There is a poem by Denise Levertov, “The Secret,” that addresses so many of the anxieties and hang ups that both artists and potential audiences have about art.

I feel like the poem should be handed out at performances, museum galleries, literature classes, intro to [insert arts discipline] classes in order to reassure people of their ability to have an authentic and valid experience.

You can read the full text for yourself, but I wanted to share some excerpts.

“The Secret” Denise Levertov

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line…

..I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines..

A few lines later she says she loves the girls for assuming there is a secret and for looking for it. Often the fear associated with a work is that there is a secret but we won’t be able to discover it and be subject derision by those who have. While Levertov acknowledges the accomplishment in the discovery, she finds the most joy in the fact they made the effort to even look.

While it can be disconcerting for creators to have people misinterpret the intent of their work, there should be at a small concession of gratitude, especially in these days, that people made an effort to find and understand it.

Perhaps the sentiment in the poem arts people will love best is that you should revisit a work many times over your life in order to discover it anew.

Even if you don’t hand it out to people who participate in your events, you might post a copy of the poem near your workspace–and revisit it many times yourself–to remind you how people often experience what you do.

Sharing The Secret

About Joe Patti

In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats (buttsseats.com) since 2004.
I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)
I am currently the Director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University. Across my career I have worked at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.

Don't Stop Hacking The Arts Yet...

2 thoughts on “Sharing The Secret

  1. This reminds me of a story a friend of mine likes to tell. He’s a tenor, and was singing in an opera in Brazil (where he’s from), and the staging had him dressed up as a goose roasting on a spit while singing. I assume he’s exaggerating when he tells the story. Anyway, after one of these performances, a teary-eyed woman comes up to him and exclaims “I *loved* your Jesus.” And as my friend tells the story, “Who am I to tell this lady that *her* Jesus is a goose?”

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