`Socially committed' poet Denise Levertov dies at 74

published in the HOUSTON CHRONICLE, December 30, 1997

SEATTLE (AP) -- Denise Levertov, a major American poet who took up such social and political issues as the Vietnam War and the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, has died at 74.

Levertov died Saturday at Swedish Hospital from complications of lymphoma.

Influenced by William Carlos Williams and other American poets, Levertov's style evolved from traditional English to free-form. She addressed political and social themes, such as war, the environment and feminism, in an intense, lyrical voice.

"She had this sort of singular and pure commitment of the kind I've never known of. She had this tenderness and kindness to animals and children, and she had this very strong attachment to nature," said Barbara Epler, Levertov's editor since the mid-1980s at New Directions, her longtime publisher.

"She was really socially committed. It was important to her to go and protest at nuclear sites," she said. "She also protested the Vietnam War. She really put her money where her mouth was. It's like she was very 19th century with her vision of what poetry was and how total a calling it was."

Her poems included the fiercely antiwar work Advent 1966, During the Eichmann Trial and The Ache of Marriage.

She published more than 20 volumes of poetry since 1946, the most recent being Sands of the Well in 1996. She also published collections of essays, translated three volumes of poetry and edited other books.

In a 1965 essay, Levertov described her poetry as aspiring toward "organic form."

The idea, said Fran Polek, professor emeritus at Gonzaga University in Spokane, is to have the form arise "naturally from the particular topic or the particular approach, just as a plant or flower grows in a particular way in certain soils."

Levertov won the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Medal, the Lenore Marshall Prize and the Lannan Award, along with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant.

She was part of the generation of poets that included Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Hayden Carruth, Galway Kinnell and James Wright.


Document URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/levertov-obit.html
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:27:16 EDT