Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life, Part Two

Yesterday, in Part One of my review of the major new biography, Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life, by Dana Greene, I focused on Greene’s information and insights into Levertov’s life. Today I turn to the other term of the book’s sub-title: the poet.

Since Greene is writing a biography, not a work of literary criticism, her interest is in how Levertov’s extraordinary body of poetry both shaped and was shaped by her life experience. Indeed, Levertov’s life and art were unusually integrated.

Greene quotes one of Levertov’s colleagues after her death: “She was a unique presence because in her… everything came together in an organic whole—poetry, religion, history and politics, the natural world and people.”

From childhood, Denise sensed her vocation as a poet. At age twelve, she boldly sent some poems to T.S. Eliot. He replied encouragingly, re-enforcing her vocational identity. [Read more...]

Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life, Part One

I thought I knew Denise Levertov.

In the 1970s, she and my husband were both part of the English department faculty at Tufts University. He was writing about the Beat poets, whom Denise had known well, and she graciously came to our house for my husband to interview.

I used to walk by her house, in our neighborhood, and admire the brilliant flowers in her English garden.

Yes, I thought I knew Denise Levertov. I’ve read most of her poetry many times. After 9/11, I read it through once again, in order, starting with her 1961 collection, The Jacob’s Ladder.

I needed to be with Levertov’s poems daily because I knew that she’d engaged the difficult political issues of her day: the Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, U.S. interventions in Latin America. I thirsted for her poetic insights on how to engage the post-9/11 world.

But now I realize I scarcely knew Levertov at all until reading this first complete biography of her, Dana Greene’s Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life[Read more...]