Monday, August 13, 2007

Williams and Levertov

My mother, who I love, wanted to read about us getting kicked out the 4 Seasons, but Jim told her the story over the phone, so I can progress with Poetry.

I have just finished reading the letters between Levertov and Williams. I highly recommend this for even people who don't necessarily go for letters. The correspondence is edited so that it is easy to follow a narrative. WCW seemed to have a pretty strong interest in the idea of mentorship and the apprentice poet. He was also connected to Ginsberg, of course, and the book mentions Guggenheim letters for many others in addition to L.

I recollect some vague complaints about the 'sexism' in WCW attitude toward Levertov. When you read the letters you cannot help by notice that his tone is somewhat condesending. I would argue (just from this book) that Williams was definitely a believer in the male/poet role and thought of Levertov as somewhat of an anomaly. In fact, the only other female poets Williams refers to in the book are Sappho, Loy, and Solt. He and others refer to Levertov by the dreaded term "lady poet."

Yet, like critical feminists, I cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Williams resistance to the idea of woman as poet just reminds me that he was a product of his time. If the reader can ignore it, as Levertov did, s/he can find real value in the relationship and a text for how it was crucial to both poet's life work -- although particularly L., not because she was a "girl" but because she was the poet in training here. I am working on a piece for How2 on mentorship and theirs provides and interesting outline for the concept. Their's was a life intwined in all ways. Not only in terms of sharing work, but in being intamate with each other's families.

But, Levertov DID have a hard boat to row; and (she rowed it famously!) writing in the 50's, completely surrounded by the boy's club-- Duncan and Creeley were best friends. She lived in a time when women were famously repressed and expected to be housewives. Levertov, for example, is known to have spent some of her Guggenheim grant on a washer and dryer.

It is pretty mindblowing to consider that Confessional poetry, the Beats, the New York School, Black Mountain, and the SF Ren. were happening pretty simultaniously. And how exclusionary toward women these groups were. You have Lorine Neidecker in the Objectivists, but I think she was earlier. Helen Adams, famous for being the only other woman poet (I think) in THE Anthology. The Beats somewhat included Wakoski and Kruger, Waldman was yet a wee lassy! The 'movement' that seems most feminine is confessional, Although, Levertov lived near the Lowell/Sexton kids, she seems to have little interest in them. She mentions Lowell only in passing and the others not at all. She also didn't seem too pleased with the New York guys as she writes with distaste about Ashbery and O'Hara.

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