To learn to know a thing: the practice of attention in Rilkean-Levertovian poetics

Willo Drummond*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the early 1950s UK-born US poet Denise Levertov transcribed a passage from The Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (1946) into her ‘Green Notebook’ a personal anthology of ‘brief essential texts’ (Levertov, 1973, p. 43). She labelled the passage ‘If a thing is to speak to you’. The excerpt was one of several from Rilke’s letters that would remain significant to Levertov across a near five-decade career. This article uses distributed mind theory to reflect on the role of the ‘thing’ in Rilkean-Levertovian poetics. Drawing primarily on Menary’s Cognitive Integration framework (2007a), it considers the role of two particular artefacts (things) – an idiosyncratic index created by Levertov to the Selected Letters and the aforementioned Green Notebook – in the development of Levertov’s cognitive character (Menary, 2012a). In so doing, it frames the Rilke-Levertov relationship as an example of enculturated cognition (Menary, 2015). In addition, it looks specifically at the role of Rilke’s Ding or thing poetics in this particular example of enculturation; that is, the influence of Rilke’s engagement with ‘things’ in the development of Levertov’s objectivist-inflected poetics of presence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalText (Australia)
Issue numberspecial issue 63
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Cognitive Integration
  • Enculturation
  • Levertov
  • Literary influence
  • Rilke


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