they make poetry harmless

What interests me here is a deeper poetics, one that tries to grasp what happens at the moment of writing itself—not a discussion that indulges in prolonging what Marvin Bell has called the pointless “dualisms” of form versus content; nor a poetics that praises one kind of poem as organic while denouncing another as artificial. Ultimately, the trouble with such classroom determinations is that they do reduce poetry to technique, to something stripped of vision, something which gives the illusion of being soluble through either/or choices; they make poetry harmless. And in doing so, they lie. We all know that poetry had better come, if not “as naturally as Leaves to the Tree,” then at least with something more alive and luminous than a servile, cynic’s technique. We know that a poem made to order from theory is slave labor, just as we also know that a poem, any poem, is artificial in one huge respect—if only because, as Eliot’s character so famously complained: “I gotta use words when I talk to you.”

- Larry Levis, from his essay "Some Notes on the Gazer Within", originally published in Field in 1986, and republished posthumously in Levis' The Gazer Within.

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