Levertov’s Outline and “Space Travelers”

In reading poetry from the Black Mountain poets, I came to the realization that it would be difficult to effectively discuss their poems, aside from the use of white space, the syllables, the construction of lines, etc. For me, such a discussion somewhat fails to get at the heart of their work. Olson highlighted the act of composition, hoping to achieve a level of representation of the mind, as it undertakes a particular subject matter in the form of poetry. As such, it would be far from simple to tackle the Black Mountain poets’ work, just as it would be far from simple to analytically discuss the workings of the subconscious mind, at least not from a truly solid, factual standpoint. In other words, it seems that to dig into the poems from the Black Mountain poets would necessitate theoretical musings, working from an individualized impression of a particular poem, at least with regard to the poem’s meaning. Though probably interesting, and even a somewhat enjoyable endeavor, I couldn’t bring myself to write something (something others would read, anyway) based on little contextual evidence, based largely on feeling, which (if we really get deeper into it) comes from personal experience and probably differs from person to person, and thus does not make for exceptionally pertinent analysis in my opinion. For example, I could talk about Creeley’s “The Rain,” but the bulk of my discussion would revolve around a particular, and elusive (difficult to define), feeling it evinced within me. That type of discussion falls far more on a subjective, rather than objective, side of analysis.

Instead, I decided that the best way to add to a discussion about the Black Mountain poets might be to simply make an attempt at an imitation of their style. I thought about this a lot. I talked to a few people in my life about it, most of which quickly labeled the poems (pretentious) nonsense, but I think the point is more in the feeling these poems attempt to stir within a reader, more so than a logical, linear, or completely coherent message. So, I read Denise Levertov’s “Some Notes on Organic Form,” and I decided to take her recipe for writing poems and put it into practice. In “Some Notes on Organic Form,” Levertov says we must begin with some experience, one that creates an intense emotional response, and she says that it could be some past experience, anything really that a poet feels compelled to try to recreate with words. So, I thought of a past experience that I intensely felt. Then, taking Levertov’s next guideline, I sat with that experience, letting it stew, meditating upon it, as Levertov would say, for a couple days. Levertov says that one should wait until the first words of the poem appear in cognition before beginning the writing process, whether they remain the first words or not (for me, those first words in fact remained the first words of the poem).

Once the idea of the experience came to me, and once the first words of the poem came to me, I was ready to begin writing. I took lots of factors of the Black Mountain poets’ conception of poetry into account. First, I tried to use the spacing, white space, and line construction in a very intentional manner (which I would do anyway, but in this case with a heavier focus on breath and syllable flow instead of meaning, which ultimately went hand-in-hand for me). Next, I tried to avoid allowing too much conscious thought to invade the lines; in other words, I tried to keep it moving, ignoring the preconceived ideas about what the poem was going to be or what lines/images I wanted to include before I began writing. Similarly, I tried to avoid over-thinking the language, specifically description, something Olson seemed to be firmly against. Therefore, I tried to avoid over-using adjectives and interruptions in the poem’s flow for the purpose of overt descriptions. Finally, I tried to accomplish two more things: first, to capture the emotion of the experience without truly defining the experience itself, allowing the words to carry the feeling versus using them to explain the feeling; and second, I tried to take Levertov’s advice about ending the poem whenever the feeling of the experience dissipates. The result of this exercise, based on the Black Mountain poets’ style and edicts and guided by Levertov’s outline laid out in “Some Notes on Organic Form,” is my poem, entitled “Space Traveler.” I hope, at the very least, this poem accomplishes my most basic (singular) goal in writing it, even if only momentarily, even if only by a single passage: to create a stirring within the reader, hopefully one reminiscent of the experience that underlies the poem’s inspiration.



Space Traveler


The distance, space

is vast, gaps

wide divide



everything, but


we didn’t start so

you and I, joined

in a cosmic embrace,

in common spirits


limbs, legs, lips,

liminal limbo

you and I, shared

pillars of creation, love


loose yet tightly squeezed

under pressure, gravitational

force coalescing us in

to imminent, impending

explosion          BANG!


Then there was silence

sudden, haunting

daunting silence.


You there and not

Me there and not

minds apart together

unknown worlds unexplored

unreachable, I reached

out through the vast

tangible space

in darkness

your back to me just

out of reach, yet I stretched

my arm, stretched my fingers

and grazed that oversized shirt

you always wore to sleep

brushed against that untraversed


space but couldn’t bring myself


the magnetism of the beginning


had switched polarity, then,


an invisible force between us.



I recoiled my arm

in silence

and wondered

how, and why.


How did we get here?


Why does space once form


expand toward isolation

or collision?


I closed my eyes and saw

us there, two distant galaxies

floating in darkness

the vastness between us

resting on the fabric of space

smelling fabric softener

and loneliness

until I was surrounded

by the vastness of space

spinning alone in darkness.


Though I tried, I am not

a space traveler


so I was stuck watching

you drift  drift  drift


farther  farther  away

in deafening silence


until we could hardly see

each other anymore


two shadows moving before

dim light of a once brilliant star


until you were finally out of view

and gone forever.


And I was left in silence,

sullen, haunting

daunting silence.

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