from SOME NOTES ON ORGANIC FORM
For me, back of the idea of organic form is the concept that is a form
in all things (and in our experience) which the poet discover and reveal.
There are no doubt temperamental differences between poets who use prescribed
forms and those who look for new ones—people who need a tight schedule
to get anything done, and people who have to have a free hand—but the difference
in their conception of "content" or "reality" is functionally more important.
On the one hand is the idea that content, reality, experience, is essentially
fluid and must be given form; on the other, this sense of seeking out inherent,
though not immediately apparent, form. Gerard Manley Hopkins invented the
word inscape to denote intrinsic form, the pattern of essential characteristics
both in single objects and (what is more interesting) in objects in a state
of relation to each other; and the word instress to denote the experiencing
of the perception of inscape, the apperception of inscape. In thinking
of the process of poetry as I know it, I extend the use of these words,
which he seems to have used mainly in reference to sensory phenomena, to
include intellectual and emotional experience as well; I would speak of
the inscape of an experience (which might be composed of any and all of
these elements, including the sensory) or of the inscape of a sequence
or constellation of experiences.
A partial definition, then, of organic poetry might be that it is a method of apperception, i.e., of recognizing what we perceive, and is based on an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories. Such a poetry is exploratory.
How does one go about such a poetry? I think it’s like this: First there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech. Suppose there’s the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received, the memory of some long ago thought or event associated with what’s seen or heard or felt, and an idea, a concept, he has been pondering, each qualifying the other; together with what he knows about history; and what he has been dreaming—whether or not he remembers it—working in him. This is only a rough outline of a possible moment in a life. But the condition of being a poet is that periodically such a cross-section, or constellation, of experiences (in which one or another element may predominate) demands, or wakes in him this demand, the poem. The beginning of the fulfillment of this demand is to contemplate, to meditate; words which connote a state in which the heat of feeling warms the intellect. To contemplate comes from "templum, temple, a place, a space for observation, marked out by the augur." It means, not simply to observe, to regard, but to do these things in the presence of a god. And to meditate is "to keep the mind in a state of contemplation’’; its synonym is "to muse," and to muse comes from a word meaning "to stand with open mouth"not so comical if we think of "inspiration"—to breathe in.
So—as the poet stands openmouthed in the temple of life, contemplating his experience, there come to him the first words of the Poem: the words which are to be his way in to the poem, if there is to be a poem. The pressure of demand and the meditation on its elements culminate in a moment of vision, of crystallization, in which some inkling of the correspondence between those elements occurs; and it occurs as words. If he forces a beginning before this point, it won’t work. These words sometimes remain the first, sometimes in the completed poem their eventual place may be elsewhere, or they may turn out to have been only forerunners, which fulfilled their function in bringing him to the words which are the actual beginning of the poem. It is faithful attention to the experience from the first moment of crystallization that allows those first or those forerunning words to rise to the surface: and with that same fidelity of attention the poet, from that moment of being let in to the possiblity of the poem, must follow through, letting the experience lead him through the world of the poem, its unique inscape revealing itself as he goes.
[Denise Levertov. "Some Notes on Organic Form," Poetry,1965, and New Directions in Prose and Poetry #20, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1968. Reprinted in Poet in the World, New Directions, 1973.]