Denise Levertov

(1923 - 1997)

Denise Levertov was born and raised in Ilford, Essex, England, the daughter of a Welsh mother and a highly educated Russian-Jewish father who converted to Anglicanism. She and her sister were educated at home by her mother, who read them poetry and great 19th-century novels. Levertov was drawn to writing early on: at age twelve, she sent some of her poetry to T. S. Eliot, who responded with a letter encouraging the young poet. She published her first poem at 17 in Poetry Quarterly and soon found support from prominent literary figures such as Kenneth Rexroth and Herbert Read. Levertov worked as a civilian nurse in London during World War II and published her first book in 1946, earning her a spot in the “New Romantics” movement. She married poet Mitchell Goodman in 1947 and moved to the United States with him the following year.

Levertov’s poetic voice continued to develop in the U.S., where she encountered the work of significant influences William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and the Transcendentalists and became part of the Black Mountain group of poets. Over her career, she published more than 20 books, served as poetry editor of radical magazines The Nation and Mother Jones, and won honors such as the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. A pacifist, feminist, and leftist activist throughout her life, Levertov helped found anti-war collective RESIST. She spent many years teaching at Stanford University and other colleges. Levertov is remembered as a major American poet who resisted classification into a single school or style. She died of lymphoma in 1997.


Photo courtesy of New Directions.