Monday, April 20, 2015

Levertov’s children: The Poets in the World

Denise Levertov’s book, The Poet in the World, is her quite engaging investigation of the process by which some of her own poems came into existence. But I am deeply distracted by the title.

The Poet in the Worldsomething great implied here about poets and poetry. The ideal, the poet in the world, is transcendent. But reality lies in the pursuit of the ideal, the challenge that must be accepted, poem by poem, by poets in the world.

Levertov, a poet for change, a poet for human liberation, inspires me. In turn, what I want, more than anything else, is to inspire you because, if I am a poet, it is likely that some of the reasons why I am are also some of the reasons why you are, too.

Just the other day, a friend introduced me to Nawal.

“This is Jeff Epton,” my friend said. “He’s a poet,” which I think was a very affirming thing to say, and typical of my friend.

Nawal’s smile was brilliant and warm. Perhaps I flatter myself, but I inferred that she was happy to meet a poet.

“Are you a poet, also?” I asked.

Nawal demurred. “I write poetry sometimes,” she said.

I brushed her qualification aside. I’m sure you are a poet, I responded, reminded in the same moment of a fragment I had written recently about being surrounded by poets. (And reminded in this present moment that I read the fragment to Malik, who told me that he’s a rapper, not a poet, because he doesn’t go deep enough. But the truth is we’re all mostly just skimming the surface, only occasionally holding our breath for a deeper dive.)

In any case, Malik considered the passage and concluded that what I had written was, indeed, a poem. As it turns out, affirmations are everywhere.

I told Nawal about the poem, and about how it had been inspired by Levertov’s book. When I mentioned Levertov’s title, The Poet in the World, I could see in Nawal’s expression that the title, and all it might imply, resonated for her.

She said that she’d like to see my poem, and I asked for and received her e-mail address. I’ll send it along, I told her. But this morning I discovered the poem really was a fragment.

I hate to rush things (though Marrianne would tell you that actually I just don't like to finish things), but it has been hanging fire for too long, so I went ahead and finished it, for now. And, if later, the poem turns up again, somehow unfinished, I’ll finish it again, maybe. But in the meantime, it seems to be the case that muses, like poets, are everywhere.

And here, ushered into the world by Denise Levertov and Malik and Nawal and me and who really knows who else, is the poem, finished for now:

The Poets in the World

Am I a poet in the world?
A voice both anchored here
and cast away?
An echo dimly understood?
A whisper barely heard?

I am a poet in the world,
and when I am,
when I inhabit this place
and this place inhabits me,
I know some
of what there is
to know about the world,
how it tastes
in places, how it feels
in part, how the silence
sounds, how the noise
can sing from me,
even in the forest, in the cities,
with scattered ears to hear.

I am a poet in the world.
I want a taste,
a feel. I strain to see,
to hear the world ahead,
the lagging and the dragging world

I am a poet in the world.
I know to a certainty,
I send out words,
and words return to me.

I am surrounded.
So many voices.
So many poets.

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