Books by Denise Levertov

POEMS 1972-1982 by Denise Levertov
Released: April 24, 2001

"An excellent representation of a major poet—for those who don't already own the books that comprise it."
Collected in this volume are three books, in their entirety, from the middle of a distinguished career—The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978), and Candles in Babylon (1982)—but no "new" or revised material. Levertov (who died in 1997 at the age of 74) wrote poems that are accessible and unadorned, but her straightforwardness does not preclude a profound metaphorical resonance. She was in tune with the natural world and our place in it, as demonstrated in the remarkable, if unlikely, "Pig Dream" sequence ("I love my own Humans and their friends, / but let it be said, / their race is dangerous"). She was also fiercely committed to speaking out against war (Vietnam, especially, in the earlier poems collected here) and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants; hers are among the best poems we have on these subjects. "A Speech: For Antidraft Rally, D.C., March 22, 1980" concludes with what should be a simple admonition: "We must dare to win / not wars, but a future / in which to live." Levertov took pains to avoid the self-conscious use of the first person, and as a result her vision has a welcome breadth and generosity: despite the often-bleak subject matter, tranquility and strength lie at the core of her best work, offering hope for the future: "You live / this April's pain / now, / you will come / to other Aprils, / each will astonish you." In the end, her oeuvre should prove as durable and relevant as the writers (William Carlos Williams, the Black Mountain poets, etc.) with whom she was frequently associated during her lifetime. Read full book review >
TESSERAE by Denise Levertov
NONFICTION
Released: April 25, 1995

Disappointing autobiographical sketches from a respected American poet, a Vietnam and anti-nuclear protestor whose social integrity is reflected in her writing. Comparing these 27 pieces with Levertov's poems, readers will encounter a mostly unfamiliar portrait of the 71-year-old artist: a home-schooled British girl whose social life revolved around her family and a few neighbor children; a 12-year-old worker for the Communist Party walking door to door with newspapers she hadn't read; a child manipulated by a disturbed sister nine years her senior. In discussions of politics, Levertov tells us, her sister treated her as an equal, helping the activist to emerge from the timid girl. A chapter entitled ``The Last of Childhood'' speaks sorrowfully of an argument with ``the first friend I chose myself,'' confessing that ``pride and the conviction I had about what constituted decent behavior'' prevented reconciliation. In contrast to the clarity so admirable in Levertov's poetry, her introspection is uncertain here. For long stretches she magnificently recaptures a child's point of view, then the adult steps in, relating a similar incident, commenting about art, interrupting that youthful vision with retrospective perceptions. Most pieces focus on Levertov's early years, and they become repetitive, as when the poet suggests twice in the course of three paragraphs that a fortuneteller's reading of her tea leaves was affected by the woman's knowledge that she had applied for a nursing job. Two-page character portraits are often too cryptic to be memorable; conversely, the volume's longest piece, a 22-page description of time spent in the Pacific island of Tonga, is downright boring. The snatches of autobiography portioned out over time in Levertov's essays have been precious to her admirers because they reveal essential aspects of a beloved and respected writer. These poorly written memoirs seem to be the work of another person. Read full book review >