Levertov, Denise. Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960. New York, NY: New Directions
Publishing Co., 1979.
This compilation of poems begins with the uncollected work of Levertov during the twenty year span between 1940 and 1960, followed by selections from her first book, Double Image. After this introductory material, the volume contains her next three books in their entirety. Many of Levertov's early poems adhere to traditional forms, regular stanza patterns, and formal rhyme schemes, but as her career progresses, an organic, breath-based poetic develops. As with other writers associated with the Black Mountain and Projectivist schools, lineation by breath evidences itself in liberal use of half-line breaks and irregular indentation. Both characteristics generate poems that, visually, appear fragmented but aid in the development of a speech pattern and rhythm that, to a certain extent, conflates the auditory and visual senses. Other aesthetic features that mark Levertov's poems are a) the use of doubling, or highly localized repetition, and b) breaking lines on soft words, such as “the,” “a,” and “an,” similar, in many regards to William Carlos Williams. The former of these two aesthetic particulars occurs most often in Levertov's book Here and Now, for example, in the poem “People At Night,” she writes: “A night that cuts between you and you/ and you and you and you” (33); likewise, in the poem “Jackson Square,” she writes: “A triangle of green green contains” (38). The poet explains this doubling as a response to impotent language: “I repeat/ gestures that make do when speech/ has failed” (34). The failure of speech, to a large extent, is the primary focus of Levertov's content, manifesting itself in the continual references to silence, or that which “surrounds the facts. A language/ still unspoken” (35). This is not to say that the poet advocates the dissolution of language in favor of silence; but, instead, she insists that we “DESTROY OLD LETTERS” (40) in order to create language that is music bound to the “humble rhythms, the/ falling & rising of leaf and star” (30). As the poet who developed the concept of “organic verse,” it is not surprising that Levertov believes such a musicality needs to be rooted in the rhythms of the natural world.