on “what’s at stake” in a poem

“The poem’s power and authority reside within the notion that particular (and feel-able) risks have been taken by the speaker—something hard to say, something nearly impossible to say, is ventured. (This is what makes me sad, this is what I adore, this is what I hate, this is what I fear.) Once the hard thing is said (or suggested), then there’s danger on the page. It takes a special sort of nerve to spell (just enough) the connection between the imagery (symbols) of the outer world and what the poet wants us to take from that imagery about how that imagery enhances, reflects, refracts and intensifies the poet’s inner landscape.

How overtly drawn does this correspondence have to be? I think the answer is: just overt enough so that readers can feel the risk taken. Whether or not a reader actually feels the danger on the page depends entirely upon whether the poet has provided us with sufficient correspondence between description and metaphor on one hand, and what’s human, on the other. There must be that ineluctable tension between what we understand abstractly and what we feel concretely. Without that kind of correspondence (and corresponding tension) there’s no felt urgency. Without those risks, the description and metaphor, no matter how well turned, turn merely symbolic. Without sufficient evidence of that correspondence, a symbol is just a symbol, stripped, then, of its power, like an electric circuit whose wiring reaches a dead end: the light won’t go on. Sound and fury are fine, so long as they signify something. Within this correspondence—this levering—the real work of the poem gets done.”

–Jeffrey Levine, from http://jeffreyelevine.com/2011/11/16/how-resonant-diction-and-correspondence-propel-a-poem-part-1-in-what-we-look-for-at-tupelo-press/

November 17, 2011. Uncategorized.

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