-shattering way of knowing the world that can be conveyed to some extent to others.
Namby pamby? I don't believe so. Just inclusive.

It's vital to fight about that which we believe in the arts--that is of course how they progress. To me the Black Mountain poets moved poetry along, a train that was chugging slowly till wham WCW gave it some steam and others such as Olson, Creeley, Levertov, Duncan, also The Objectivists said let's go for a fast ride, and so we did. Or to put it another way we slowed down and looked around.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis' measured writing has always added to my understanding of Olson and Creeley and others. That's all.

Can someone be a Zen master and still be limited by the consciousness of the age? A question I often asked myself when young. The answer, I now take for granted, is that a person can go beyond ordinary life into we know not what and yet in one's daily life hold certain beliefs which may be infuriating to others.

Tangentially related: I have heard that in India some prisoners, even murderers, who renounce their deeds may be freed in order to become Buddhist monks who beg for a living. Couldn't Dostoyevsky have made something of that! Would you be profoundly changed if society treated you profoundly differently or would you just continue if you were say a sociopath, on your (excuse me) social path as before, fooling people?

There are no complete answers to these questions. Poetry is questions without final answers. Poetry to me is an integral from Creeley to Rich, but these two poets aren't mutually exclusive since both have a superb sense of sound and are visionaries, each in her/his way.