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Wednesday, August 30, 2023


 I got turned off from Levertov's poetry by a few things. A friend of mine gave a scathing critique of one her books, Candles in Babylon, and I kind of agreed with it. The professor was a friend of hers and didn't like my friend's critique. 

She turned increasingly devotional and political in the later work: I preferred her earlier work by far. Whereas Creeley welcomed the language poets and was generous to younger voices generally, Levertov tried to nix Perloff's appointment at Stanford, distributing a letter to all the faculty of the English department, in part because she championed the language group. Perloff got the job, but the letter seemed nasty to me. We all (the grad students) saw it as well. 

That being said, I did sincerely like her earlier poems of the 50s and 60s, and I'm going to go back and read some of those earlier books. She was an enormously talented writer in the WCW vein, and I think she has fallen out of fashion somewhat, where Ronald Johnson and others once on the fringes of the Black Mountain group are in ascendence. Perhaps the religiosity got in people's way. 


Phaedrus said...

I knew even then that it was unfair *to her* for our professor to have assigned that book - her 15th? - in our graduate seminar. It had none of the intelligence and discrimination and delight of her earlier books.

At any rate, we had some good back-and-forth in that class!

Andrew Shields said...

I’ve been reading her collected poems as my third one-poem-a-day project for about three years now (the first two were Celan and Ashbery; next up Lorca). I’m in the next-to-last book now, “Sands of the Well”.

I’m surprised you say that she turned more political in her later years; her political turn already took place in the 60s. If anything, she grew more politically quiet in her later books (with the exception of poems on Central America in the 80s).

The religious turn, as you note, is very strong in the later work. What I enjoy most in the later poems is the many extraordinary poems that reflect on memory’s reach through time, often through stories passed down in her family. Her move to Seattle around 1990 also triggered many superb nature poems – something about the Pacific Northwest!

Jonathan said...

You're right. I'd forgotten the Vietnam war poems she wrote, over which she clashed with Duncan. I haven't looked into the very late work.