Denise Levertov poems on Radio 4 and BBC Two

Denise Levertov poems on Radio 4 and BBC Two


‘A touchstone, a maintainer for our generation. She was a constantly defining presence in the world we shared, a remarkable and transforming poet for all of us’ – Robert Creeley, from the Preface to Denise Levertov's New Selected Poems


British-born Denise Levertov was one of America's foremost modern poets.  Bloodaxe's New Selected Poems (2003) draws on two dozen collections published over six decades. Edited by Paul A. Lacey, it replaces her earlier Bloodaxe Selected Poems (1986), and includes selections from both her earlier work and from the six later collections published by Bloodaxe in Britain.

Denise Levertov (1923-97) was born in Essex, and educated at home by her father, a Russian Jewish immigrant, who became an Anglican priest, and by her Welsh mother. She sent her poems as a child to T S Eliot, who admired and encouraged her. In 1948, she emigrated to America, where she was acclaimed by Kenneth Rexroth in The New York Times as 'the most subtly skilful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving'. Throughout her life, she worked also as a political activist, campaigning tirelessly for civil rights and environmental causes, and against the Vietnam War, the Bomb and US-backed regimes in Latin America.



Poetry Please, BBC Radio 4, Sunday 22 January 2023, 4.30pm (repeated on 28 January 2023, 11.30pm)

Guest poet Lavinia Greenlaw was Roger McGough’s guest on Poetry Please on 22 January.  She was choosing and introducing poems from listener requests, including the late British-born American poet Denise Levertov's 'The Breathing'.  This is published in the US in New Directions’ Poems: 1960-1967 and in the UK and Ireland by Bloodaxe Books in New Selected Poems. The poem was read by host Roger McGough, who said afterwards: ‘So much beautiful imagery in that poem - a very short poem - ‘The Breathing by Denise Levertov.’

Roger and Lavinia talked about Denise Levertov’s move from Essex to California, and how that shaped her poetry.

The poem is introduced at 15:54. Available on BBC Sounds for 30 days after the repeated edition. Listen here.



Carols from King's, BBC Two, Saturday 24 December 2022, 6.55pm

An extract from Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Annunciation’ was one of the readings in the televised service Carols from King's on BBC Two on Christmas Eve.

‘The traditional celebration of Christmas with music and readings, recorded in the candlelit Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, with the college’s world-renowned choir under director Daniel Hyde. Music includes Warlock’s setting of Adam Lay Ybounden, Errollyn Wallen’s Peace on Earth and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols – marking the composer’s 150th anniversary. Members of the college read from the King James Bible and from poems by Denise Levertov and UA Fanthorpe. Congregational carols include O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.’

Watch here.  The poem was read and introduced by a member of the college at 15:15.



The Poetry Detective: The Secret of the Rocks, BBC Radio 4, Sunday 27 November 2022, 4.30pm (repeated Saturday 3 December, 11.30pm)

Poet Vanessa Kisuule returns with a new series of The Poetry Detective, a radio show about the poems that go with us through life. She speaks to people about the poems - and bits of poems - that mean the most to them.

In this episode, Vanessa travelled to the far North of Scotland to explore the extraor-dinary story behind carvings of poetry that were discovered on a beach near John O’Groats – only visible at low tide.  The photographer Andrew Simpson who first came across them eventually found out that they were lines from poems by the late Nobel Prize in Literature-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which had been carved onto the rocks in the original Spanish. Although Andrew eventually discovered the identity of the person who carved the poems, the carver asked to remain anonymous.

Photos of the rock carvings can be seen in the Gallery on the programme’s page here.

‘On a remote beach in the North of Scotland, lines of mysterious verse have been appearing. Carved into the rocks in beautiful script, the poetry is only visible for a short time at low tide. And to add to the mystery, it appears to be in Spanish. Who wrote these lines? Who has been carving them? And why here?... Andrew Simpson, the photographer who discovered the carvings, shows Vanessa his finds. And Dr Dominic Moran of the University of Oxford fills in the details of the poet's biography.’

The programme ended with Vanessa reading the late British American poet Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Living’ from New Selected Poems.

‘Like the poems from the rocks, it centres the natural world.  Its images are clear and economical, like a photograph, yet unlike a photo, which attempts to trap a moment in time, the poem accepts that time passes, that nature will run its course, with or without us. This thought simultaneously breaks my heart and puts it back together.’ – Vanessa Kisuule on Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Living’

The Neruda rock carvings story takes up most of the programme.  Vanessa introduces the Denise Levertov poem at 26:20.

Listen via BBC Sounds here.

[14 December 2022]

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