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Denise Levertov

I find it a little strange considering that ninety percent of the poetry books I own are written by men but the second poet I’m attracted to in Postmodern American Poetry is also a woman, in this case Denise Levertov, a poet I’ve apparently been attracted to before since I discovered she was already on my Amazon Wish List. Coincidently, like Hilda Morley, she is associated with Black Mountain Review, as is the last book of poetry I randomly chose from the book store, Robert Creeley’s Selected Poems.

Though I think I’m primarily attracted to her style, I was also attracted to the following poem because of my fondness for glass bubbles with winter scenes:

WHERE IS THE ANGEL FOR ME TO WRESTLE?

No driving snow in the glass bubble,
but mild September.

Outside, the stark shadows
menace, and fling their huge arms about
unheard. I breathe

a tepid air, the blur
of asters, of brown fern and gold-dust
seems to murmur,

and that’s what I hear, only that.
Such clear walls of curved glass:
I see the violent gesticulations

and feel–no, not nothing. But in this
gentle haze, nothing commensurate.
It is pleasant in here. History

mouths, volume turned off. A band of iron,
like they put round a split tree,
circles my heart. In here

it is pleasant, but when I open
my mouth to speak, I too
am soundless. Where is the angel

to wrestle with me and wound
not my thigh but my throat,
so curses and blessings flow storming out

and the glass shatters, and the iron sunders?

Although I was initially attracted by the glass bubble metaphor, I stayed around because at times I, too, have felt that the lack of real hardship in my life has left me spiritually weaker than I might have otherwise been.

It’s not that difficult to see life optimistically when your life has been as easy and as rewarding as mine has been. Most things have always seemed to come rather easily to me. And, with the notable exception of a couple women who’ve rejected me, I’ve pretty much had everything in life I ever wanted. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that I haven’t wanted very much.

Sometimes like Levertov I worried that my happiness, for lack of a better word, has kept me from being the best person I could have been, that the softness of my life has entrapped me in its own special way.

In one sense, it goes back to that sophomoric, but common, young person’s wish that something “awful” or at least something “dramatic” will finally happen in life so they’ll finally have something worth writing about.

(You did notice that my recent brush with Death inspired a sudden rush of poetry, didn’t you? In retrospect, I’ll skip the poetry in favor of avoiding such instances for the immediate future. No amount of poetry can compensate for such pain.)

But I think it goes beyond that sophomoric wish, because there is a real need to be tested in life, and most of us are instinctively drawn to such tests. Many of us go out of our way to find experiences that will provide such tests, and help build the requisite strengths.