Toward an ethic of rigorous provisionalism

The poem which 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 intention. 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 word 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 conclusion in the face of evidence, its willingness, in fact, to discard anything.

—Louise Glück, Proofs and Theories


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