Denise Levertov: “What I experience when I’m writing a poem is close to prayer.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of poet Denise Levertov, born in England in 1923. She decided to become a poet but she didn’t want to go to graduate school. Instead, she got her nurse’s training and spent three years as a civilian nurse during the Blitz in London. . . . She wrote poems each night after her shift at the hospital, and published her first book, The Double Image (1946). She met and married an American poet, Mitchell Goodman, and after the war, they moved to the United States.

One of the poets she admired most was William Carlos Williams. In 1951, Levertov send Williams a fan letter; she was in her late 20s, and he was 68, recovering from his first stroke. After exchanging letters for a while, she took a bus up to his hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey, to see him. Williams was a warm and receptive host, and after that, she would go to visit him a couple of times a year. She would arrive in time for lunch with Williams and his wife, Flossie, then spend a few hours reading him her poetry, sometimes reading his poetry aloud, and chatting about people they both knew. Williams became Levertov’s mentor, and they exchanged letters until his death in 1962.

Levertov published more than 20 books of poetry, including With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads (1959), The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Breathing in the Water (1984), and The Life Around Us (1997).

She said: “Strength of feeling, reverence for mystery, and clarity of intellect must be kept in balance with one another. Neither the passive nor the active must dominate, they must work in conjunction, as in a marriage.”

And, “I’m not very good at praying, but what I experience when I’m writing a poem is close to prayer.”

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