between the way of death and the way of life

'The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.' I suppose all poets write with that in mind. The injunction seems clear: go for the spirit. But in poetry... without the letter there is no spirit, or none that is able to be felt by anyone else. Without the words, the words in a particular order, fitted into a syntax, engendering a rhythm, making sense, without the letter (understood like that) there is nothing that can have any effect. The letter used wrongly does indeed kill; it fixes; where there was life (the spirit) it makes a dead thing; the syntax remains a skeleton, life refuses to inhabit it. And that is really the continuous and necessary struggle in verse, between fixity and fluidity, between the way of death and the way of life. And in that struggle, in which the very life of the spirit is at stake, the letter is all, and may petrify or animate.

- David Constantine, from his essay "Poetry of the Present" in A Living Language, part of the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures series.

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