British-born poet Denise Levertov became a naturalized American citizen in 1955. Levertov's verse combines political activism (especially regarding the Vietnam War) with poetic lyricism. Later in life, she turned to religion as a major poetic theme.
Photo: Denise Levertov, PoetryFoundation.org
Born in Ilford, Essex (England), Levertov published one volume of verse before moving to the United States in 1948 with her American husband Mitchell Goodman. Upon entering the American literary scene, Levertov was greatly influenced by the Black Mountain poets, especially William Carlos Williams.
Because Levertov moved to America at a young age, she is considered an American poet. Her clear assimilation into the literary movements and America idiom of the time, as well as her incorporation of contemporary themes and events into her poetry, characterize her work as such. Her first volume published in America, entitled Here and Now (1956), was immediately accepted as "American." As expressed by poet Kenneth Rexroth, Levertov's poetry in Here and Now "is the intense aliveness of an alert domestic love—the wedding of form and content...What more do you want of poetry?"
Levertov became involved in the political and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s in America, and her poetry reflects that involvement. She took part in anti-war demonstrations and was jailed for a brief period in California. Her poetry during these decades addresses the topics of nuclear weaponry, the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, the riots in Detroit, and modern ecological issues.
Though Levertov often had religious themes woven into her poetry, her verse became highly spiritual in the last few decades of her life. Her childhood was rife with religious talk, as her father was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity, and her Welsh mother (a lover of literature) schooled Levertov and her sister at home. Her father wrote in four different languages and filled her home with books, and his spiritual and eclectic influence is most clearly seen in her later poems.