Sunday, April 14, 2013

Larry Levis “On Accessibility”

“I wasn’t consciously trying to make anything accessible, nor was I trying, on the other hand to be obscure or priestly, as the Modernists tried to be. I have nothing against being accessible. I think there’s certain pleasure in that—the poems being vulnerable to being understood. A lot of young poets don’t want to be understood, because they feel that when they’re understood, they’re dead. But I think that fear only comes from criticism—the vast inhibition they get from reading critics who, because they can understand something, simply decide not to deal with it. I think it’s very difficult to deal with a fantastically complete, utterly accessible lyric by Thomas Hardy, which already says everything it intends to say. It defies criticism. It says Harold Bloom or Helen Vendler, sure, come ahead, say what you have to say: I’ll make you look hopeless.

Donald Justice comes to mind in this way. He wanted to write a poem so completely that the only thing he could say about it that would be accurate would be its recitation. Larkin thought that, too. You’ll find very little high-powered criticism about Larkin. You can’t do it. His poetry is too shrewd, too cunning, too mean. Scrupulously mean as Joyce said. Now I like that….as a method in art. Not because I have anything against criticism, which is unavoidable and necessary and as natural as breathing…But to make a poem that absolutely declares everything, one that has no hidden resources or anything—I mean, that’s another idea, you see.”

(from an interview Leslie Kelen conducted with Larry Levis in Antioch Review; Summer 90, Vol. 48 Issue 3, p. 284, 16 p)