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All Hail New Biography of Denise Levertov

By Harriet Staff

Denise Levertov

Ladies and gentlemen: the poet is in the world. In more ways than one, now that this new biography of Denise Levertov (author of The Poet in the World) has hit the scene.

Seattle Times reports that a new biography written by Donna Krolik Hollenberg, published by University of California Press, focuses on Levertov’s last years, when she lived in Seattle. Richard Wakefield of Seattle Times who reviewed the new biography writes:

Like a good teacher, a good biographer opens doors or shows us new things in rooms to which we thought we already had access. Denise Levertov, whose poetry won countless awards and who spent her last few years in Seattle, never stopped exploring her craft and her subjects, but not always in ways that make it easy for her readers to follow. “A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov,” goes a long ways toward letting us in.

Donna Krolik Hollenberg characterizes Levertov’s life and work as a series of “revolutions.” From her birth in England in 1923 — her mother was a Welsh schoolteacher, her father a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest (a “revolution” in which the child played no part but that certainly influenced her) — to her death in Seattle in 1997, Levertov turned and turned again. As Hollenberg puts it, “The splitting apart, the uprooting, although occasionally painful in the living, was nevertheless necessary for the ‘poet of the world’ that Levertov became.”

Even an abbreviated list of those splittings and uprootings makes most people’s lives look like models of constancy: separation from her family to work as a nurse during World War II, further separation to work and travel in Europe in the war’s aftermath, a hasty marriage that took her to the United States, friendships and quarrels with other writers, divorce after 27 years of marriage, long estrangement from and finally reconciliation with her son, conversion to Catholicism in her later years.

And let’s not leave out a long, skeptical evolution toward feminism, a passionate opposition to the war in Vietnam that took her as far as Hanoi and a growing commitment to environmentalism. Each left its mark on her poetry.

You go with your worldly selves! Be about it at Seattle Times.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.