Denise Levertov on the subject of Mt. Rainier


I've been thinking about Denise Levertov lately. I believe she is the second poet I ever saw read her work. I'd just gotten my driver's license - sixteen? My friend Lynne and I drove to Brandeis University to see Levertov read in a small classroom. What I remember most is that she seemed unlike any adult I had ever met. Dressed in a black turtle neck and jeans sitting cross-legged on a desk, she giggled. This was 1977, so she must have been fifty-four. I remember her as joyous and playful -- very different than what we see in this 1993 video. Levertov was extremely particular about linebreaks and believed there was a specific length one should pause at the end of a line. Here you can see how carefully she reads each word -- the determination almost too stern for my taste -- or rather, is such opposition to my memory of the younger Levertov.

Denise Levertov was living in Seattle at the time of this recording. The first poems she reads here concern Mt. Rainier. I  love how the presence of the mountain  becomes a source of meditation - so much so that Levertov states that she will not visit the mountain - that it is, and should remain, unknowable. The video is a bit long, but I was thrilled to find it -- not realizing that any of her poetry readings were available. If you are interested in her work, I'd really recommend This Great Unknowing. It's her last book, the poems she was working on when she died. But that's not the reason to read it -- read it because the work is gorgeous and stripped down in a way that her early poems are. There was a long time in-between the early poems and This Great Unknowing when I lost the connection with her work. Her essays, however, have been a constant companion.


  1. I like this reading. It's clear and paced well. I haven't read Levertov in years. Must revisit her work. Thanks for your blog, Susan. I just recommended it to a poet friend today.

  2. Thank you, Mari. I think you "discovered" my blog from the very beginning -- and I am very grateful that you did!

  3. Hearing Levertov and being reminded of her Mt. Rainier poems makes me think of Hedgebrook. The two are intertwined in my mind...

    Hope you're planning to celebrate finishing your grading. Cheers!


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