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Agitprop vs. Poetry

By Emily Warn

duncanlevertovhp.gif
During the Vietnam War, both Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov “struggled aesthetically with the turn from lyric to public address.” The different ways that they resolved that issue destroyed their friendship. After reading The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov and a collection of essays analyzing their conflict (Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov: The Poetry of Politics, the Politcis of Poetry ), Ange Mlinko offers her critique of the psychological, religious, and aesthetic undercurrents that led to their break-up.
(Mark Nowak’s recent posts on “poetry produced within social movements,” and Alan Gilbert’s posts from Naropa on the relationship between art and society seem to complicate and extend Levertov and Duncan’s conversation about whether a poet’s role is to “oppose evil” or “to imagine it.”)

Comments (7)

  • On July 11, 2008 at 2:15 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Emily Warn said:
    >(Mark Nowak’s recent posts on “poetry produced within social movements,” and Alan Gilbert’s posts from Naropa on the relationship between art and society seem to complicate and extend Levertov and Duncan’s conversation about whether a poet’s role is to “oppose evil” or “to imagine it.”)
    Yes, Emily, you’re right.
    However, in the case of the recent “my kind of people” posts on a leading, prominent Stalinist figure who was ideologically aligned with massive, unspeakable crimes in the USSR, not to mention outright thuggery and dishonesty within the realm of U.S. left politics, one wonders if there isn’t a third choice? To boot: “Progressive” poets also can, when convenient, pass evil over in silence!
    Kent

  • On July 11, 2008 at 3:55 pm Emily Warn wrote:

    Kent,
    You made this accusation before on Mark’s post. It went unanswered. Are you saying that not responding to your accusation is tantamount to passing “evil over in silence”? I’d hate to see a post about Ange’s thought-provoking essay devolve into accusations and counter-accusations that have already been made. In terms of those accusations, I’d love a pointer to Claudia Jones’ actual literary work. Mark provided pointers to a book about her life and work. Without reading both, I have no basis on which to judge your comment, and I bet most other readers do not either.
    But I do appreciate you being part of the open and democratic conversation on Harriet.
    Thanks!

  • On July 11, 2008 at 6:44 pm john wrote:

    Of course poets — like all people — pass over evil in silence when convenient — well, perhaps not all poets, perhaps there are poets whose every waking hour is devoted in some way to social transformation and dissent and protest — and contrarily, not to say contrarianly, some poets in fact do not care to let the Perpetual World at War intrude into their poetry at all — and that’s fine! Because there is no stage direction for the poet’s role.

  • On July 12, 2008 at 1:36 pm Lucia wrote:

    It is funny (-peculiar) to me that I can be so sympathetic to Duncan’s theoretical position but prefer Leventov’s poetry (in general).
    Often a poet’s positions run counter to their practices.

  • On July 13, 2008 at 11:58 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    As Emily can attest, I had written her, asking that my above comment be taken down, as its point seemed a bit out of place under the Duncan/Levertov post. But it was too late to do so, apparently.
    In any case, I did want to say, since Emily has posed the question, that no, I am not referring above to Mark Nowak’s silence towards *me* (he’s free to choose what topics he wants to engage or not, who he wants to engage with, and so on!).
    What I mean by “passing evil over in silence,” rather, is Mark’s failure to even mention–in these rosy, soft-focused posts for a leading CPUSA ideologue and unapologetic defender of Stalin’s policies and purges (“she’s my kind of people,” says Mark)–the rather weighty matter of the *Stalinist terror*, which, as everyone (I think!) now knows, killed millions of innocent people, wiped out a whole generation of revolutionary socialists, and, thanks to the legacy of its horrors, set back left working class politics for, oh, three or four hundred years.
    I am simply proposing, then, that expressing such unqualified enthusiasm for past Stalinist figures is a somewhat problematic thing to do, and on various levels–particularly if one is seeking to move poetry in activist directions and connect its practice to the development of class consciousness, as Mark obviously is.
    Though what teaching the “poems and songs” of the Weather Underground (!!??) has now to do with that laudable effort, I’m not exactly sure…
    Kent

  • On July 14, 2008 at 11:03 am Emily Warn wrote:

    Hi Kent,
    Thanks for pointing out my mistaken assumption and for further clarifying your point. Just FYI…others have responded to your previous comments on Mark’s original post.
    Emily

  • On July 14, 2008 at 11:57 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Emily said:
    >Just FYI…others have responded to your previous comments on Mark’s original post.
    And I’ve responded, in turn!
    thanks,
    Kent


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, July 11th, 2008 by Emily Warn.