Dana Levin Recommends...

“It’s funny how we can say things to students over and over (ad nauseum!) and only belatedly see how they shape our own approaches to writing. After twenty plus years in the classroom, I find I quote the following consistently enough that they seem driving philosophies. What I notice now is how each offers a prescription for getting around over-thinking and calculation: two activities that can stop a developing poem in its tracks. T. S. Eliot: ‘The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious.’ Louise Glück: ‘What do I never do on the page?’ Jack Kerouac: ‘Don’t stop to think of the words; stop to see the scene better.’ James Baldwin: ‘Nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ Ted Hughes (on Sylvia Plath): ‘If she couldn’t get a table out of it, she was quite happy to get a chair.’ Gertrude Stein: ‘Remarks are not literature.’ Jules Laforgue: ‘Method, method, what do you want of me? Don’t you know that I have eaten of the fruit of the unconscious?’ Wallace Stevens: ‘The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.’ (and) ‘Life’s nonsense pierces us with strange relation.’ Thus, when stuck, I try to remember what I teach: cobbling and thrift via storing and using scraps from journals and ‘failed’ poems; poems as autonomous creatures; poems as fearless challengers of all kinds of status quo, including psychological ones; a healthy appreciation for, and methods of engaging, the irrational and synchronistic; and to not ask too soon, What do I mean?
—Dana Levin, author of Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)