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A Denise Levertov David Geier; courtesy of New Directions BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Seamlessly Committed Life Denise Levertov 1923-1997 BY ROSEMARY CATACALOS She was so fiercely alive she could scarcely contain herself. A passionate co-conspirator with everything living: people, animals, trees, mountains, flowers, this whole little planet. She wanted it all To Stay Alive \(the title of her ninth believe that she’s gone. It’s as if a great river, or a wind pattern, or even a whole season, had simply stopped in its tracks and left. Denise Levertov, internationally respected poet, powerful theorist in poetics, and committed progressive activist, died on December 20 from complications of lymphoma, less than two months after her seventy-fourth birthday. Those of us who called her friend are reeling, uncomprehending, though she had been ill for some time. I was blessed to be among hundreds of people all over the world, many of them writers and artists, with whom Denise shared her time, her wisdom, and her love. She was my friend, mentor, sometimes even mother. It was not always clear in which order, and it didn’t matter. The roles were threads of the same cloth, part of the seamless whole of her life. As a theorist, Denise was perhaps best known as the exponent of Organic Form, based in the notion that all experiences and things have an inherent form, which it is our to find and reveal. Organic form, she taught, can only be exercised from a stance of “faithful attention,” of “standing openmouthed,” and then being “brought to speech” before life. Good poems are made, she said, when ear and eye, intellect and passion, interrelate more subtly than at other times; and the ‘checking for accuracy,’ for precision of language, that must take place throughout the writing is not a matter of one element supervising the others but of intuitive interaction between all the elements involved. from “Some Notes on Organic Form” The Poet in the World This was not a narrowly intellectual poetics, it was an ethic, a mode of conduct that made itself felt in all she said and did: making poems, opposing war, loving nature, all of it. The weather has been warming for days. An early March evening just before sunset, deepest blue. Several of us from Denise’s workshop at Stanford are going to make dinner together. Denise and I wait in my car while the others duck into a grocery store. A ’66 Mustang convertible brought from Texas, the top is down. Looking up at the low hanging trees, a jay flying over, she bounces up and down and claps her hands. “How marvelous! There’s no roof! Look how much we can see!” She does this all the time. A regal sixty-six-year-old woman exclaiming and clapping her hands in delight. Every day, every day I hear enough to fill a year of nights with wondering. from “Every Day” Breathing the Water Nine of us in our Stegner Fellowship workshop at Stanford. Very different experiences, ages, poetics. Denise teaches us during the winter quarter each of the two years we are there. The Gulf War happens in our second year together. Denise organizes Stanford Poets for Peace, oversees the making of buttons and banners, leads the fellows and others of her students on San Francisco marches against the war. One of our younger colleagues says that for the first time she sees how to put her writing and her politics together Politics, the word I use to mean striving for justice and for mercy… from “The Phonecall” Life in the Forest 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 13, 1998