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Glück on Poetic Intelligence and the Mythic

from "Introduction to the Best American Poetry, 1993"

[Glück’s Introduction centers on working through the implications of the concept of "voice." An essential part of what distinguishes the voice in poetry from the voice as used in other kinds of writing is the way in which the poetic voice embraces an element of watchfulness, of attentiveness, as it listens keenly to what it is saying and incorporates that sense of listening within its utterance. In the following passage, Glück is intent upon defining what she means by a "poetic intelligence."]

The poem that mistakes noble utterance for perception, conviction for impassioned intelligence, has located a wisdom it means to confer on its readers. Although such a poem may be organized dramatically and will likely have its climactic moment, it lacks drama: one feels, too early, its intentions. Nor does deep familiarity with its design suggest that the poem has tapped into myth: myth is not formula. Such poems substitute the adjective for the noun; they offer the world draped in mythic reference. But in their willfulness, they lack myth’s fatedness, myth’s helpless encounter with the elemental. Instead, everything has been invested in conclusion, in axiom, in heroic grandeur. Poetic intelligence lacks, I think, such focused investment in conclusion, being naturally wary of its own assumptions. It derives its energy from a willingness to discard conclusions in the face of evidence, its willingness, in fact, to discard anything.

From Louise Glück, "Introduction," The Best American Poetry, 1993 (New York: Macmillan, 1994), xx. Copyright 1993 Louise Glück .

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