Sunday, December 9, 2007

Denise Levertov on creativity and self-destruction

I've been reading a lot about Anne Sexton this past week as I prepare to write an essay about her prosody and her madness. I came across these thoughts by Denise Levertov on the distinction between creativity and self-destruction and felt they were worth sharing. Something I've thought about a lot.

"Innumerable young poets have drunk themselves into stupidity and cirrhosis because they admired John Berryman or Dylan Thomas and came to think that they must drink like them to write like them. At the very least it is assumed that creativity and hangups are inevitably inseparable. One student (male) said to me recently, 'I was amazed when the first poet I met seemed to be a cheerful person and not any more fucked up than anyone else. When I was in high school I got the idea that you had to be fucked up to be a real artist!' And a young English teacher in a community college told me she had given up writing poetry because she believed there were unavoidable links between depression and anxiety and the making of art. 'Don't you feel terrible when you write poems?'

"What exactly is the nature of the confusion, and how has it come about? The mistake itself lies in taking what may possibly be an occupational hazard as a prescriptive stimulus to artistic activity. Whether artists as a class are in fact more vulnerable than other people, or whether their problems merely have more visibility, a serious and intelligent statistical study might perhaps tell us. It makes no difference: the point is that while the creative impulse and the self-destructive impulse can, and often do, coexist, their relationship is distinctly acausal; self-destructiveness is a handicap to the life of art, not the reverse."

(From Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics, Edited by J.D. McClatchy, 1978 Indiana University Press)

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

I took workshops from Denise in the mid-eighties at Stanford and she was always this clear-headed. Thanks for the reminder of her brilliance!