A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov

Robert Baird writes:

The daughter of a schoolteacher from Wales and a Christianised Russian Jew, Denise Levertov was born in Essex and made her reputation in America writing poems in and about Mexico, Provence and North Vietnam. She was, one reviewer said, ‘incomparably the best poet of what is getting to be known as the new avant-garde’, and yet her radicalism was a matter of substance rather than style. In many respects she was anything but modest – for nearly a decade she wrote poems that she hoped would help stop a war – but in contrast with the sprawling projects of her peers, Levertov’s units of accomplishment (the expert line, the individual lyric) were rigorous and concise. It would be easy enough to claim her, along with Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, as one of the most important women writing poetry in English in the decades after the Second World War, if ‘woman poet’ hadn’t been a category Levertov despised.

(LRB 25 September 2014)