Denise Levertov

Work that enfaiths

I will never forget the first time I heard Denise Levertov read her poetry. In the late 1960s, when I was a fledgling writer in New York, I was thrilled to hear a poet I had found on my own in high school. As was the custom, Levertov was paired with a younger poet, one whose first book had garnered some attention in the literary world. The reading demonstrated that the younger poet's poems were fool's gold. She prefaced each one with a lengthy explication that made the poem seem like an anticlimax. These off-the-cuff stories were much livelier than the poems themselves, and I could see (or rather, hear) that the poems were mostly air, buoyed by a shallow cleverness and wit.

By the time Levertov had read one poem, I felt as if I had been offered a glass of cold, clear spring water. It was poetry, commanding attention in the way that scripture does. Her words had authority. These words were a gift, inviting me to respond with my whole heart.


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