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This review is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

OUT OF ESSEX DENISE LEVERTOV, New Selected Poems, edited by Paul A. Lacey (Bloodaxe) £9.95

New Selected Poems supersedes Bloodaxe's 1986 Selected Poems as the definitive compilation of Levertov's work. Spanning her entire career - from her 1946 debut, The Double Image, to her posthumous final collection, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems (1999) - this selection provides a comprehensive guide to the poet's development, from youthful impressionism to politically charged laments to her later exploration of religious themes. If anything, editor Paul A. Lacey has been a bit too comprehensive: a shorter collection would have sufficed for all but the most fervent Levertov devotees. Apart from a handful of standout poems, much of the text feels like filler - an unfortunate consequence of Levertov's lifelong overproduction. She published nineteen volumes of poetry altogether (including four within a five-year time span, and another three in three years), and it's hard not to suspect that an absence of self-editing, rather than miraculously prolonged bursts of inspiration, accounts for so prolific an output. In pieces such as `The Dead', about Levertov's handling of corpses in her nursing days, a slackness of language - and of thought - makes for disappointing reading.

Levertov's unusual background is actually more compelling than many of her poems. Born in Essex in 1923, she was educated at home by her Welsh mother and Russian father, the latter an Anglican priest who had converted from Hasidic Judaism and who wrote extensively on Jewish mysticism. According to Lacey, the Levertovs regularly entertained scholars, theologians and artists at their house, always including Denise ...


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