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Guide to the Denise Levertov Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Denise Levertov papers
    Dates: ca. 1945-1997
    Collection number: M0601
    Creator: Levertov, Denise
    Collection Size: ca. 159 linear ft.
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Abstract: The Denise Levertov papers provide a remarkable window into the life of this important English-born, American poet. According to Kenneth Rexroth, Denise Levertov was "the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving." Her papers document the process of her writing, her relationships with others of her generation, and the role of this "poet in the world." The family papers (series 1), which feature substantial correspondence with Levertov's mother, with her former husband Mitchell Goodman and with her son, combine with Levertov's personal papers to offer a rich source for biographical study. The manuscripts (series 2) and notebooks (series 3) document Levertov's creative process, recording the development of individual poems from earliest drafts to printed texts. Levertov's correspondence (series 4) with other writers and public figures open numerous avenues into contemporary literary and social history. Especially important are the letters from fellow writers William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Hayden Carruth, Gael Turnbull, Eve Triem, and Susan Glickman. Also important is the correspondence with Levertov's longtime editor at New Directions, James Laughlin. The remainder of the collection contains Levertov's professional papers (series 5), accumulated printed materials, and personal artifacts. Taken together, these papers provide the researcher with as complete a portrait of Levertov and her times as is currently available.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection is open for research; materials must be requested at least 24 hours in advance of intended use.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.

    Preferred Citation

    Denise Levertov papers, M0601. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased from Denise Levertov, 1993

    Biography / Administrative History

    Denise Levertov, an Anglo-American poet who took up such social and political issues as the Vietnam war and nuclear proliferation, was born in Ilford, England, in 1923. The daughter of a prominent scholar and a Welsh mother, Levertov was privately educated in England before coming to the United States in 1948 with her husband, the American novelist Mitchell Goodman. In nearly fifty years, in 24 volumes of poems, Levertov became one of the United States's most prominent writers. Her writing is uncompromising, dignified by a spare and clear style and with an immediacy of language in the tradition of William Carlos Williams. For example, in "The ache of marriage," Levertov writes:
    The ache of marriage:
    thigh and tongue, beloved,
    are heavy with it,
    it throbs in the teeth
    We look for communion
    and are turned away, beloved,
    each and each
    It is leviathan and we
    in its belly
    looking for joy, some joy
    not to be known outside it
    two by two in the ark of
    the ache of it.
    Collections of her poetry include The Double Image (1946), Here and Now (1957), Overland to the Islands (1958), The Sorrow Dance (1967), Relearning the Alphabet (1970), Footprints (1972), Oblique Prayers (1984), A Door in the Hive (1989), Evening Train (1993), and Sands of the Well (1996).
    Denise Levertov died on December 20, 1997. She was 74.


    1923 Oct. 24 Born Denise Levertoff, Ilford, Essex, England, second daughter of Paul Philip Levertoff and Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff. Educated privately.
    1940 Publishes first poem "Listening to Distant Guns" in Poetry Quarterly.-Vol. 2, no. 4 (Winter 1940), p. 96.
    1946 Publishes first volume of poems, The double image (London: The Cresset Press).
    1947 Serves as nurse in an English hospital at Paris.
      Meets Mitchell Goodman in Geneva and marries him December 2nd.
    1948 Levertov and Goodman move to New York City.
      Kenneth Rexroth publishes six of Levertov's poems [Christmas, 1944-The Anteroom-Folding a Shirt-The Barricades-Autumn Journey-Poem ["Some are too much at home..."] in The new British poets : an anthology (Norfolk, CT: New Directions).
    1949 Son Nikolai Gregor Goodman born.
    1955 Denise Levertov is naturalized a United States citizen.
    1957 - 1958 Lives in Mexico.
    1957 First American collection, Here and now (San Francisco: City Lights Bookshop), is published.
    1958 Jonathan Williams' Jargon Society publishes Overland to the islands (Highlands, NC : Jonathan Williams, Publisher), as Jargon 19.
    1959 With eyes at the back of our heads (New York: New Directions).
    1961 The Jacob's ladder (New York: New Directions).
      Becomes poetry editor for The Nation.
    1962 Guggenheim Fellow.
    1964 O taste and see: new poems (New York: New Directions).
    1965 Writer in residence at City College of New York.
    1966-1967 Teaches at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.
    1967 The sorrow dance: poems (New York: New Directions).
      In praise of Krishna: songs from the Bengali. Edward C. Dimock, Jr. and Denise Levertov, trans. (Garden City: Doubleday).
      Out of the war shadow : an anthology of current poetry, compiled and edited by Denise Levertov. (New York: War Resisters League).
    1968 A tree telling of Orpheus (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press).
      The cold spring & other poems (New York: New Directions).
    1969 Embroideries (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press).
      Guillevic, Eug?ne. Selected poems. Denise Levertov, trans. (New York: New Directions).
      Visiting lecturer, University of California, Berkeley.
    1969-1970 Visiting professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    1970 Relearning the alphabet (New York: New Directions).
      Summer poems, 1969 (Berkeley: Oyez ).
      A new year's garland for my students /MIT 1969-1970. (Mt. Horeb, Wis., Perishable Press).
      Receives honorary D.Litt. from Colby College.
    1971 To stay alive (New York: New Directions).
    1972 Footprints (New York: New Directions).
      Trip with Muriel Rukeyser to Vietnam.
    1972-1978 Teaches at Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts.
    1973 Conversation in Moscow (Cambridge: Hovey St. Press).
      The poet in the world (New York: New Directions).
    1975 The freeing of the dust (New York : New Directions).
    1976-1978 Poetry editor, Mother Jones.
    1977 Chekhov on the West Heath (Andes, N.Y. : Woolmer/Brotherson).
      Modulations for solo voice (San Francisco : Five Trees Press).
    1977 June 8 Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff dies in Oaxaca, Mexico.
    1978 Life in the forest (New York: New Directions).
    1979 Collected earlier poems, 1940-1960 (New York: New Directions).
    1980 Elected to American Institute of Arts and Letters.
    1981 Light up the cave (New York: New Directions).
      Mass for the day of St. Thomas Didymus (Concord, N.H: William B. Ewert).
      Pig dreams : scenes from the life of Sylvia (Woodstock, Vt. : Countryman Press).
      Wanderer's daysong (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press).
      Begins teaching at Stanford University.
    1982 Candles in Babylon (New York: New Directions).
    1983 Poems, 1960-1967 (New York: New Directions).
    1984 Oblique prayers : new poems with 14 translations from Jean Joubert (New York: New Directions).
    1987 Breathing the water (New York: New Directions).
      Poems, 1968-1972 (New York: New Directions).
    1988 Joubert, Jean. Black iris : poems. Denise Levertov, trans. (Port Townsend, WA : Copper Canyon Press).
    1989 A door in the hive (New York : New Directions).
    1992 New & selected essays (New York : New Directions).
    1993 Evening train (New York : New Directions).
    1995 Tesserae: memories & suppositions (New York: New Directions).
    1996 Sands of the well (New York : New Directions).
    1997 The life around us: selected poems on nature (New York : New Directions).
      The stream & the sapphire : selected poems on religious themes (New York: New Directions).
    1997 Feb. 1 Mitchell Goodman died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Temple, Maine. He was 73.
    1997 Dec. 20 Denise Levertov died from complications from lymphoma at the Swedish Hospital in Seattle. She was 74. She is survived by her son Nikolai Gregor Goodman.
    1998 New Directions releases The letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams, edited by Christopher MacGowan.
    1999 A posthumous collection of Levertov's poems is released from New Directions, called This Great Unknowing: last poems.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Levertov papers are organized into twelve series.
    Series 1, Family Correspondence and Papers, consists of 20 linear feet of materials, including the manuscripts of her father, the Rev. Paul Philip Levertoff, a Russian Jew who converted to Anglicism, a scholar of Jewish-Christian relations, a commentator on the Zohar, and a translator of Franz Werfel. The series also includes a vast correspondence between Levertov and her late husband Mitchell Goodman, Levertov and her mother, Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff, as well as Mrs. Levertoff's extensive correspondence with her friend Margaret (Manga) Cornwell.
    Series 1 is organized into six subseries : a. Family correspondence, b. Beatrice Levertoff papers, c. Paul P. Levertoff Papers, d. Mitchell Goodman Papers, e. Nikolai Goodman Papers, and f. Olga Levertoff Papers. Each of these subseries is organized with an emphasis on that person's correspondence, manuscripts, and miscellany.
    Series 2, Manuscripts by Denise Levertov, houses extensive drafts of Levertov's writing. Organized by genre, including her poetry, prose, and translations, the series ranges from her earliest poems to the collection of poems she was working on at the time of her death, published posthumously by New Directions as This Great Unknowing : Last Poems (1999). The poetry is grouped by collection and organized, where possible, by individual poem. Series 2 comprises 31 boxes of materials. Denise Levertov's manuscripts are organized by genre into four subseries, which are organized chronologically : a. Poetry, b. Prose, c. Interviews, and d. Translations.
    Series 3, Personal Papers, include the notebooks Levertov used throughout her adult life. These notebooks provide insight into the character of the woman and the genesis of the work. Also included are dream sketches, notes, and papers associated with Levertov's social and political activism. Series 3 comprises 16 linear feet. The personal papers contain working papers by Levertov, notes, miscellany, and the accumulata of a lifetime of activism and of reading. These papers are organized into six subseries, arranged either chronologically (as are the notebooks) or alphabetically. The subseries are: a. Notebooks, b. Biographical Papers, c. Dream Sketches, d. Notes, e. Memorabilia, and f. Social, Religious, and Political Files.
    Series 4, Correspondence, is the largest series of the collection, consisting of more than 60 linear feet and 4,500 folders. Especially valuable in this series is Levertov's correspondence with her publisher James Laughlin and poets of her generation, especially William Carlos Williams, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Hayden Carruth. The correspondence is organized alphabetically by correspondent and arranged into two subseries : Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence.
    Series 5, Professional Papers, contains papers associated with Levertov's professional life as a poet. The series includes business-related correspondence, documents associated with her poetry readings and her teaching career. The teaching materials include lecture notes, correspondence with students, as well as student work. This series comprises 12.5 linear feet of material. The papers are organized into four subseries : a. Correspondence, b. Awards and Honors, c. Teaching Materials, and d. Readings.
    Series 6, Printed Materials, consists of printed serials, broadsides, chapbooks, articles, book reviews, and clippings, most relating to Levertov's writing or to her particular literary or personal interests. Series 6 is a useful resource for finding some rare and limited editions of Levertov's published work. Printed materials comprise approximately 19 linear feet. The series houses an extensive collection of journals, articles and other printed ephemera. Many of the publications contain pieces by or about Levertov. Together, they are helpful in starting a primary and secondary bibliography of Levertov's work. The printed materials are arranged into eight subseries : a. Serials, b. Chapbooks, c. Articles, d. Reviews, e. Broadsides, f. Clippings, g. Poems by Others, and h. Miscellany.
    Series 7, Photographs and Artwork, includes photographs of Levertov and her family, including an important group of seven photos by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. It also includes drawings and sketches of Levertov, her mother Beatrice, and the juvenilia of her son Nikolai.
    Series 8, Sound Recordings, includes audiocassettes and reel-to-reel tapes of Levertov's readings, as well as cassettes of Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting, and Charles Olson reading. The series has sixty cassette tapes, seven reel-to-reel tapes, and three audio discs.
    Series 9, People Files, houses occasional clippings and notes pertaining to various people Levertov knew or was interested in. Series 9 consists of approximately 0.5 linear feet of material.
    Series 10, Subject Files. Like series 9, the subject files house information Levertov collected on various social, religious, and political issues. Series ten consists of approximately 0.5 linear feet of material.
    Series 11, Manuscripts by others, contains drafts, poems, articles, and other pieces Levertov kept, mostly sent her from friends, colleagues and students. The manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by author and comprise 6.5 linear feet.
    Series 12, Artifacts, houses Levertov's personal memorabilia, including her father's Doctor of Divinity Degree from Lambeth.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Carruth, Hayden, 1921-
    Creeley, Robert, 1926-
    Duncan, Robert Edward, 1919-
    Fussiner, Barbara
    Fussiner, Howard
    Goodman, Mitchell
    Goodman, Nikolai
    Laughlin, James, 1914-1997
    Levertoff, Beatrice
    Levertoff, Olga
    Levertoff, Paul
    Levertov, Denise, 1923-
    Machado, Antonio, 1875-1939
    Parra, Nicanor, 1914-
    Paz, Octavio, 1914-
    Smith, Page
    Stevens, Wallace
    Triem, Eve, 1902-1992
    Turnbull, Gael
    Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963
    American literature--20th century
    Poets, American