SHORT POEMS AND SPIN-OFFS: EMILY AND THE EXPERIENCE OF SURPRISE
by Denise Levertov
A group of poems that I've been writing I call spin-offs. I have two sets of them and one set came from contemplating some photographs by the photographer Peter Braun, who asked me to write an introduction for a book of his photographs. And I did, in fact, eventually write an introduction, but while looking at the photographs, I found myself writing poems which spun off from the pictures in an oblique way. They were not descriptions, which is why I think of them as spin-offs, like sparks flying off from some surface or from something which is struck.
About a year later I found myself writing another set of spin-offs, this time from phrases and sentences that jumped up at me from the page of what I happened to be reading, from prose works that I happened to be reading-apart from detaching themselves from their context, almost seeming to be in larger print-much the way in which, when I was a child of about eight or nine, for a year, approximately, I was an unexploited sort of rocking horse winner, because I used to listen to the radio accounts of big horse races like the Darby and the Grand National (this was England of course) and I began to know who was going to win. And then I got interested and started looking at the newspaper and again a word would come up to me, a name of a horse, would come up to me, and I would know that that was the horse that was going to win, but nobody knew. Even if my family had known, they knew nothing about horse-racing and they would not have known how to place a bet.
Well, in the same way, these phrases came up for me and sparked spin-off poems. They don't have a sequential relationship to each other, but they form a set. I'm going to read you some of those. The sentences form the titles, in some cases, rather long for titles.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008