Denise Levertov 1923–
English-born American poet, short story writer, essayist, editor, and translator.
Levertov is an important postmodern poet. Her career began in England, where her first collection, The Double Image, was published in 1946. Her early verse was influenced by the romanticism prevalent in Britain during World War II and displayed the formal, even stiff, construction and dreamlike extravagance characteristic of that period. In 1948, after marrying the American novelist Mitchell Goodman, she moved to the United States. This move was crucial to her development as a postmodern poet.
Through her husband's friendship with Robert Creeley, Levertov became involved with the Black Mountain poets. Her poetic development was heavily influenced by Charles Olson's aesthetics, by the innovative application of everyday speech patterns encouraged by poets Robert Duncan and Kenneth Rexroth, and by the immediacy and vitality characteristic of William Carlos Williams's work. Here and Now (1957), her first collection following her move to the United States, evidences the dramatic effect these poets had on her writing; Collected Earlier Poems 1940–1960 (1979) charts her artistic development.
Like her contemporaries, Levertov sought to capture the "authentic experience" in verse and to develop the relation of form to content. Thematically, she combines attention to concrete daily objects with a larger personal, political, and religious awareness. While on the one hand she writes poems grounded in social reality—for example, in The Sorrow Dance (1967) she protests the Vietnam War—she also displays a romantic reverence for the natural world in connection with the mythical and spiritual dimensions of the human psyche. Endorsing Gerard Manley Hopkins's "inscape concept," she adds depth and relevance to her poems by applying her own inward response to extrinsic phenomena. Her recent collection, Candles in Babylon (1982), continues Levertov's tradition of writing graceful, powerful, and irreducible poems.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 15; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5.)