Denise Levertov Biographical
Born of a Russian Jewish father who became an Anglican Priest after converting to Christianity and a Welsh Mother on October 24, 1923 in England’s IIford (Essex),Denise Levertov and Olga her sister were home schooled. They were taught music, French and Art by tutors. Like other English women she would have been drafted to work in a munitions factory but she instead worked in London as a nurse in World War 11.Her 1947 marriage to Mitchell Goodman an American writer was blessed with a son by the name Nikolai Gregor, the marriage lasted until 1972 when they divorced. Levertov and her husband Goodman moved to the United States of American in 1948 and later proceeded to become an American Citizen seven years later in 1955(Catherine 210)
From a very tender age religion had a major influence on Denise’s writing ,when she finally got down to it religion become one of her major themes.Dispite of her father having been exposed to both Christianity and Judaism she always believed that that her writing was inherent in both her family’s roots and culture. Levertov believed that together with her sister they had a culture linked to the same. Her converting to Christianity in 1984 dealt a major boast on her religion as a theme in her writing. Denise converted to Roman Catholicism in 1989 just a while after relocating to Seattle. Through out her work she wrote several religious poems some were metaphoric with implications on religion while others some of here notable religious poems include Evening Train. Gallant, James (122-134).Denise’s Christian writing view Christianity as a bridge between society and individuals and talks about how Christianity can change a hostile environment. Dewey, Anne. (65-81)Levertov ambition in writing poetry started when she was still a little five year old girl. At the age of twelve she decided to send T.S Eliot some poetry she had written. In response T.S Eliot sent her a letter with some advice on how to improve her writing and some encouragement to keep up her writing. Denise Levertov published her first poetry at age seventeen in the poetry monthly edition. (Famous poets and poems.com).
Before leaving England she published her first poetry book titled “The Double Image” in 1946.While in American she continued publishing numerous poems that were published in a collections that appeared almost yearly Throughout the sixties and seventies she become a feminist activist against the Vietnamese war and nuclear weapons through her writing, She later went ahead to co-found the group that was opposed to the war in Vietnam a group called Writers and Artists Protest Against the War in Vietnam. Denise became a frequent visitor to the jail cells for her active participation in the antiwar demonstrations hence establishing herself as a victim of civil disobedience (Catherine 210).Denise also tried a hand in teaching as she began teaching in several Colleges and Universities around America. These institutions included Berkeley, Vassar, Brandeis, and Tufts. And majority of her manuscripts are found in these places she taught in. Through her writing Denise was able to accumulate several prestigious awards that included a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Robert Frost Medal, the Lenore Marshall Poetry prize and the Shelly Memorial Award among others (Catherine 210).Levertov also worked as an editor for The Nation in 1961 in the poetry section,1975-1978,she edited poetry for Mother Jones. She also took up a job of teaching creative writing at Sanford University in 1982-1993 before later moving to Seattle where her son lived. Denise later succumbed to Lymphoma complications on December 20, 1997 at the age of seventy two years (Famous poets and poems.com).
As a Significant post World War 11 poet, Denise Levertov (1923-1997) an American poet utilized the characteristics of objectivists and projectivist verse to contemplate the metaphysical aspects of familiar surroundings and for the purpose of attacking a number of social and political issues. She uses her work in understanding the poetry of great Americans like Ezra Pound and Carlos Williams. Levertov reflects on the works of Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan and Charles Olson, who were Poets of the “Black Mountains”. Denise work lingers around aspects of religious importance, imbues and minute everyday life observations. In retaliation to the 1960’s war events, she initiated the use of her work to attack the existing political anarchy. Her vivid explanation in tackling issues have earned her several admirers, Kenneth Rexroth was had commenting on the same as I quote “Levertov's poems are so carefully wrought that the workmanship goes by unnoticed. They seem like speech, heightened and purified…. they are certainly never obscure, never seem to be doing anything but communicating with presentational immediacy” (Denise Levertov Literary Criticism ,Volume 1).
According to Catherine Cucinella (211).Majority if not most of Denise’s work was within the lyric mode. Her emphasis was centered around subjects torching on the idea of belief in religion, the human world in relation to nature. Political justices and injustices. He had a feminist consciousness that is evident throughout her work. She intertwines justices with her religious belief and her love for nature depicts her political ideas. Her first book was in (1948) The Double image, (1956) here and now and with eyes at the Back of our Head (1960).In all of this publications Denise’s writing style takes a new shape in establishing her theme as a writer.
As the 1960s set in Denise develops a writing style with the theme of a responsible citizen. Let it be remembered that it around this time that Denise is involved in Anti nuclear weapons activism and opposition against the Vietnamese war. This activism spirit comes out in her subsequent publications namely; The Sorrow Dance (1967) then later in (1970) Relearning the Alphabet. In 1982 she published the book titled Candle in Babylon this was kind of a speech for the Antidraft rally that was held o March 22, 1980 in D.C.She attacks communists in her (1989) book A Door in the Hive. Through her Christian poem writing in the book Candle in Babylon Levertov ended up transforming herself into the Christian faith through her writing. The book that signifies that the author has reached her last phase in life is her (1999) publication titled This Great Unknowing .Catherine Cucinella (211-212).
Despite gaining numerous praises through her political poetry as I quote Diane Wakoski calls "a lifetime career of writing beautiful, lyric poems, interspersed with militant political ones." Where as another writer Ralph J. Mills, Jr. is quoted saying, "Denise Levertov revels in, carves and hammers into lyric poems of precise beauty. As celebrations and rituals lifted from the midst of contemporary life in its actual concreteness, her poems are unsurpassed”. Albert Gelpi (39) supports Levertov’s style of writing He talks about Denise’s ability to give attention not so much on the qualities of the other perceived, or alternatively to interior of the perceiver’s mindscape, as to the relationship between the world “out there and its apprehension by a receptive sensibility.” Despite all the praises showered on her work so writers didn’t share in the same opinion a factor that prompted those launching attacks on Denise’s poetry works.
Albert Gelpi, Robert J. Berthold (149) comments on Denise political poetry as having negatively focused on matters of polemical common in antiwar poetry: moralizing tone, Slogans radical dictions, vivid images of suffering and venting of personal anger. He argues that Levertov’s political poetry was aimed at revolutionalising social and personal issues into poetry. Some critics like Roberta Berke in his book Bounds out of Bounds lashes at Levertov’s poetry on Vietnam insisting that Denise failed through her work to convince prospective readers. He claimed that Denise’s poetry on the war on Vietnam would not impact very well on a person who was just from the war front has her propaganda writing would elicit memories that led to war. Roberta claims that for poets to be more appealing them they should copy the glorious news always flashing on our sets. He accuses Levertov of picking up lines from other poems.
Another notable critic of Denise Levertov’s work is Audrey Rodgers who lashes at the poetry of engagement by denise.She claims that Denise misuses alphabets. Rodgers asks the simple question as I quote “are Levertov’s tonal effects as each ‘letter’encompases a poem made up of assonance, alliteration and consonance” (100).She claims that letter yields a whole register of sounds to depict anguish Albert Gelpi, Robert J. Berthold (152).
In conclusion, Denise Levertov was and will always be a goddess as far poetry with themes ranging from religion and politics are concerned. This factor has led to so many schools and institutions adopting the use of her Brilliant prowess.
- Albert Gelpi (1993) Denise Levertov: selected criticism University of Michigan Press.
- Albert Gelpi, Robert J.Bertholf (2006) Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov: the poetry of Politics. California: Stanford University Press
- Catherine Cucinella (2002) Contemporary American women poets: an A-TO-Z guide. Westport: Greenwood Press Publishing Group
- Denise Levertov Literary Criticism (Volume 1) Retrieved on November 12, 2010 from<http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/levertov-denise
- Dewey, Anne (1998): "The Art of the Octopus: The Maturation of Denise Levertov's Political Vision."
- Gallant, James (1998). "Entering No-Man's Land: The Recent Religious Poetry of Denise Levertov." Renascence 50 Retrieved on November 12, 2010 from <Famous poets and poems.com.