Brian Bartlett: Denise Levertov says on the back of your book of essays, Body Music, that your poems matter to her "because, more consistently than those of anyone else whose work I know, they manifest a full awareness of the poem as a form of musical score." What do you think Levertov meant by that?
Dennis Lee: ... Ok, I think Denise was talking about rhythm... We experience rhythm directly with our bodies, but now you're tying to convey it by means of words on a flat piece of paper... I think Denise recognized this preoccupation with how a poem enacts, in its rhythmic moves, a whole way of our being in the world. In fact if you're lucky, it enacts a way the world goes about being itself. Or at least tries too.
BB: But how does poetry "enact," rather than just reflect, those ways of "being in the world"? Or the ways the world has of "going about being itself"?
DL: For me, it means you don't just give a description of objects and events, tricked out with some edifying thoughts and feelings. It's a whole different gig. I sense the world as a polyrhythmic process - a dance of simultaneous energies. And the poem has to mime that process - not by describing it, but by reenacting its simultaneous sprawl and twiddle and ache. Right in the way it moves, its rhythmic trek. So when Denise spoke of the poem as a musical score, I think she was pointing to this dimension of scribbling. How the way you orchestrate words on the page manifests your deepest cosmological hunches - your sense of the vocabulary of coherence that obtains in the world.
- from Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation, Ed. Tim Bowling, 2002.