Guide to the Denise Levertov papers from the estate of Mitchell Goodman M1140

Finding aid prepared by Tim Noakes
Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives
Stanford University Libraries
557 Escondido Mall
Stanford, California, 94305-6064
Repository email: speccollref@stanford.edu
March 17, 2012


Title: Denise Levertov papers from the estate of Mitchell Goodman
Identifier/Call Number: M1140
Contributing Institution: Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives
Language of Material: English
Physical Description: 3.5 Linear feet 6 manuscript boxes; 1 1/2 manuscript box
Date (inclusive): circa 1952-1985
Physical Location: Special Collections and University Archives materials are stored offsite and must be paged 36-48 hours in advance. For more information on paging collections, see the department's website: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/spc.html.
Abstract: This collection contains personal and family correspondence, poetry and prose writings, and journals and notebooks from Denise Levertov.
Creator: Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997

Scope and Contents

The Denise Levertov papers from the estate of Mitchell Goodman are divided into 4 separate series. Series 1 constitutes personal correspondence; Series 2, family correspondence; Series 3, Poetry/Prose/Lecture drafts and notes; Series 4, ephemera.

Biographical

Levertov, Denise (24 Oct. 1923 - 20 Dec. 1997), poet, was born in Ilford, Essex, England, to Paul Levertoff and Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff; as an adult she reverted to the traditional spelling of her surname. Her father was a Russian Jew who had converted to Christianity in the late nineteenth century, ultimately becoming an Anglican priest. He traced his ancestry back to the founder of a mystical Hasidic sect that had flourished in Russia in the eighteenth century. Denise Levertov's mother was descended from a well-known Welsh mystic named Angel Jones. Levertov grew up feeling what she later described as "a sense of wonder" at the marvel of creation from the teachings of both of her parents, and although she was not conventionally religious as an adult, her upbringing was undoubtedly the source of a mystical strain underlying much of her poetry.
Levertov, along with her older sister, Olga, was educated at home and never attended school. For "instruction" her mother read aloud to the family daily from works by Dickens, Tolstoy, Conrad, and other great writers. Denise and her sister were encouraged to read widely themselves in the large family library, which included not only classical standards and scholarly books on a number of subjects but also many volumes of poetry. Their father was also a biblical scholar who was fluent in a number of languages, translated several Hebrew classics into English, and wrote a life of St. Paul. As a child Denise studied painting and ballet, and she began to write poetry. At the age of twelve she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot, who responded with an encouraging letter of advice, and by her early teens she had decided to become a poet.
Following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Levertov trained as a nurse at St. Luke's Hospital in London and remained there for the duration of the conflict. Her wartime experiences, including the eight months in 1940-1941 when the city was under continual aerial bombardment from the Nazis, undoubtedly contributed to the strong antiwar stance that she was to take two decades later. Throughout the war years she wrote verse, some of which was published in local journals, and her first book of poetry, The Double Image, appeared in 1946. After the war ended in 1945, Levertov worked in an antiques store and a bookstore, then went to Europe, supporting herself by working at a hospital in Paris and teaching English in the Netherlands and in Geneva, Switzerland. There she met a young American writer, Mitchell Goodman, and the two were married in December 1947. They lived in Paris and Florence for several months then moved to New York in 1948; their son was born the following year, and she was naturalized in 1955.
Levertov had continued to write poetry during the postwar years, and her career was given an unexpected boost after some of her earlier verses were read by the American poet Kenneth Rexroth. Although he felt that both their neoromantic sentiments and their carefully rhymed and formally metered structure were old-fashioned, he believed that Levertov was a promising new writer, and he included some of her work in his anthology New British Poets (1949). Even more significant was her introduction to the poet Robert Creeley, a friend of her husband's who went on to teach at the celebrated Black Mountain College, an experimental school in Asheville, North Carolina. Creeley, along with the so-called Black Mountain Poets--including Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Edward Dorn--with whom he became allied, called for a new "projective," open verse that would supplant traditional "closed" poetry. They believed that most poetry from the recent past was centered in the poet's ego and expressed personal sentiments in arbitrarily constructed lines of constricted language: in a word, it sounded "affected" to contemporary ears. Projective verse, on the other hand, focused on nature and voiced the normal rhythms of human speech and breath. Among modern poets, the projectivists most admired William Carlos Williams, in whose verse could be heard the voices of ordinary people.
Levertov was impressed by Creeley's notions of poetry, and the verse that she now wrote reflected his influence, as well as that of Williams and another American poet, Wallace Stevens. Earlier she had claimed to be most inspired by the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rainier Maria Rilke, and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle); now Williams and Stevens, and their distinctly American idiom, joined her pantheon. When Creeley moved on to become a member of the faculty at Black Mountain, Levertov began contributing poems to his new journal, the Black Mountain Review. Her second collection of verse, Here and Now (1957), represented a major departure from the style of her first.
Although Here and Now was published by the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti as part of his Pocket Poets series, Levertov claimed then and afterward that while admiring some of the work of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and several other Beats, she never considered herself one of their number. She strove, she said, for poems with an "inner harmony in utter contrast to the chaos in which [many of the works of the Beats] exist." Poetry, she later noted, had a social function only to the extent that it should "awaken sleepers" rather than giving them violent shocks. Among the many admirers of her second book was Kenneth Rexroth, who later noted how pleased he was to see her move away from the sentimental "lassitude" of her earlier work.
Levertov published several more volumes in succession during the 1950s: Overland to the Islands (1958); Five Poems (1958); and With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads (1959). In these, as well as in Here and Now, she employed free verse to write about ordinary events in life and nature and the pleasure taken in their observation, leaving behind her early mannered style and announcing the birth of her true voice as a poet. Her next volumes, Jacob's Ladder (1961) and O Taste and See (1964), continued in this vein, conveying a delight in natural images and revealing the mystical strain that would become evident in most of her subsequent verse.
Levertov wrote several essays about her mature art, among them "Statement on Poetics" (1959), in which she made the paradoxical observation that while content determined form, "content is discovered only in form." Poets were seers, she wrote, conscious of the layered meaning of that word, and a poet had a "responsibility to communicate what he sees" so that "they who cannot see may see." Her 1965 essay, "Some Notes on Organic Form," which first appeared in Poetry magazine and has been widely anthologized, hazarded an explanation of how a poem came to be written: the poet, she said, had to have an experience so intense that it had to be "brought to speech."
By the early 1960s other critics besides Rexroth were applauding Levertov's poetry, though there were some dissenters who felt that she was following too consciously in the vein of the Black Mountain poets and lacked originality. Her critical and popular audience became increasingly polarized by the end of the decade as Levertov became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. First drawn into opposition when the war escalated in 1965, she led the formation that year of the "Writers' and Artists' Protest against the War in Vietnam." For nearly a decade, until the last American forces were withdrawn in 1973, she was a leader of the antiwar movement, giving speeches and writing articles, some of which were included in her essay collection The Poet in the World (1973). A volume of her poetry, The Sorrow Dance (1967), decried the conflict while also mourning the death of her sister. In addition she visited Hanoi with an American antiwar delegation in 1972, a year that also saw the breakup of her marriage.
Levertov's collection The Freeing of the Dust (1975) included not only antiwar poems but also confessional verse in which she wrote about her present life and loneliness and narrated a spiritual journey that reflected the strong influence of Jungian psychology on her thinking. Levertov expanded on this theme in poems that she wrote during the final two decades of her life, by which time she had secured her status as an important American poet of the twentieth century. She published nearly a dozen volumes of verse during this period, including Candles in Babylon (1982) and the critically acclaimed Breathing the Water (1987), as well as two collections of prose: Light Up the Cave (1981) and New & Selected Essays (1992). Levertov's last book of poetry was Sands of the Well, published in 1996. In the course of her long career she also published translations of Bengali, Bulgarian, and French prose and verse and served as poetry editor of two prominent leftist periodicals, The Nation (1961-1963) and Mother Jones (1975-1978).
Levertov died in Seattle, Washington, of complications from lymphoma.
Citation: Ann T. Keene. "Levertov, Denise"; http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-03376.html; American National Biography Online June 2000 Update. Access Date: Tue May 15 15:34:14 PDT 2012

Access to Collection

The materials are open for research use.

Publication Rights

All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94305-6064. Consent is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubserv/permissions.html.
Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

Acquisition Information

This collection was purchased by Stanford University, Special Collections in 1999 and 2005.

Preferred Citation

[identification of item], Denise Levertov papers from the estate of Mitchell Goodman (M1140). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

Processing Information note

Processed by Tim Noakes.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Abbey, Edward, 1927-
Brand, Millen
Carruth, Hayden
Cousins, Norman.
Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005
Goodman, Mitch
Goodman, Nikolai
Goodman, Paul
Gregor, Sandra
Hamady, Walter
Jarrett, Emmett
Kinnell, Galway, 1927-
Kissinger, Henry
Kresch, Al
Leontief, Adelle Wassily
Levertov, Beatrice Adelaide
Levertov, Paul
Loewinsohn, Ron
Mailer, Norman
Martin, John
New Directions.
Paley, Grace.
Rich, Adrienne Cecile
Roethke, Theodore , 1908-1963
Rukeyser, Muriel
Schrieber, Ron
Sorrentino, Gilbert
Sweeney, Jack
Trien, Eve
Wendell Berry
Willard, Nancy
Williams, Flossie
Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963
Wolpe, Hilda
American poetry

 

Series 1. Personal Correspondence

Scope and Contents

Personal Correspondence contains primarily correspondence from close friends and notable individuals, mostly written from 1965-1967. Correspondents include William Carlos Williams, Henry Kissinger, Robert Creeley, and others.
Box 1, Folder 1

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1956-1979

Box 1, Folder 2

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1960-1968

Box 1, Folder 3

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1964-1968

Box 1, Folder 4

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 5

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 6

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 7

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 8

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 9

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 10

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 1, Folder 11

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 2, Folder 1

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1967

Box 2, Folder 2

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1965-1968

Box 2, Folder 3

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, 1966-1967

Box 2, Folder 4

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, ca. 1967

Box 2, Folder 5

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, ca. 1967

Box 2, Folder 6

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, ca. 1967

Box 2, Folder 7

Denise Levertov: incoming personal correspondence, ca. 1967

Box 2, Folder 8

Denise Levertov: outgoing personal correspondence, drafts, notes, etc.

Box 2, Folder 9

Denise Levertov: miscellaneous outgoing postcards, 1980-1986

Box 4, Folder 9

Janie [ ? ] to Denise Levertov, 1965-1967

Box 4, Folder 12

Edward Abbey to Denise Levertov, 7/4/1966

Box 4, Folder 13

Wendell Berry to Denise Levertov, 1967

Box 4, Folder 14

Millen Brand to Denise Levertov, 1966-1968

Box 4, Folder 15

Hayden Carruth to Denise Levertov and Mitch Goodman, 1965-1986

Box 7, Folder 1

Hayden Carruth to Denise Levertov, 9/16/1968 with Jim Cunningham poems

Box 4, Folder 16

Norman Cousins to Denise Levertov, 1968

Box 4, Folder 17

Robert Creeley to Denise Levertov, 1962-1990

Box 4, Folder 18

Paul Goodman to Denise Levertov, 1967

Box 4, Folder 19

Walter Hamady to Mitch Goodman, 1968

Box 4, Folder 20

Emmett Jarrett to Denise Levertov, 1965-1967

Box 4, Folder 21

Galway Kinnell to Denise Levertov and Mitch Goodman, ca. 1965-1968

Box 4, Folder 22

Henry Kissinger to Denise Levertov, 5/9/1968

Box 4, Folder 23

Al Kresch to Denise Levertov, n.d.

Box 4, Folder 24

Adelle Wassily Leontief to Denise Levertov and Mitch Goodman, n.d.

Box 5, Folder 1

Ron Loewinsohn to Denise Levertov and Mitch Goodman, 1966-1967

Box 5, Folder 2

Norman Mailer to Mitch Goodman, 1984

Box 5, Folder 3

John Martin to Denise Levertov, 1967

Box 5, Folder 4

New Directions to Denise Levertov, 1965-1967

Box 5, Folder 5

Grace Paley to Mitch Goodman, 1986

Box 5, Folder 6

Adrienne Rich to Denise Levertov, 1966

Box 5, Folder 7

Ted Roethke to Denise Levertov, 1961

Box 5, Folder 8

Muriel Rukeyser to Mitch Goodman and Denise Levertov, 1987 and undated

Box 5, Folder 9

Ron Schreiber to Denise Levertov, 1967

Box 5, Folder 10

Gil Sorrentino to Denise Levertov, 1965-1966

Box 5, Folder 11

Jack Sweeney to Denise Levertov, 1962-1963

Box 5, Folder 12

Eve Trien to Denise Levertov, ca. 1966-1967

Box 7, Folder 3

Nancy Willard to Denise Levertov (includes "A Wake for the Wild Horses")

Box 5, Folder 13

Flossie Williams to Denise Levertov, 1967

Box 5, Folder 14

William Carlos Williams to Mitch Goodman, 10/22/1958

Box 5, Folder 15

Hilda Wolpe to Denise Levertov, n.d.

Box 4, Folder 11

Correspondence: booksellers and libraries, 1984

 

Series 2. Family Correspondence

Scope and Contents

This series contains correspondence between Denise Levertov, Mitch Goodman (her ex-husband), and Nikolai Goodman (Denise and Mitch's only son). There are also a few early letters from Denise to her parents, Paul and Beatrice Levertov.
Box 2, Folder 10

Early Denise Levertov letters to parents, ca. 1950-1958

Box 2, Folder 11

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1953-1981

Box 2, Folder 12

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1955-1985

Box 2, Folder 13

Denise Levertov: incoming/outgoing family correspondence, 1956-1986

Box 3, Folder 1

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1956-1986

Box 3, Folder 2

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1964-1992

Box 3, Folder 3

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1965-1987

Box 3, Folder 4

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1965-1989

Box 3, Folder 5

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1968-1986

Box 3, Folder 6

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1974-1986

Box 3, Folder 7

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1974-1991

Box 3, Folder 8

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1974-1996

Box 3, Folder 9

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1975-1981

Box 3, Folder 10

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1975-1984

Box 3, Folder 11

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1976-1983

Box 3, Folder 12

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1976-1984

Box 4, Folder 1

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1976-1985

Box 4, Folder 2

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1977-1995

Box 4, Folder 3

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1979-1980

Box 4, Folder 4

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1981-1983

Box 4, Folder 5

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1987-1991

Box 4, Folder 6

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1988-1991

Box 4, Folder 7

Denise Levertov: outgoing family correspondence to Mitch and Nikolai Goodman, 1989-1992

Box 4, Folder 8

Denise Levertov's "last letter to Mitch, hand carried by Nikolai from Seattle," [1996]

Box 4, Folder 10

Mitch Goodman: incoming correspondence, 1945-1973

Box 4, Folder 25

Olga Levertoff to Denise Levertov, ca. March 30, 1962

Box 7, Folder 5

Olga Levertoff to Denise Levertov, ca. 1962-1964

Box 4, Folder 26

Denise Levertoff to Olga Levertoff, 6/18/1962

 

Series 3. Poetry/Prose/Lecture drafts and notes

Scope and Contents

This series contains drafts of Levertov's poems and prose works. Along with these drafts, this series includes many lecture notes used for her poetry class.
Box 5, Folder 16

Olga poems, AMs (1st draft)

Box 5, Folder 17

Olga poems, TMs

Box 5, Folder 18

Olga poems/Jacob's Ladder: AMs

Box 5, Folder 19

"A Tree Telling of Orpheus," "To go by the Asters and breathe," AMs's

Box 5, Folder 20

Poetry: drafts/notes

Box 5, Folder 21

Poetry: drafts

Box 5, Folder 22

Poetry: drafts

Box 5, Folder 23

Poetry: drafts

Box 5, Folder 24

Poetry: drafts (with correspondence to Mitch Goodman)

Box 5, Folder 25

Poetry: drafts (photocopies)

Box 5, Folder 26

Poetry: drafts and notes

Box 7, Folder 6

Poetry notes/drafts

Box 5, Folder 27

Miscellaneous notes

Box 5, Folder 28

TMs: "Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus"

Box 5, Folder 29

Prose writing: "The Truth and Life of Myth in Poetry"

Box 5, Folder 30

Prose writing: "For Four years of the War I was a nurse..."

Box 5, Folder 31

Lecture: "Poetry and Crisis," Vassar College, March 1967

Box 5, Folder 32

Lectures on poetry: notes

Box 5, Folder 33

Lectures on poetry: notes

Box 5, Folder 34

Lectures on poetry: notes

Box 5, Folder 35

Notes and correspondence re. "Myth in Literature and Religion"

Box 6, Folder 1

Levertov autobiography: "One Summer Evening"

Box 6, Folder 2

Notes on other poets

Box 6, Folder 3

Levertov corrections for unknown Sandy Gregor manuscript

Box 6, Folder 4

Levertov corrections: unknown poets

Box 6, Folder 5

Poems by others

Box 7, Folder 4

"Tajimara," Levertov translation of Juan Garcia Ponce

 

Series 4. Personal Ephemera

Scope and Contents

Personal ephmera contains Levertov's diary, notebooks, broadsides, annual calendars, miscellaneous articles, contracts, and photographs.
Box 6, Folder 6

Denise Levertov Diary, ca. 1957

Box 6, Folder 7

Levertov notebook, re. Castle poems, ca. 1971

Box 6, Folder 8

Publications/Broadsides: "A Marigold from North Viet Nam," "Conversations in Moscow"

Box 6, Folder 9

"The Truth and Life of Myth in Poetry," by Robert Duncan (photocopy)

Box 6, Folder 10

Robert Duncan: Levertov speech and notes.

Box 6, Folder 11

Miscellaneous artwork (artist unknown)

Box 6, Folder 12

Partisan Review

Box 6, Folder 13

Levertov ephemera: 1956 passport

Box 6, Folder 14

Levertov address book

Box 6, Folder 15

Photographs

Box 6, Folder 16

Miscellaneous articles

Box 6, Folder 17

Miscellaneous articles, broadsides, documents

Box 6, Folder 18

Mademoiselle Magazine, 1958: "Two poems by Denise Levertov"

Box 6, Folder 19

Levertov "Year Book," undated

Box 6, Folder 20

Denise Levertov notebook, ca. 1967

Box 6, Folder 21

Mitch Goodman, financial documents, 1952

Box 7, Folder 2

Levertov: "Statement of Plans," 1961/1962

Box 7, Folder 7

Miscellaneous notes

Box 7, Folder 8

Miscellaneous documents/broadsides

Box 7, Folder 9

New Directions publishing contracts