Cover to Cover with Jack Foley

Cover to Cover with Jack Foley – September 24, 2014

TRIBUTE TO DENISE LEVERTOV (1923-1997) / WATERSHED ENVIRONMENTAL POETRY FESTIVAL

 

Today’s show, featuring rare recordings, is devoted to the late Denise Levertov (1923-1997), to whom this year’s Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival is dedicated. The Festival—with the Ecology Center/Berkeley Farmers’ Market as a key collaborator and in conjunction with 100 Thousand Poets for Change—will take place on September 27, noon to 4:30, at Berkeley’s Civic Center Park.

 

Denise Levertov was a British-born American poet. Wikipedia: “Levertov’s first two books…concentrated on traditional forms and language. But as she accepted the US as her new home, she became more and more fascinated with the American idiom… During the 1960s and 70s, [she] became much more politically active in her life and work. As poetry editor forThe Nation, she was able to support and publish the work of feminist and other leftist activist poets. The Vietnam War was an especially important focus of her poetry, which often tried to weave together the personal and political, as in her poem “The Sorrow Dance,” which speaks of her sister’s death. Also in response to the Vietnam War, Levertov joined the War Resisters League, and in 1968 signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war… Much of the latter part of Levertov’s life was spent in education. After moving to Massachusetts, Levertov taught at Brandeis University, MIT and Tufts University. She also lived part-time in Palo Alto and taught at Stanford University, as professor of English (professor emeritus). There she befriended Robert McAfee Brown, a professor of religion at Stanford and pastor. Franciscan Murray Bodo also became a spiritual advisor to her… In 1984 she received a Litt. D. from Bates College. After retiring from teaching, she travelled for a year doing poetry readings in the US and Britain. In 1990 she joined the Catholic Church at St. Edwards, Seattle; she became involved in protests of the US attack on Iraq…The first full biography appeared in October 2012 by Dana Greene, Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2012). Donna Krolik Hollenberg’s more substantial biography, A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov, was published by the University of California Press in April 2013.”

 

Levertov described her spiritual trajectory as a “slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith, a movement incorporating much doubt and questioning as well as affirmation.” The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov, edited by Paul A. Lacey and Anne Dewey and with an introduction by Eavan Boland, appeared from New Directions in 2013.  This is “Chant: Sunset, Somerville, Late Fall ’75”:

 

Cloudy luminous rose-mallow sundown,

                                                                  suffusing the whole          

roof-and-branch-interrupted lofty

air, blue fishscale slates,

wires, poles, trolleycars, flash

of window,

rectangular Catholic tall campanile abstracted

above North Cambridge, people heads down

leaving the store with groceries, bather—

all!—utterly

                     in this deepening, poised,

                     fading-to-ivory oxbowed river of

light,

one drop

of crimson lake to a brimming

floodwater chalice

and we at the lees of it—ah,

no need to float, to long

to float upward, into it, sky itself

is floating us into the dusk, we are motes

of gold brushed from the fur

of mothwings, night is

breathing

close to us,

dark, soft.       

 

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