Monday, April 12, 2021

"Our garden he cannot imagine": Denise Levertov and a boy with flowers in her poem "The Gulf"

Denise Levertov's "The Gulf" responds to the 1967 Detroit riots: "Among the looters a boy of eleven // grabs from a florist's showcase (the Times says) / armfuls of gladioli, all he can carry, // and runs with them." From her own "garden at the edge of a gulf," Levertov imagines the boy's disappointment with those flowers "without / perfume!" When she adds that she's standing "in our garden he cannot imagine," she confirms herself as imaginative and negates the boy's own potential for imagination. Yet in the end, she criticizes her poem as "useless knowledge in my mind's eye" and thus recognizes "the gulf" between herself and the Detroit boy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 April 2021)

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