An antiwar poet and activist

An antiwar poet and activistReview by Deborah Roberts

A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov

By Donna Krolik Hollenberg

University of California Press ·514 pages · $44.95

A Poet’s Revolution provides an enlightening, thorough, and moving account of the life and work of British/American poet Denise Levertov (1923–1997). Levertov wrote and published twenty books. The primary frameworks of her poetry are love, family, nature, and religion; within those frames, politics and war provide central themes of much of her best work, as does a strong ethical impulse.

Levertov was born and grew up in England. Her mother, Beatrice Adelaide Spooner-Jones, was from a small mining village in Wales. She later became a teacher and artist who home-schooled her three children. Her father, Paul Levertoff*, came originally from Leipzig, where he was a teacher and religious scholar who pioneered ecumenical work on the historical/theological relationship between Judaism and Christianity.

Hollenberg does a good job of reviewing Denise Levertov’s complex and multifaceted family background, tracing closely early influences that shaped not only her poetry but also her lifelong political radicalism. As an Hasidic Jew, Paul Levertoff had been held under house arrest as an “enemy alien” in Leipzig during World War I. Instructed since his childhood in the Torah and the Talmud, he enrolled at the University of Konigsburg to pursue rabbinical studies but converted to Christianity through the influence of a friend whose father was a Lutheran minister.

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