A major poet of the 20th century receives her first biography.
One of a mere handful of women to appear in Donald Allen’s anthology, New American Poetry, 1945-1960, Denise Levertov (1923–1997) remains an influential and controversial figure in American poetry, both for her art and her politics. While perhaps less well-known than her confessional female contemporaries Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Levertov pursued a variety of techniques over the span of five decades, alternately crafting lyrical love poems, anti-war diatribes and spiritual odes. Her 1948 arrival in the United States from her native England heralded a major breakthrough, as she received the support of established poets like William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan. Although American poetry operated as a sort of boys’ club at that time, Levertov earned a hard-won place in the journals, anthologies and publishing houses that brought her to prominence. Greene (Dean Emerita/Oxford College of Emory Univ.; The Living of Maisie Ward, 1997, etc.) shows, however, that personal relationships often fractured under the intensity of Levertov’s personality. Her 25-year correspondence with Duncan ended on a sour note when he claimed that her vehement protest against the Vietnam War was making her poetry shrill and didactic. When that war, along with Levertov’s unhappy marriage, finally ended in 1975, she began writing more contemplative poems that engaged with the natural world as well as with the divine mystery that had imbued her childhood. Influenced by her father's Hasidic Judaism and his conversion to Christianity, Levertov had always felt a dual spiritual-sensual connection with her environment. While her emotional life continued to be tumultuous up until her death, her poems gradually gained the mastery that her earliest work had prophesied.
This compelling study deftly blends personal details with consideration of the poet’s craft.